Greetings from the Alliance For Nuclear Responsibility, a statewide, California non-profit consumer energy watchdog advocate. Your decision to award the Black Planet award to TEPCO for their negligence and arrogance regarding the ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima complex resonates with our work in the United States. Our mission is to prevent the relicensing of California’s two aging nuclear reactors, located on our seismically active and fragile coastline. Since we have little faith in the failed track record of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to safeguard the public, we take action at the state level, where we have jurisdiction over the economics and reliability of nuclear power. As such, we work with our California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission and state legislators. Since 2006, we have supported and worked with these agencies and officials to point out the many unknown seismic uncertainties beneath our coastal reactors. The Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor has the most troubled seismic history of any U.S. reactor. If they are reclicensed for an additional 20 years of operation (from 2025 to 2045) how can we be assured of economical and reliable power? Those are our questions.
In the 1960s, the utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), claimed there were no known faults in the vicinity, and the NRC agreed. When the plant as 90 percent completed, a fault was discovered 2.5 miles offshore. This required over $4 billion in retrofits - and these costs were passed along to consumers - even though investigations demonstrated seismic negligence on the part of the utility and collusion by the NRC. We are bringing this history forward again, as troubling seismic information (including discovery of a new fault only 600 meters from the plant) is emerging. The NRC does not believe that updating seismic studies is required when permitting the relicensing of a reactor complex with a troubled seismic history. We met personally with the chairman of the NRC in March, 2010, and they refused to suspend the relicensing process until our state utilized the latest 3-dimensional computer modeling technology to understand the on and offshore seismic hazards.
It was with great sadness that, only a year after our meeting at the NRC, we watched the tragic events unfold at the Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan. It is regrettable that it took a tragedy of such magnitude for our elected officials to take notice of the potential consequences we had been warning them about for years. However, as we had laid the groundwork during those years, our message and our information were finally welcomed. And, while the legislatures and state agencies were receptive, the NRC and the nuclear utilities remained intransigent. They immediately began a media campaign based on the slogan “What happened in Japan can’t happen here.” They asserted that Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is 85 feet above sea level, and out of reach of tsunamis. The asserted that California’s reactors are not on a subduction zone, and we can never experience a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. They assure us that within 90 days, they will issue a report on “lessons learned” from Fukushima.
They will, in fact, have learned nothing. Their data reports, their magnitude calculations, their ground motion estimates, their slip rate computations - these will all be meaningless. The greatest lesson to be learned requires not science, but psychology: the lesson is that they failed to imagine the unimaginable and failing to imagine it, they were unable to plan for the potential consequences.
TEPCO, not unlike our utilities, and the Japanese nuclear safety regulators, not unlike our own NRC, demonstrate a hubris that borders on criminal conduct. Their immediate technical and procedural rationalizations seek to assure us that our reactors can withstand Mother Nature’s greatest threats. What happens when the actual event is orders of magnitude greater than the estimate? Documents now reveal that TEPCO had a long and disturbing history of suppressing seismic information. They were aware of many earthquake threats and failed to investigate others. PG&E and the NRC are leading California down the same shaky road. Beyond the human suffering, the refugees, the scarred land and sea, there is also the enormous financial impact of the Fukushima disasters. While it may seem callous to reduce the horror to dollar and cents, sometimes that is as effective a tool as any for gaining attention. With estimates that start at $23 billion and climb towards $100 billion, the fallout from Fukushima could dwarf any previous man-made catastrophe. Here in the USA, federal liability for a nuclear disaster is capped at $12.6 billion. How could we even afford to clean up and make whole again the victims of such a disaster?
The suffering and loss in Japan need not be in vain. Citizens must pressure those in power to ask the very difficult questions - the unimaginable questions - so that we can arrive at informed and prudent decisions regarding our energy generation sources. When it comes to geological forces, it is not a matter of “if,” but “when.” As Californians, we live with that risk daily. The residents near Fukushima went to bed the night before the disaster believing that TEPCO had taken all the necessary actions to safeguard their wellbeing. TEPCO had not. The regulators had not. We must do the work. And like those geological forces, it is not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
That time is now.