It was during the Vietnam War when Jane Swanson joined the activist group San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (Mothers).
She remembers her first brush with activism well. She posted her daughter and herself at the corner of a bus station in San Luis Obispo as they offered leaflets to young men waiting to be bused down to a draft center in Los Angeles. This is when Swanson realized her life calling: activism.
She joined Mothers and when the war ended, the Mothers turned their attention to something new. The group heard about a proposed nuclear power plant near Avila Beach that we know today as Diablo Canyon. They vowed to prevent the plant from opening, but they lost.
Fast-forward 42 years and the Mothers are still fighting to shut down Diablo Canyon. The plant is currently up for a license renewal and the Mothers are facing their greatest chance to finally reach their goal.
The 2011 Fukushima disaster focused public attention on the dangers of seaside nuclear plants. Diablo is the only remaining nuclear power plant in California.
When a Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E) spokesman was asked whether Fukushima and the plant’s isolation would affect relicensing, he declined to answer.
“It’s not like PG&E started out as villains,” Mothers spokeswoman Swanson said. “But they are now.”
The Mothers don’t fault the people who work at the plant, but rather the higher-ups, who stand by the idea that nuclear power is safe.
“It is absolutely immoral we would allow a substance like this to be around for our future generations,” Swanson said. “We don’t need (the plant). It’s all about money and weapons.”
In 1973, the Mothers received “intervener status” for Diablo Canyon. This means that they have a power of attorney toward anything that has to do with the plant itself, including relicensing. Though intervener status does not give the Mothers a great deal of power, it means something to them.
Originally, the Mothers became interveners to prevent the licensing of the facility before it was built. However, that effort proved futile as the plant was built in the 1980s. As it stands, Diablo Canyon’s facilities are to remain in operation until 2025.
To maintain their facility and continue operation, PG&E must apply for a petition to relicense both reactors. The company officially applied for relicensing in 2009, which would mean the plant would operate for an additional 20 years after 2025.
The Mothers are looking to prevent the plant from getting their license renewed, but it won’t be an easy road. The petition was halted due to a number of reasons, including safety regulation checks and concern over the location of earthquake fault lines.
The Mothers’ attorney, Diane Curran, is challenging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to look further into the issues related to where the nuclear plant is located. One of the major issues the Mothers are worried about is that one of the nuclear units at the plant is directly near multiple earthquake faults and is in an active seismic activity zone.
“This is California. It is very shaky!” Mothers spokeswoman Linda Seeley said.
Tom Cuddy is the Senior Manager of Corporate Relations at PG&E for Diablo Canyon. He said that though PG&E officials knew of the fault before they built the plant, they used the most secure building methods. He also said the company continues to check the plant for seismic activity and safety.
“Diablo Canyon was built to withstand the strongest potential earthquakes in the region,” Cuddy said. “The plant is built into solid bedrock and is reinforced with extensive seismic fortifications to withstand the largest ground motions generated by earthquakes from local faults.”
Cuddy continued that the plant’s ability to withstand seismic activity was further solidified by an assessment done by the NRC in 2013.
“PG&E employs a seismic department staffed with experts who continually study earthquake faults in the region and global seismic events as part of the plant’s comprehensive safety program,” Cuddy said.
Mothers for Peace doesn’t buy it. Members said they will continue to fight the plant’s relicensing petition. They will continue to demand the NRC to take greater measures to examine the facility, joining other groups who also oppose nuclear power.
“It’s a miracle we haven’t had a nuclear meltdown,” Swanson said.
An earthquake is just one of many concerns the Mothers have with the plant. Other complaints include how marine life is affected and the fact that nuclear plants could be the targets of terrorist attacks.
One of their biggest concerns is how the nuclear rods are stored. According to the Mothers, and extensive research the nonprofit has done to familiarize itself with every aspect of nuclear power, the rods must be stored in pools after they are done being used. This is to prevent fires.
The Mothers don’t think PG&E is effectively storing the rods.
“The rods are stored close together in the pools, that is the greatest danger,” Seeley said.
A fire caused by the rods would have an “uncontrolled release of radiation that would be devastating,” Swanson said.
But safety is PG&E’s core value, Cuddy said.
The Mothers will continue to fight for their beliefs — that nuclear power is an unsafe form of energy and there are many alternatives to this type of energy.
“Nuclear energy produces more clean-air energy than any other source and is the only one that can produce large amounts of electricity 24/7,” Cuddy said.
The two will never see eye-to-eye on the issue, but the Mothers will continue to fight for what they believe in.
“Somebody’s gotta do it. If we don’t, who would?” Seeley said. “And we are not alone. We are the best friends you would ever want to meet.”
Shutting down the plant is just the beginning of the fight. The waste created from the facility must be monitored for thousands of years to come.
“Winning for us is a lot more than to shut down Diablo,” Swanson said. “It is only a step. What winning means is operating a nuclear-free future.”