For the San Luis Obispo Mothers For Peace, motherhood isn’t just raising children– it’s an attitude and value system. Motherhood embodies a moral obligation to protect the planet for future generations to come.
The Mothers for Peace tried to close Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant down before it was even built. When Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) released the joint proposal announcing the closure of Unit 1 by 2024 and Unit 2 by 2025, some of the mothers were upset they weren’t included in the initial conversation.
Jane Swanson, president and spokesperson for Mothers For Peace, said she doesn’t want their name on the agreement to run the plant for nine more years, the group wants it to cease operation in 2019.
“That five-year difference means five fewer years of risking the next event of an operating nuclear plant. Five fewer years of generating radioactive waste with nowhere to go. Five fewer years for an aging plant to have a problem that would endanger workers, the community and cost the ratepayers a lot of money,” Swanson said.
The grassroots organization formed in 1969 after a concerned mother wrote a letter to the editor of the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune expressing her frustrations with the death rate in the Vietnam War. The group participated in anti-war movements until 1971 when their attention turned to Diablo Canyon.
Sandy Silver, a former member and intervener, said the group learned about nuclear energy from her husband, Gordon Silver, a Cal Poly physics professor at the time. Gordon continued to educate the mothers on nuclear power as they prepared to file as legal interveners against the licensing of Diablo Canyon.
“In the early days of our participation in trying to stop the licensing of Diablo. We were looked upon as hysterical little ladies,” Silver said. “We’d arrange to have men speakers who, in some cases, didn’t know a heck of a lot about Diablo, but were willing to lend their voices and prestige to the anti-nuclear movement. Often they would defer a question about Diablo to one of us to answer.”
Spokesperson Linda Seeley although the group is not concerned with money, talking finances is the only way they’ve been able to get their voices heard. For decades, they have been involved in litigation and public hearings concerning the construction, licensing and operation of the facility.
“Knowing on that earthquake riddled coastline that we have all that nuclear waste,” Seeley said. “It’s a moral action we’re taking to shut it down. Not for ourselves, but for future generations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is not an advocate for environment or protection of the people. It’s a tool of the industry, but it’s all we have.”
According to Swanson, Mothers For Peace have received phone calls throughout the years from anonymous Diablo Canyon workers who are apprehensive about the safety of the plant.
“Some conscientious people who work there call us because they want us to solve the problem,” she said. “But again, they don’t give their ID because they like their salaries. We’ve had some calls recently that are very very serious around worker intimidation and that’s a recurring theme over the decades.”
According to PG&E representative Blair Jones, the company is further committed to the safety of their workers and the public after the San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010.
“We want San Bruno and all the communities we serve to know that we at PG&E have committed ourselves to a goal of transforming this company into the safest and most-reliable energy company in America,” Jones said. “In support of that goal, we’ve hired some of the best gas safety experts in the country to help guide this effort. We’ve invested billions of shareholder dollars in gas safety improvements.”
Mothers For Peace would beg to differ. Throughout Diablo’s operation, the mothers said PG&E has relaxed regulations around safety and environmental standards at the facility.
Before the plant produced any power, it had to be retrofitted after a submerged fault was discovered three miles offshore during construction. Today, Diablo Canyon sits near at least four active earthquake faults.
The stationary portion of the electric generator in Unit 2 is in need of repairs, but PG&E does not plan on investing in its replacement, according to Mothers For Peace. Additionally, the NRC ranked the Unit 1 pressure vessel to be among the five most brittle reactors in the United States. PG&E applied for and was granted an exemption to the ordered 10-year inspection of the vessel, postponing the inspection until 2025.
Local PG&E representative Tom Cuddy wrote in a statement that PG&E inspects many of the plant components and systems, including the reactor pressure vessel, during planned refueling and maintenance outages.
“The reactor pressure vessels are operating safely as designed and with no signs of embrittlement,” he said in the statement. “Unit 1 will be inspected again during our upcoming planned refueling and maintenance outage.”
In 2010, the California State Water Board enacted a mandate that required that by 2015, all coastal power plants had to have replacement cooling systems in place that conserve water and protect the marine environment.
Since Diablo Canyon is scheduled to close in 2025, the once-through cooling system will not be updated, Jones said. The State Water Resources Control Board is in the process of determining a mitigation program for Diablo Canyon, where the funds will be spent to enhance state marine-protected areas, according to Jones.
“We’re strongly committed to operating all of our assets at PG&E in an environmentally responsible manner and Diablo Canyon’s operations have a minimal impact on marine life. For the design of the plant’s once-through cooling system, the impact on marine life is considerably lower than other once-through cooling systems in the state in proportion to the volume of water that each circulates. We’re the only plant that’s actually generating greenhouse gas-free electricity, which benefits the environment.”
The once-through cooling system draws in 2.5 billion gallons of water per day and discharges the water back into the ocean approximately 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter, damaging the ocean ecosystem by killing fish larvae and displacing warm water. Biologists have estimated that Diablo Canyon sucks in more than 1.5 billion fish larvae a year, most of which do not survive.
Starting April 18, the mothers will attend hearings in San Francisco with the California Public Utilities Commission to address their concerns around Diablo’s future.