Diablo’s Sonic Seismic Studies Delayed

By Published On: March 1, 2013

Although the California Public Utilities Commission approved $64 million for intensive seismic testing offshore of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, its staff promised to wait until an independent panel decides whether the plant’s owner should proceed. It will “be at least a year” before Pacific Gas & Electric, Diablo’s owner, decides whether to pursue high-energy seismic testing, according to the utility Feb. 25. The testing was denied by the California Coastal Commission in 2012 (Current, Nov. 16, 2012) because of the potential to kill or otherwise harm marine critters, as well as affecting the local fishing industry at Morro Bay. The commission-sponsored meeting this week dwelled on seismic details. While the “high energy” sonic disruptions have been on hold after the Coastal Commission denial, PG&E is sifting through data it’s gathered from more low-energy physical surveys. “Once we get through the other surveys, then we’ll see” if the high-decibel blasts to help determine earthquake faults are “worth doing at all,” said a PG&E staffer. The proposed sonic tests were approved by both the State Lands Commission and the CPUC. But, the sounds that were to be blasted into the ocean gave pause to the Coastal Commission. It became an agency standoff between the desire for more knowledge about earthquake potential near the nuclear plant and the impact to marine life. Environmentalists are split--they want the nuclear plants to be as safe as possible, at the same time they don’t want to harm marine life in the process of fault data gathering. The underlying issue before all the agencies is the impact to health for human and other species if nuclear plants crack under pressure from earthquakes--like what happened to the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. They melted down and released deadly radioactivity into the environment in March 2011. PG&E staff promised to post information on a new website that is not yet available. It’s expected to be running soon, according to PG&E staff. Earthquake hazards off the San Onofre nuclear plant are also under investigation. The state allowed its operator, Southern California Edison, another $64 million, plus commission expected increases, to study the matter. The fault zones near San Onofre aren’t considered as hazardous as those near Diablo. Edison consultant Neal Driscoll, a professor at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, maintains the ongoing studies from that utility are “low energy.” It’s what the Lands Commission says is ‘low energy,” Driscoll said. He added that in the path of gathering data--if it’s initiated either this fall to avoid whale migration, or next year--“there will be protected species observers” and “less impact to marine life.” For the San Onofre plant, Edison has not requested the high-powered sonic blasts that were proposed by PG&E for Diablo Canyon. The proposal is still on hold for Coastal Commission approval, according to the agency.

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