State Lands Commission Reviews Seismic Tests

By Published On: July 11, 2013

One of the regulatory bodies that approved the high-energy sonic earthquake tests for the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant—later overturned by the Coastal Commission—is now reviewing low-energy sonic testing. The California State Lands Commission is recommending a “negative declaration” in its initial study evaluating lower-impact sonic tests. That means the report finds that while there could be damage to marine life, it doesn’t reach a level that would stop the tests. Scientists found “seven levels of response” in marine mammals to sonic testing, for instance, from “no observable response” to “habitat abandonment.” In August 2012, the Lands Commission reluctantly gave Pacific Gas & Electric approval to conduct high-energy sonic studies near the Diablo plant (Current, Aug. 17, 2012). In November 2012, the Coastal Commission disallowed the planned tests due to fears of marine harm as well as the impact on commercial fisheries. At the time, PG&E was already performing low-energy sonic tests. Several fishermen and coastal observers told the commission that they were observing behavioral changes in marine mammals, from sea otters to porpoises (Current, Nov. 16, 2012). Earthquake tests for the area surrounding the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station are also in consideration. Although San Onofre is permanently shut down, it remains highly radioactive. Until it is completely dismantled—with the parts and spent fuel sent to a permanent repository—earthquakes remain a potential health and safety hazard. The Lands Commission study is available for a 45-day review period.

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