I recently escaped the dominant paradigm to visit mi famiglia's roots. There, churches are as ubiquitous as American fast-food joints, the light has a clarity like no other, and politicians and regular folk discuss the future of energy as if their lives depended on it. My convent room in Amalfi, Italy, opened onto a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. It had a teeny bed, teeny bath, and teeny TV. The newscasts were in Italian and German. I'm not proficient in either language, but gesticulation is a second language. Television debates were among political parties-Green, Labor, Democratic, Conservative, Right. They balled their fists at each other. They rolled their eyes. They harrumphed. There were person-on-the-street (gente-su-la-strada) interviews aired about the future of the country's energy. Even though the TV channels are mostly owned by the president of the country, the debates were fearless. While I tried to translate the gist, a concern of California Energy Commission member John Geesman's kept coming back to me. Geesman was shocked at the lack of discussion among legislators of Pacific Gas & Electric's and Southern California Edison's plans to extend the life spans of their aging nuclear plants by investing about $1.4 billion in new steam generators (Circuit, Oct. 22, 2004). And it's worse than that. Not only is there a lack of debate among our political representatives, but more worrisome is that the debate is being actively stifled-andare a Roma e non vedere il papa. While California utilities want to spend what amounts to the cost of three new traditional fossil-fuel power plants for nuclear liver transplants, I see increasing indications that the nuclear industry's campaign to paint the technology green and pave the way for new power plant building is making headway. Last month, the federal government said it would use tax dollars to subsidize private nuclear companies' attempts to build new plants. The Department of Energy informed reactor makers and utilities that it would share the cost of seeking regulatory approvals for new construction. In the conference circuit, I hear energy professionals asking, in the context of new supplies, "What about nuclear"? Well, what about it? For one, California law prohibits new nuclear plants as long as there is no permanent method of safely disposing of radioactive waste. Second, if there were public debate, those professionals would remember that the most lethal toxic waste imaginable is produced by nuclear power plants. Then there are meltdowns and other potential accidents. Two decades after political debates proliferated and more than 3,000 were arrested for protesting PG&E's Diablo Canyon project, memories fade. Young energy professionals haven't even heard about, or sorted out, the ramifications-both economic and safety-of using fission to make electricity. Like Italians, we need to debate nuclear power on TV, in the Capitol, and in caf?s. The CPUC should not make permanent decisions about the fate of the state's nuclear plants without public participation on the following points: Nuclear power's biggest selling point is that it does not create air pollution emissions. Therefore, it does not exacerbate climate change. While climate change has barely crept into California, in Italy it is right here, right now. In Venice, you can tell the locals by the thickness of their knee-high rubber boots to navigate flooded streets. The lack of greenhouse gases is one point. But politicians, policy makers, and the media need to debate nuclear's other hazardous environmental impacts. Nuclear plants use enormous amounts of water to cool reactors-about 2.5 billion gallons a day in Diablo's case. Seawater sucked in is expelled at a higher temperature. The thermal pollution decimates local marine flora and fauna, while encouraging marine life that likes a more balmy environment. New steam generators for Diablo Canyon and San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station would continue that thermal pollution, which regional water boards have been trying for years to avert and mitigate. Investing in new steam generators also means more high-level radioactive waste. Plutonium doesn't entirely disintegrate for more than 200,000 years. If a permanent storage site is to be constructed, then we need to know the hazards of transporting the accumulated waste because new steam generators allow the plants to run longer. Because it's unlikely a permanent high-level waste dump will be constructed during the next generation, a decision to invest in new steam generators is also a decision to increase on-site high-level waste storage. Spent-fuel pools (the current place to stow plutonium) for both power plants are near overflowing. The utilities can't off-load it to a permanent storage site because there is none. Consequently, they have to build new aboveground on-site storage, called "dry cask." Aboveground storage presents other social dilemmas. These include whether the use of casks increases the possibility they could be targeted for a terrorist attack; whether they will be permanent because a long-term disposal site might never be constructed; and if they are permanent, what hazards might be associated with long-term storage in casks intended for only a few hundred or, at most, a few thousand years. This waste problem adds huge costs, which begs the question: what is the true cost of nuclear power? PG&E claims there's "no credible" dispute that an investment in new steam generators is worthwhile because Diablo Canyon is cheaper than the next-lowest-cost alternative for replacement energy. But not included in the $1.4 billion cost for ratepayers for both Diablo and SONGS is the price for the associated dry-cask storage. Neither does it reflect the cost of increased risks from potential terrorist attacks, environmental damage, or transportation. And way off the radar, but important in the future, is the unknown cost of keeping the transmission system centered around nuclear power plants, which largely precludes moving to renewable resources. Alternatives to the risky nuclear organ transplant might exist, but no one will know what they might be or cost because that discussion was excised from the current Diablo proceeding at the CPUC, thus preventing even the most rudimentary public debate. The transmission system may or may not allow alternatives in any event. At Diablo Canyon, the grid is fairly dependent on the nuke. At San Onofre, the grid is far more intertwined. New power supplies could be situated to alleviate the dependence, but there?s been no public discussion of that requirement prior to utilities? plans to invest in their nuclear plants-and one should follow the other instead of negating alternatives. Nuclear power plants are not created equal. That affects public choice. Replacing steam generators in the slightly older San Onofre plant will be more risky than at Diablo Canyon. Diablo was designed with a "hatch" to facilitate steam gen swap-out. SONGS has to be dismantled in order to shoehorn in the new equipment. Land use and ownership are also a question. Edison leases the SONGS site from the military, and thus it is publicly owned property. Who is asking whether that is a good future use of that land? Would it be a higher social good to lease it to renewables projects, such as wind turbines or wave power, or tidal use? Perhaps a deal could be worked out with the utility to manage the transmission and power output in exchange for the lease instead of repowering the nuclear plants. I know that we here at Circuit, and the media in general, hammer at making nearly all energy issues a public debate. Often the response is that public debates slow down decision making. However, there is so much at stake here-safety, cost, energy policy, and very-long-term impacts-hat justifies a long and drawn-out proceeding if necessary. And it's worth educating politicians and the public in the process because far more than $1.4 billion, plus interest, is involved. If steam generator investment were being made in Italy, you can bet there'd be debate in every coffee bar from Bra to Brancaleone. We should take a hint from our friends with the strong currency, including Italy's neighbor. In France, the government ?lectricit? de France is facing a sell-off of 30 percent of its power monopoly next year. ?lectricit? is about 24 billion Euros in debt (something like $30 billion at the current exchange rate). Why is that? Much of it is due to its commitment to nuclear power, which is coming back to haunt the agency with about $28 billion in off-balance-sheet nuclear-related costs. In other words, because the power agency was allowed to get heavily into nuclear power, it looks like it will end up in much worse shape than PG&E or Edison did during the worst of the energy crisis. It would be a very good idea to avoid that kind of fate for this state. But the discussions must extend far beyond the quiet, constrained hearing rooms at 505 Van Ness. In short, we need to argue like Italians. J.A. Savage was christened Julianna Mirabella Tactical Maneuver Cuts Out Diablo Alternatives At Pacific Gas & Electric's request, debate over power supply alternatives to investing $706 million in the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant was not allowed during public hearings on the facility. The legal maneuvering occurred two months ago, but the administrative law judge's decision to exclude any discussion of less costly and less hazardous alternatives will also affect similar hearings on San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station investments in January. In an unusual alliance, the Western Power Trading Forum joined with intervenor Mothers for Peace, a grassroots organization that opposes the nuke plant, in an effort to air alternatives and replacement power supplies. However, California Public Utilities Commission judge Jeffrey O?Donnell declared the issue of replacement power, as well as whether earthquakes could affect the operation of the plant with new steam generators, extraneous to the proceeding. "From a public policy perspective, it's a very difficult decision to understand and\/or rationalize," said Dan Douglass, Western Power attorney. "In the thousands of scenarios PG&E has modeled," 95 percent showed that investing in new steam generators for the nuclear plant saves ?a significant amount of money compared to available alternatives,? the utility stated in testimony last month. PG&E concludes that ratepayers will be better off after installing new equipment that will extend the life of the power plant.