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When I grow up, I want to be a nuclear semiotician. These brainiacs try to design messages to future people to warn them not to mess with our spent nuclear fuel like the casks at Diablo Canyon Power Plant. When you think about it, homo sapiens emerged just 300,000 years ago, developed agriculture 12,000 years ago, and invented written language about 5,000 ago. Civilizations and languages come and go, so who knows what 10,000-years-in-the-future humans will be like or what languages they'll speak.

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It's not like we can just put up a sign: "Do not open. You will die."

This deadly issue is one of many arguments against California's last operating nuclear plant, which has been a source of controversy from its inception. Anyone remember the blueprint snafu? Construction workers were provided with a single transparent blueprint for both of Diablo's reactors, but the blueprint failed to note that it was to be flipped over for the construction of the opposite reactor, leading to improper placement of supports designed to protect the cooling systems on one of the two domed containment buildings. Oops!

They fixed it, but then came the realization that the plant was built less than a mile from the Shoreline Fault and less than 3 miles from the Hosgri Fault, both unknown at the time of construction. Um. Gulp! Don't worry. SLO County provides potassium iodide (KI) pills to protect your thyroid against exposure to radioactive iodine "in the unlikely event of a radiological release." Visit slocounty.ca.gov/ki.aspx to download your voucher form today! Yay!

Diablo operator Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) had planned to decommission the plant in 2025, but since it currently supplies 8.6 percent of California's total electricity and accounts for 17 percent of the state's "clean" energy, its loss would be significant. Diablo's also a major employer and generates a lot of tax revenue. Naturally, many advocate to extend its operating life, and indeed, a plan is in place—thanks to SB 846—to keep it running until 2030 as the state tries to develop new renewable energy.

If you're a nuclear proponent, extending Diablo makes sense because so much has already been invested, and aside from the pesky fault line and blueprint issues, it's been operating safely. Construction began in 1968 and electricity production commenced in 1985. It's not like we want to build a brand-new plant. The question the SLO County Board of Supervisors recently grappled with is whether to quadruple down and extend the plant's life 20 more years, keeping it operating until 2045.

In the no-way-Jose camp are 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson and 4th District Supervisor Jimmy Paulding, who—like state Sen. John Laird (D-Santa Cruz)—think schmaybe we work out this five-year extension first and make sure the plant is truly safe. Have you heard the word "embrittlement"? Me neither, but the worry is the containment domes might crumble if there's a major earthquake. Now where did I leave my KI pill?

Usually, I'd expect 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg to join her liberal-minded colleagues and vote no on the extension, but nope. She voted with 1st District Supervisor John Peschong and 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold to go ahead and announce SLO County is all in, baby! Split those atoms!

Ortiz-Legg, formerly employed by PG&E, even had a verbal dustup with Gibson over it. He said passing the resolution would be "disrespectful" to the people who worked on SB 846 and "disrespectful of our state senator." She accused him of putting words in PG&E's mouth after he said they wanted the 20-year extension.

"That's what the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] does," Ortiz-Legg shot back. "They don't dink around with five years; they only do licensing at a 20-year interval. Don't make up things ... to make a story." 

"You're not going to provoke me into a heated debate because I see where this is going," Gibson retorted.

Anti-nuke group Mothers for Peace rebuked Ortiz-Legg for what they called "misleading comments that caused serious confusion."

Yikes! Play nice, children! Honestly, it seems premature to rush headlong into a 20-year extension, which no doubt would require another bill like SB 846. Why not let the five-year process play out? Anyway, PG&E pretty much sucks. California has some of the most expensive energy in the country. PG&E's grid has been poorly maintained and the source of devastating and deadly fires. Summer blackouts are common. Are we supposed to trust PG&E, a for-profit company that filed for bankruptcy in 2019, to correctly handle a 20-year Diablo extension?

Here's what I do know: PG&E Corporation cleared a cool $2.2 billion in 2023, up from $1.8 billion in 2022—nearly a 25 percent increase driven by a 13 percent rate hike—and they're asking for another rate hike this year. And then there's the small matter of the giant radioactive turd they'll eventually leave on our coastline.

While it's true, major isotopes of spent nuclear fuel remain radioactive for millions of years, if we're talking about radiotoxicity, spent fuel's only really dangerous for about 10,000 years, so if Diablo Canyon continues to operate until 2045 and continues to store spent fuel on-site, everything should be hunky-dory by the year 12045. Go clean energy! Δ

The Shredder wears lead-lined Underoos®. Tell it your escape plan at [email protected].

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