by Jane Swanson
In 2010 the California State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) adopted a policy intended to address the marine environmental protection problems posed by the antiquated once-through cooling (OTC) systems of industrial plants on the California coast.
The Policy on the Use of Coastal and Estuarine Waters for Power Plant Cooling required that by 2015 all coastal power plants should have in place replacement cooling systems that conserve water and protect the marine environment.
But the two reactors of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant continue to use once-through cooling. The State Water Board is on the record as expecting Diablo Canyon owner PG&E to replace OTC with cooling towers by 2024 (the date at which the first of the two reactors reaches it current license limit).
Diablo Canyon’s cooling system draws in an estimated 2.5 billion gallons of water per day and discharges that water back into the ocean some 20 degrees F hotter. In the course of this intake and outflow, it is estimated that annually the reactors’ cooling system sucks in more than a billion fish in early life stages, most of which die. Additionally, more than 700 pounds of adult fish are destroyed every year.
Cooling towers could be built on the current site of the parking lot, which would have minimal land impact, and could use salt water, which would make desalination unnecessary. The construction costs would not exceed $ 2 billion.
Simply put, defense of the OTC policy and the requirement that the Diablo Canyon plant adhere to state policy is one of the most important issues that anyone concerned about the marine environment can advocate for in the next few months. PG&E’s Diablo Canyon power plant ought to be treated just like the other coastal power plants, and profits ought not win out over protection of the marine environment.
The Water Board has been focused on the drought for the past couple of years, but in due time is expected to accept public comment on several options regarding enforcement of its own policy. Individuals and organizations wanting to join the effort to persuade the Water Board to hold PG&E accountable for compliance to state policy to end OTC may send an email titled JOINING OTC COMMITTEE to firstname.lastname@example.org