Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) site inspector Dr. Michael Peck (right) warned that the Diablo Canyon nukes could not withstand a likely earthquake, and should be shut. The Commission forced him out and ignored the finding. (photo: NRC).

As he begins to campaign for the White House, Gov. Gavin Newsom is toying with extending operations at two of the world’s most dangerous atomic reactors, sited at the aptly named Diablo Canyon, nine miles west of San Luis Obispo.

The coastal nukes are surrounded by a dozen earthquake faults, just 45 miles from the San Andreas, whose eruption could send an apocalyptic radioactive cloud into Los Angeles County, just 180 miles downwind. Potential human casualties could far exceed ten millon. The economic and ecological devastation would be incalculable.

Newsom’s emergence as a potential atomic triggerman has been tortured and tragic. Long marketed as an environmentalist, Newsom has fiercely criticized the state’s largest utility, for good reason.

Since 2000, Pacific Gas & Electric has twice fled to bankruptcy.

In 2010, PG&E’S under maintained gas lines caused a San Bruno explosion that killed eight people while burning 19 homes. Its grid mismanagement ignited huge fires that devastated northern California forests while killing more than 80 people, incinerating the entire town of Paradise (which Trump famously mis-labelled “Pleasure”).

Some 10,000 people were arrested in the 1980s trying to keep Diablo shut—-more than at any other US nuke site. Amidst the chaos, PG&E installed a major component backwards, delaying its startup. In 1973 the company then admitted to prior knowledge of a major earthquake fault—-the Hosgri—-just three miles from the plant. Roughly a dozen more have since become known. The San Andreas is just 45 miles from the reactors. The quake epicenter that destroyed Fukushima was twice as far.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission site inspector Dr. Michael Peck warned that Diablo could not withstand a credible seismic shock and should be shut. Peck worked five years inside the plant. But the NRC trashed his warnings and forced him out.

The NRC also warned in 2003 that Diablo Unit One is dangerously embrittled, a flaw that risks an apocalyptic explosion. Critical welds were done with metal amalgams long since abandoned. Serious cracking indicated in key components has been ignored in expectation the reactors will soon shut.

Diablo uses an obsolete “once-through” cooling system that destroys the marine environment; state law now requires cooling towers, which PG&E does not want to build.

In 2016 a broad coalition of unions, the governor, Public Utilities Commission, local communities, state regulators and environmental groups struck a landmark deal to shut both reactors as their operating licenses expire in 2024 and 2025.

The agreement has let PG&E avoid critical maintenance on the assumption that the nukes would soon close. The site lacks sufficient short-term waste storage space for fuel burned after 2025. Extremely dangerous manipulations of spent fuel pools would be required to handle more highly volatile rods and assemblies.

The shut-down agreement includes generous buy-outs for retiring workers. Retraining is set for younger ones in renewables and other fields. Much of the workforce has planned to stay on for decommissioning.

But six years into the shutdown phase, an irreplaceable core of inherited knowledge about the dangerously complex reactors has been lost, putting future operations in deep peril.

The reactors’s electricity costs California rate payers more than $3.5 million per day—-$1 billion/year—-over market prices. Timely shut-downs would avoid $8 billion in over-market charges, easily enough to replace the reactors with renewables.

The nukes’ dirty, costly output regularly forces far cheaper renewable generation off the grid. Since 2016 PG&E has added to the grid thousands of megawatts of renewables.

Unlike nuclear power, wind and solar emit no heat or carbon. Just 1500 workers work at Diablo, which has no job growth potential. More than 70,000 Californians work in the fast-expanding wind, solar, battery and efficiency industries.

Looming above all is the chance one or both Diablo’s reactors could explode, sending apocalyptic radioactive clouds into Los Angeles, the Bay Area or across into the central valley and then across the continental US., with incalculable human, ecological and economic devastation.

As the reactors age, with an aging, disappearing work force, worsening operational and structural defects, and cost and environmental impacts soaring, the harsh realities at Diablo Canyon point to catastrophe.

Why Gov. Newsom would court disaster to break the 2016 shut-down agreement and force these much-hated reactor to continue operations beyond their license agreements remains a mystery. But the costs of his folly could be apocalyptic.

Harvey Wasserman wrote the PEOPLE’S SPIRAL OF US HISTORY ( and most Mondays convenes the Green Grassroots Emergency Election Protection zoom call (

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