Nuclear Power Defends California Public Safety from Earthquake Hazards
Gene Nelson, Ph.D. November 29, 2019
During the past four years, I have spent thousands of hours working to understand California energy policy. Sadly, it is not determined by rational engineering practice. Instead, most of the policies appear to be designed to maintain the dominance of natural gas as California's main energy source. Unfortunately, 95% of California's natural gas comes from outside California's borders via underground pipelines.
California has about a 50-day supply of natural gas in California underground storage reservoirs. Natural gas energy can get to the point of use only when the bulk transmission and storage system is intact.
Given a population of 40 million in a state at the southwest corner of the U.S. that is very dependent on a reliable energy supply, this is a precarious situation. This situation is why California needs
both Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP - shown at the left) and San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to
maintain life-sustaining California energy diversity. DCPP and SONGS operate independent of California's aging and vulnerable natural gas system
Unfortunately, California's natural gas system has been poorly maintained, so it cannot move energy at its designed rate. Instead, many bulk transmission large-diameter pipelines are de-rated to reflect their poor state of repair. Just as in the case of California's electric transmission infrastructure, routine maintenance was deferred so that investor-owned utility executive pay and shareholder dividends could be enhanced. This is a symptom of a 'captive regulator' - namely the California Public Utilities Commission. (CPUC)
Despite the entrenched business interests, California's public utility system needs reform. Independent nonprofit and Intervenor Californians for Green Nuclear Power, Inc. (CGNP) can be part of the solution. CGNP has already become politically active.
The natural gas problem recently affected San Diego County, California. There were no news reports. The San Diego Union Tribune (and Qualcomm, Children's Hospital and others in the San Diego area) have installed large natural gas powered backup generators. Those generators will likely be nonfunctional during a large-scale natural gas outage caused by earthquakes Some of the natural gas pipeline problems are caused by stress corrosion cracking initiated by plate tectonics (aseismic creep.) Furthermore, natural gas pipelines sometimes corrode from the inside, so the cathodic protection
systems installed after the pipelines were constructed in the mid-1950s do not stop internal corrosion. Furthermore, pipeline corrosion that occurred between the time the pipeline was constructed and the cathodic protection system was installed is a latent defect.
This dangerous over- dependency on natural gas is a compelling reason to re-commission SONGS, which could provide both life- sustaining electricity and safe drinking water via electrically-powered desalination. SONGS stored at least 27 billion kilowatt-hours of energy within the twin reactor cores. Diablo Canyon stores a similar huge quantity of 'always on' power. California's electric distribution system is inherently more earthquake - resistant than California's aging and vulnerable natural gas transmission and storage system.
The San Bruno PG&E natural gas pipeline explosion which killed 8 on September 9, 2010 should have prompted a re-examination of the state's over-dependency
on natural gas. Here's a summary of the roughly 2,000 pages of CPUC Intervenor Californians for Green Nuclear Power, Inc.'s (CGNP's) written testimony, workpapers, and oral hearing transcripts over the past 3 years:
1. California's large investor-owned utilities made sure the over-dependence story was not covered by any in-state media. The two big natural gas suppliers are Sempra (whose service territory covers southern California) and Pacific Gas & Electric. Both huge firms exert tremendous political power in California
2. Sempra, a 20% owner of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) likely had a role in the decision to decommission SONGS after January, 2012. The issue was the plant's owners mismanagement of a routine service operation (replacement of the SONGS steam generators.) SONGS was probably shut down to expand the market for natural gas, since SONGS was generating more than five times the annual output of Hoover Dam in 2011. PG&E's Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) produces the same amount of power. (There is still an open criminal investigation regarding SONGS and the CPUC.)
3. Southern California's aging (mostly 60 plus years old) natural gas bulk transmission and storage system began to show signs of stress after SONGS went off line. Sempra had to compensate for the loss of SONGS by making more aggressive use of their Aliso Canyon Storage Field (ACSF.) The subsequent disaster near Porter Ranch began in October, 2015 and ended in February, 2016. It was the world's biggest methane leak from a natural gas distribution and storage system to date.
4. There is plenty of evidence the plan to shut down DCPP in 2025 would serve to expand PG&E's natural gas business, much like occurred for Sempra after SONGS went off line. It might also expand the use of out-of state coal-fired generation. A Berkshire Hathaway Energy Company, PacifiCorp has also been pushing for an expansion of imported coal power into California since at least 2005. (Most of the power for Los Angeles comes from the huge Intermountain coal-fired power plant located in Delta Utah)
5. While CGNP was critically examining the adverse consequences of PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) policy, we learned of a 5-day long power outage in San Diego County, California in the middle of October, 2019. San Diego County's electricity is supplied by a Sempra subsidiary, San Diego Gas & Electric. (SDG&E) Sempra turned off enough natural-gas-fired electricity generation to more than
equal Hoover Dam Sempra had to turn off these generators because they needed to repair a portion of their natural gas bulk transmission system. There has been no news reporting regarding this huge outage. Instead, reporters have focused on PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) policy. Additional details about the problems with Sempra's aging and stressed natural gas transmission system are found in a July 11, 2019 Los Angeles Times story by Sammy Roth 'After Aliso Canyon, a gas pipeline exploded costing Californians $1 billion' https://tinyurl.com/Sempra-Gas-Pipeline-Explosion
6. California has the greatest amount of solar (12,000 MW) and wind (6,000 MW) of any state. As a consequence of their intermittency, solar and wind generation are not benefiting the environment. CGNP uncovered evidence that electric power sector emissions have been increasing instead of decreasing as more solar and wind are added. This is great news if you are a wholesaler of natural gas like Sempra or PG&E. However, it is bad news for the environment and California ratepayers. An introduction to the problem is found in this August 11, 2016 Washington Post story 'Turns out wind and solar have a secret friend : Natural gas' by Chris Mooney http://tinyurl.com/Natural-Gas-Secret
7. While CGNP's investigations by a technical team that includes four Ph.D.s whose degrees relate to nuclear power production are very high quality, there has been scant media coverage regarding what our group uncovered. Our legal team is headed by former four-term California Assemblyman, Attorney Mike Gatto. Attorney Gatto chaired the powerful Energy and Utilities Committee for one of his terms. We attempted to raise some of our points we uncovered with the CPUC to the State Court of Appeal. However, due to a quirk in California law, such review is discretionary, not mandatory. The Appeals Court declined to take our case. CGNP learned about PG&E being under criminal probation after the San Bruno Natural Gas Pipeline explosion. We have sent considerable amounts of CGNP's CPUC testimony that support the public safety benefits of continuing to operate Diablo Canyon to the Federal Monitor in that case. Federal Judge William H. Alsup is very interested in PG&E's ethical violations and PG&E's actions that harm California public safety. CGNP has not yet been asked to provide oral testimony by Judge Alsup. Since PG&E is in bankruptcy, it makes sense for PG&E to sell Diablo Canyon to qualified buyers that will keep it running beyond 2025. Diablo Canyon's current depreciable basis is about $8 billion per PG&E's 2018 FERC Form 1. Some of the sale proceeds should go to the wildfire survivors.
8. The vulnerabilities of California's aging natural gas distribution and storage system will become far worse as a consequence of plate tectonics. When a large earthquake occurs on the southern portion of the San Andreas Fault, Sempra's (and PG&E's) natural gas transmission system will suffer serious damage that will likely require months to repair. Many aqueducts won't work. The resulting humanitarian crisis could imperil the lives of millions in southern California. CGNP is working with the California State Seismic Safety Commission (CSSC) and Dr. Lucy Jones ('The Earthquake Lady') to publicize the public safety value of keeping DCPP on line and re-commissioning SONGS. However, we are cognizant of the substantial political power of Sempra and PG&E in California to maintain the dominance of natural gas as the California energy source. (Sempra is one of the sponsors of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center.) California's nuclear power stations operate independent of the state's aging and vulnerable
natural gas distribution and storage system. Both plants are seismically rugged. Both of California's nuclear power plants could supply life-sustaining electric power. Some of that power could be used to desalinate seawater to provide safe drinking water during the substantial interval while the aqueducts are being repaired after a large earthquake on the southern section of the San Andreas Fault - and the many aftershocks
Gene Nelson, Ph.D. Legal Assistant, Californians for Green Nuclear Power, Inc. (805) 363 - 4697 cell