The Central Coast’s nuclear power controversy

One month after Japan’s devastating earthquake and nuclear crisis, Central Coast residents worry about our own nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, and its ability to stand up to future earthquakes in our region.

A brief recap on the cause of Japan’s nuclear crisis

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake damaged the structures that house the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. The reactors shut off during the quake as a safety precaution, but the damage affected the cooling systems in the plant. Without a proper cooling system, the reactors overheated and began producing hydrogen gas. The increased gas caused more explosions that damaged the power plant, and this led to further problems and increased leaking radiation. For more details on the sequence of events at Fukushima, watch the BBC graphics presentation.

Why is radiation a concern?

Radiation is harmful to our health. This is because the strongest forms of radiation (ionizing radiation) can actually break up the atoms and molecules in our bodies. This damages our cells and our DNA. If exposed to enough radiation, cellular damage to internal organs such as the stomach could be fatal. Damage to DNA is thought to cause cancer. Also, DNA mutations in the reproductive cells could cause deformities in future generations of children.

Risk at Diablo Canyon

According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Diablo Canyon is “designed to withstand a 7.5 magnitude quake.” Tests have been conducted by several organizations, saying that the largest conceivable earthquake would register at 6.5. It is extremely unlikely that we would ever have a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, claim seismologists, because the San Andreas fault in California is made by horizontal sliding of tectonic plates, while in Japan the tectonic plates slide underneath each other, which produces shocks of a greater magnitude.

Japan’s crisis spurs local citizens to protest

Many people believe that nuclear power is not safe and do not want to be exposed to radiation if a power plant were to fail. Just last Saturday, April 16, protesters gathered in Avila Beach to express their desire for Diablo Canyon to be shut down. With the crisis in Japan used as proof for their cause, their concerns are being considered and may affect public policy as people debate whether to continue operating the power plant.

For Further Reference

Fukushima Graphics Presentation: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12726591

BBC Japan Quake Information Portal: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12711226

In Case You Forget – Emergency Plan for Central Coast Residents: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/OES/NPPInfo.htm

Local News Sources Discuss Potential Earthquake Affects: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2011/03/14/1521331/diablo-canyon-nuclear-tsunami.html

Protests at Avila Beach Last Weekend: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2011/04/16/1565807/anti-nuclear-rally-at-avila-beach.html