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More Offshore ‘Seismic Testing’

At last Friday's Coastal Commission meeting in Caspar, California, Deputy Director Alison Dettmer delivered a bombshell. She announced that seismic testing plans for the controversial Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant are not the only high-energy surveys proposed for studying potential earthquakes off the state's two active nuclear facilities.

According to Dettmer, the Diablo air-gun survey “would cover about 300 square miles, in both state and federal waters. The SONGS survey, (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) limited to federal waters, would cover about 1,300 square miles.” (Federal waters are defined as the ocean outside of a 3-mile offshore line, which designates areas within California state jurisdiction.)

Until this point, the general public had not known that another and larger high-energy offshore survey was in the works for Southern California — this one for the San Onofre nuclear facility.

Reactors at the troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant have been shut-down since January. One reactor was shuttered for scheduled repairs, and the remaining reactor was later stopped in an emergency procedure, when it was discovered that badly corroded pipes were leaking radioactive steam into the immediate environment. Since then, other badly deteriorated steam generator pipes have been discovered throughout the plant. Both reactors are now off-line indefinitely.

San Onofre sits just a few feet above sea level, and has hundreds of metric tons of highly radioactive “hot” spent fuel-rods stored onsite, in “cooling ponds” that are highly vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis, and terrorist attack. The facility is protected by a 30-foot sea wall, approximately the same height as the Fukushima plant that was easily broached by 45-foot tsunamis.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company sent its lead flak-catcher, Mark Krausse, to yesterday's Coastal Commission meeting, to provide testimony on the Diablo Canyon seismic survey proposal, despite the fact that the matter was not on the agenda.

During his comments, Krausse stated that seismic testing cannons have been fired throughout the world “billions of times,” and asserted that there is no proof of any earthquake hazard associated with the underwater blasting. But a mathematical analysis of how long it would take for a billion blasts to occur, at one shot every second, 24-hours a day, reveals that it would take well over over 31 years to rack up one billion.

In other words, for the vessel that is to conduct these operations (that will involve firing nine seismic canons, every twenty seconds), to fulfill Krausse's claim, it would have been at sea in full operational mode, day and night, for a period of some seventy years. And Mr. Krause didn' say one billion. He said billions, plural, meaning more than one billion. So, according to the PG&E representative, this seismic survey vessel could have canvased every ocean, sea, bay and lagoon on the entire planet, probably several times over for approximately 150 years straight, day and night — with the number of times Krausse claims the ocean has been blasted with seismic cannons.

But PG&E is well known for playing fast and loose with the facts. Just ask Erin Brockovich.

Mr. Krausse, in now advocating for the “seismic tests” on behalf of PG&E, has reversed himself from an earlier position about the need for these surveys off the Diablo plant. He contended in an Oct. 22, 2008 letter to the California Energy Commission that: “we believe there is no uncertainty regarding the seismic setting and hazard at the Diablo Canyon Site.” Krause went on in the letter: “we believe the characterization…that there are uncertainties, understates the wealth of information already gathered and developed about the Diablo Canyon seismic setting.”

Whether the expensive and destructive  seismic surveys will be allowed to go forward in the face of ever increasing evidence of the urgency to immediately and permanently decommission both plants remains to be seen.

The controversial  issue of seismic surveys off Diablo Canyon comes before California's Fish and Game Commision on Sept 24th, and again before the Coastal Commission in the second week of October.

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