Thirty-four licenses are currently pending at the NRC as utility companies race to secure the $8 billion the federal government set aside for subsidies.
"Imagine how many wind turbines that could buy," said Harvey Wasserman, a longtime anti-nuke activist who recently authored the book Solartopia, which outlines a plan for completely renewable energy by 2030. In fact, renewables are far cheaper. Building the facilities to create one gigawatt of wind power costs about $1.5 billion; about two gigawatts could replace the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In the end, it comes down to money, and that's where nuclear power may be the most vulnerable.
Sam Blakeslee, a Republican Assembly member from San Luis Obispo, introduced a bill last year that calls on the California Energy Commission (CEC) to conduct an in-depth study of the true costs of nuclear power to assess its viability as part of California's future energy plans. The bill passed unanimously, and Schwarzenegger signed it.
"This will be cradle to grave," said Weisman, of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, which has focused its scrutiny on the industry's costs.
The group has long been suspicious of PG&E's financial woes, which came to a head this past March when the California Public Utilities Commission allowed the company to use $16.8 million from ratepayers to fund its in-house study of relicensing its two nuclear plants. "The licenses won't be up until 2023 and 2025, so why are they looking at relicensing now and why does it cost $16.8 million when the state's study is projected to cost $800,000?" Weisman asked.
Assemblymember Mark Leno (DSan Francisco) is introducing a bill this year that will undercut PG&E's study before the CEC's analysis is completed, which is expected to occur around November 2008.
"Our very simple idea here is that before any relicensing of our aging nuclear power plants can proceed, the CEC study be completed," Leno said. "Clearly, PG&E is very eager to move forward its relicensing process. They have many years to accomplish that task."
Leno said the stakes are too high and the inherent risks of the toxins already accumulated in seismic zones along the coast need to be carefully weighed against the prospects of generating even more waste. "We should proceed with absolute caution, forethought, and consideration."
NOWHERE TO RUN
Those risks, that caution, are something that never leaves the minds of the people who live in the plants' fallout zones, areas as vast as a steady breeze or trickling flow of water can make them. That's really the problem with nuclear power plants. After 50 years there are still too many unknowns. In Moore's lectures and during interviews and debates, the former Greenpeace activist likes to say more people are killed by car accidents and machetes than by nuclear power plants, but that mocks the magnitude of a meltdown.
A car accident kills at most a few people. A machete attack might kill one person. A nuclear accident has the potential to inflict casualties in the tens of thousands, maybe even millions, and to render entire cities uninhabitable. And while most of the time, most of the plants may be perfectly problem free, it only takes one accident to wreak environmental havoc.
These days opposition to nuclear energy isn't about mass protests in the streets. "When KQED calls and asks for the sounds of a protest, I say that's not how it happens," Weisman said while showing a DVD of a Jan. 31 San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission meeting that droned on for more than 12 hours. The meeting ultimately resulted in what he'd hoped for: a continuing delay of PG&E's permit to site new dry-cask storage tanks for thousands of tons of nuclear waste accumuutf8g at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. He and Rochelle Becker, the group's director, sat through the whole thing.