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Diablo Canyon’s cooling system threatens Central Coast’s fragile ecosystem

November 17, 2014

State Water Board hearing pits marine protection against PG&E’s profits

SACRAMENTO, CA – For almost 30 years, the antiquated cooling system at Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has killed billions of fish, endangered marine mammals and sea turtles, and degraded the ocean environment near a marine sanctuary. Now the California Water Resources Board must decide whether to let PG&E continue the practice or conform to a landmark state policy to protect coastal resources.

At issue is Diablo Canyon’s so-called “once-through cooling” system, which sucks in more than 2.5 billion gallons of water a day from the Pacific Ocean. The water passes through the plant to cool its twin nuclear reactors, then discharges the unnaturally heated water back into San Luis Obispo Bay. The intake pipes are less than one mile from the Point Buchon State Marine Reserve and its adjacent Conservation Area, home to hundreds of species, including federally-protected harbor seals, sea otters and sea turtles.

Four years ago, the Water Board ordered all coastal power plants to phase out once-through cooling, but PG&E obtained a temporary exemption. The Water Board, however, will soon decide on whether or not PG&E and Diablo Canyon should be required to comply with the state’s environmental policy -- the Board’s hearing on Tuesday, November 18 will therefore pit coastal protection against PG&E’s profits.

“Diablo Canyon alone sucks in about 80 percent of the seawater used by all Californian coastal power plants and wreaks tremendous harm to fish and the fragile ocean ecosystem,” said Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth. “If PG&E were to get an exemption, it would gut the state’s policy to end once-through cooling and deeply undermine California’s efforts to protect its irreplaceable coastal resources.”

Friends of the Earth is one of 22 environmental and public interest groups that have sent two letters urging the Water Board to require that PG&E comply with the state’s policy and build cooling towers. In addition, the Water Board  has received an estimated 10,000 letters from the public urging that the Water Board defend the state’s policy and require that PG&E  construct cooling towers at Diablo Canyon.

"The Water Board now has overwhelming evidence that cooling towers are feasible and the only way to effectively stop the damage to marine life being caused by Diablo Canyon's OTC system," says Edward Moreno, Policy Advocate at Sierra Club California. "Further delay is unwarranted. It's time to fully apply the California OTC policy and have Diablo Canyon meet the state's marine protection standards."

“The vast destruction Diablo Canyon causes with its antiquated once-through-cooling system is unacceptable,” said Dan Jacobson, Legislative Director for Environment California. “This plant does not deserve special treatment. As the single most damaging coastal power plant in the state, Diablo Canyon should be instructed by the Water Board to immediately comply with the state’s policy.”

Groups that have written the Water Board include CALPIRG, the Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Water Action, Committee to Bridge the Gap, Environment California, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Greenpeace, Heal the Bay, Local Clean Energy Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pacific Coast Association of Fisherman’s Organizations, Pacific Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, Seventh Generation Advisors, Sierra Club California, Surfrider Foundation and World Business Academy.

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Expert Contact: Damon Moglen, (202) 352-4223, dmoglen@foe.org

Communications Contacts:
EA Dyson, (202) 222-0730, edyson@foe.org (East Coast)
Bill Walker, (510) 759-9911, bw.deadline@gmail.com (West Coast)

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