Nuclear Operations

For more than 25 years, Diablo Canyon Power Plant (Diablo Canyon) and the employees who work there have been an integral part of the San Luis Obispo community and have helped meet California’s energy needs. The plant safely provides reliable and virtually carbon-free energy for about 20 percent of PG&E’s customers each year. That’s enough energy to meet the needs of nearly 3 million households, with almost zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Learning from the Fukushima Daiichi Accident

Like other members of the nuclear industry, PG&E continues to analyze the serious accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In fact, we have established teams at Diablo Canyon whose focus is the ongoing analysis of the event and applying lessons learned to effectively manage and swiftly respond to an emergency.

Beginning on the day of the Fukushima tragedy, PG&E quickly launched a detailed and thorough review of our operations, specifically analyzing Diablo Canyon's ability to respond to beyond-design-basis events (events beyond what the facility was designed to withstand). As a result, we took the following steps:

  • Confirmed that Diablo Canyon’s design is appropriate and able to withstand regional environmental hazards, including beyond-design-basis tsunamis and earthquakes;
  • Verified the safety of the plant’s systems and emergency response procedures;
  • Created a team specifically to examine opportunities to improve the facility’s ability to withstand beyond-design-basis events;
  • Began making modifications to strengthen the ability of the plant to withstand beyond-design-basis events, including extended blackouts;
  • Conducted rigorous emergency preparedness training, specifically for beyond-design-basis events. This includes the ability to initiate emergency procedures for events affecting more than one nuclear unit at the site, as well as training and qualifications for beyond-design-basis events procedures;
  • Secured plans to acquire off-site supplies and equipment that the plant may need during a beyond-design-basis event.

Moving forward, PG&E will continue to work thoughtfully to address and implement new industry orders and recommendations from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to ensure the continued safety of the plant.

Commitment to Long Term Seismic Studies

PG&E remains focused on ensuring that Diablo Canyon continues, and improves upon, its strong record of safe operations. This includes making the facility resilient to natural hazards, including earthquakes and tsunamis.

Shortly after commercial operations began and as part of our licenses to operate Diablo Canyon, PG&E implemented a Long Term Seismic Program. Under this program, a team of geoscientists study local geographic features and regional and global seismic events on an ongoing basis and apply new information to ensure that Diablo Canyon is seismically safe.

An important component of the program is PG&E’s work with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to update the understanding of earthquake hazards along the Central Coast and throughout PG&E’s service area. As a result of this program, a shoreline fault zone was discovered in 2008. PG&E evaluated whether that fault line presented a safety risk to the plant and submitted its evaluation to the NRC under the commitment of its current operating licenses. PG&E’s evaluation confirmed the plant has an adequate safety margin to withstand ground motions associated with the shoreline fault zone.

PG&E takes seriously the concerns expressed by customers and neighbors in the community about the seismic safety characteristics of Diablo Canyon. In response to those concerns, PG&E made a formal request to the NRC in April 2011 to delay the final issuance of the plant’s license renewal, a process that began in late 2009, until PG&E completes appropriate seismic studies.

Once available, data from the studies will be incorporated into the facility’s safety plans under the Long Term Seismic Program. PG&E will also share the information collected with local, state and federal government agencies, so they can incorporate it into emergency preparedness plans and enhance public safety for the entire Central Coast of California.

Continued Investment and Used Fuel Storage

Since operation began in 1985, PG&E has invested more than $1 billion on significant upgrades to Diablo Canyon. In 2011, this included a planned outage to refuel Unit 2 and perform scheduled testing and maintenance to maintain performance and reliability.

At the former nuclear unit at Humboldt Bay Power Plant, PG&E has completed large component removal as part of the first phase to remove radioactive components, piping and some structures. Subsequently, PG&E will remove all other equipment and decontaminate structures to permit building demolition and site restoration. A review from the NRC will follow site restoration.

At both Diablo Canyon and Humboldt Bay, PG&E uses on-site dry cask storage systems, approved and licensed by the NRC, to safely store used fuel until the federal government fulfills its commitment to take ownership of the fuel by building a permanent storage facility. These on-site storage systems are used at nuclear power plants across the country, and protect the used fuel against a range of threats, including severe weather, earthquakes and terrorism.

(For additional information on waste storage and other issues associated with Diablo Canyon and Humboldt Bay, please see page 45 of the PG&E Corporation and Pacific Gas and Electric Company 2011 Annual Report to Shareholders.)

Supporting the Local Community

Diablo Canyon is an integral member of San Luis Obispo County and contributes greatly to the local community. As a major employer and purchaser of goods and services, Diablo Canyon contributed nearly $28 million in property taxes to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in 2011.

Additionally, our employees volunteer thousands of hours through educational, environmental and other community projects that benefit the region. They also contribute financially to nonprofit organizations through PG&E’s annual Employee Giving Campaign.

PG&E also has made local charitable contributions of nearly $1.1 million to more than 90 local nonprofits including school programs, senior centers and other vital community projects.

Visitors can learn about the plant and a range of energy-related topics at our Energy Education Center, which is also available for use as an evacuation center in the case of an emergency. Also, guided tours of Diablo Canyon provide an opportunity to speak directly with employees and learn how Diablo Canyon provides safe, clean, affordable and reliable electric service.

Land Stewardship at Diablo Canyon

Located on one of the most scenic coastlines in the country, Diablo Canyon is surrounded by more than 12,000 acres of land that stretches across 14 miles of pristine coastline—extending from Port San Luis to Montana de Oro State Park and inland about a mile and a half to the peaks of the Irish Hills.

Cal Poly students and instructors worked with PG&E and Native American tribal representatives to investigate cultural resources near Diablo Canyon.

The site is home to many species of plant and animal wildlife, including the American peregrine falcon, and nearshore marine habitats that support marine wildlife species, including the brown pelican, southern sea otter and northern elephant seal.

A cross-functional team manages PG&E’s stewardship of the property, continuing a program that was created in 1990 to protect the site’s natural and cultural resources and conserve its biological diversity.

Today, PG&E’s active stewardship includes livestock grazing, which has resulted in a healthier rangeland habitat that sustains native plant species while reducing invasive plant species. PG&E also allows scientists and others to explore the area’s habitat and ecology. This includes archaeology students from nearby California Polytechnic State University, who, in partnership with PG&E, are engaged in a multi-year research project focused on the prehistory of the Pecho Coast. A field class in 2011 provided a unique learning experience for the students and is assisting PG&E with managing and interpreting the rich archaeological resources located on the property.

The property also includes two scenic trails that are open to the public—the 3.3-mile Point Buchon Trail and 3.75-mile Pecho Coast Trail. As part of our broader effort to promote environmental education, docent naturalists, which include plant employees, lead groups along Pecho Coast Trail and provide information about the location’s history, cultural resources and biological diversity.