— COVID-19 pandemic increases nuclear reactor disaster risk; NRC loosens rules, requires long shifts

Posted on BuzzFeed

Terrified Atomic Workers Warn That the COVID-19 Pandemic May Threaten Nuclear Reactor Disaster

April 9, 2020

By Harvey Wasserman

The COVID Pandemic has thrown America’s atomic reactor industry into lethal chaos, making a major disaster even more likely.  Reports from “terrified” workers at a Pennsylvania reactor indicate vital precautions needed to protect them may not even be possible.

Nationwide, with falling demand and soaring prices for nuke-generated electricity, the Pandemic casts a dark shadow over reactor operations and whether frightened neighbors will allow them to be refueled and repaired.

America’s 96 remaining atomic reactors are run by a coveted pool of skilled technicians who manage the control rooms, conduct repairs, load/unload nuclear fuel.

Because few young students have been entering the field, the corps of about 100,000 licensed technicians has been—-like the reactors themselves—-rapidly aging while declining in numbers.  Work has stopped at the last two US reactors under construction (at Vogtle, Georgia) due to the Pandemic’s impact, which includes a shrinking supply of healthy workers.

Every reactor control room requires five operators at all times.  But the physical space is limited there and in plant hot spots that need frequent, often demanding repairs.  Social distancing is virtually impossible.  Long shifts in confined spaces undermine operator safety and performance.

Of critical importance:  every 18-24 months each reactor must shut for refueling and repairs.  Itinerant crews of 1000 to 1500 technicians travel to 58 sites in 29 states, usually staying 30-60 days.  They often board with local families, or in RVs, hotels, or Air B&Bs. 

Some 54 reactors have been scheduled for refuel/repairs in 2020. But there is no official, organized program to test the workers for the Coronavirus as they move around the country.

As the Pandemic thins the workforce, older operators are being called out of retirement.  The Trump-run Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently certified  16-hour work days, 86-hour work weeks and up to 14 consecutive days with 12-hour shifts.

Long-time nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen warns of fatigued operators falling asleep on the job.  He recalls at least one exhausted worker falling into the highly radioactive pool surrounding the high-level fuel rods.  Operator fatigue also helped cause the 1979 melt-down that destroyed Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island Unit Two.

The industry is now using the Coronavirus Pandemic to rush through a wide range of deregulation demandsAmong them is a move to allow radioactive waste to be dumped into municipal landfills. 

The NRC may also certify skipping vital repairs, escalating the likelihood of major breakdowns and melt-downs.  Nearly all US reactors were designed and built in the pre-digital age, more than 30 years ago.  Most are in advanced decay.  Atomic expert David Lochbaum, formerly with the NRC, warns that failure risks from longer work hours and deferred repairs could be extremely significant, and could vary from reactor to reactor depending on their age and condition.

The industry has also been required to maintain credible public health response plans should those reactors blow.  But Pandemic-stricken US hospitals now have zero spare capacity, multiplying the possible human fallout from an increasingly likely disaster.

Industry-wide the Pandemic has brought working conditions to the brink of collapse.  At Pennsylvania’s Limerick Generating Station, workers say they are “terrified” that the plant has become a “breeding ground…a complete cesspool” for the Coronavirus.  “I’m in a constant state of paranoia,” one technician told Carl Hessler, Jr., of MontcoCourtNews.

Others say social distancing is non-existent, with “no less than 100 people in the training room” and “people literally sitting on top of each other…sitting at every computer elbow to elbow.”  Shift change rooms, Hessler was told, can be    “standing room only.”  At least two Limerick workers are confirmed to have carried the virus.  COVID rates in the county are soaring.

Nuclear engineer Gundersen warns that limited control room floorspace and cramped conditions for maintenance can make social distancing impossible.  “Some component repairs can involve five workers working right next to each other,” he says.

Because reactor-driven electricity is not vital amidst this pandemic downturn, the demand for atomic workers to “stay home” is certain to escalate.  “I am concerned with Exelon & Limerick Nuclear Generating Station’s handling of the scheduled refueling—which has required bringing in workers from across the country during this pandemic,” says US Rep. Madeleine Dean in a statement likely to be repeated at reactor sites around the US.

“The potential increase of COVID-19 cases from 1,400 new workers not observing social distancing is staggering,” says epidemiologist Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Health Project.  “The Limerick plant should be shut until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”

Indian Point Unit One, north of New York City, will shut permanently on April 28.  Iowa’s Duane Arnold will close in December.

But Ground Zero may be Pacific Gas & Electric’s two 35-year-old reactors at Diablo Canyon.  PG&E is bankrupt for the second time in two decades, and recently pleaded guilty to 85 felonies from the fires its faulty wires sent raging through northern California, killing 84 people.  In 2010 a faulty PG&E gas line exploded in San Bruno, killing eight people.

Surrounded by earthquake faults, Diablo’s construction prompted more than 10,000 civil disobedience arrests, the most at any US reactor.  PG&E now admits its two Diablo nukes will lose more than $1.2 billion this year, more than $3.44 million/day.

Amidst its bitterly contested bankruptcy, PG&E may be taken over by the state.  But more than a thousand workers are slated in early October to refuel and repair Unit One, which the NRC says is dangerously embrittled.

Whether local residents concerned about both a nuclear accident and the spread of the Coronavirus will let them into the county remains to be seen.  So is whether they’ll be still operating by then.

With the future of the nuclear industry at stake—-along with the possibility of more reactor mishaps—-the whole world will be watching.

Harvey Wasserman’s Solartopia!  Our Green-Powered Earth is at www.solartopia.org, along with The People’s Spiral of US History.  His California Solartopia Show is broadcast at KPFK/Pacifica 90.7fm Los Angeles; his Green Power & Wellness Show is podcast at prn.fm.  For a full one-hour expert podcast discussion of the impact of the Cornoavirus on nuke power, click here.


Posted under Fair Use Rules.

— California: San Luis Obispo educational series, Nov. 10, 2017; Jan. 10, 2018

From Mothers for Peace

When Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant ceases operation within the next few years, we will still be faced with the challenges of storage and transportation of the radioactive waste.

Learn about the options and challenges through an
presented by San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace

Friday, October 20, 2017
Topic: On-Site Storage
Presentation by Molly Johnson, Mothers for Peace:
o Radioactive Waste Primer
o Spent Fuel Pools
o HOSS (Hardened On-Site Storage)
Dry Cask Storage: Speaker – Donna Gilmore, SanOnofreSafety.org, San Diego, CA
slideshow of a portion of this event:

Friday, November 10, 2017
Topic: Yucca Mountain – is it viable?
Speakers –
Ian Zabarte, Principal Man, Western Bands Shoshone Nation Newe Sogobia, NV
Judy Treichal, Executive Director, Nuclear Waste Task Force,
Las Vegas, NV
Steve Frishman, Technical Policy Coordinator, Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, Las Vegas, NV

Friday, January 19, 2018
Topic: Transportation of Radioactive Wastes
Speaker – Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Beyond Nuclear, Washington,
Topic: Consolidated “Interim” Storage
Speaker – Diane D’Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director, Nuclear Information Resource Service, Washington, DC

All presentations begin at 6:00pm
San Luis Obispo County Library, 995 Palm Street, San Luis Obispo, CA


— Mothers for Peace argues for closure of Diablo Canyon in 2019

From Mothers for Peace
January 31, 2017

On Friday, January 27, Mothers for Peace through Ojai-based attorney Sabrina Venskus, submitted expert testimony to the California Public Utilities Commission showing that Diablo Canyon should be closed in 2019, not 2024. news release

One of Mothers for Peace’s expert witness, nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer for Fairewinds Associates, Inc, provided testimony demonstrating unsafe and unreliable conditions at the plant.  Arnie Gundersen testimony

Another expert witness is David D. Jackson who works with the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at UCLA.  In his testimony, Dr. Jackson explains the many types of seismic damage to the plant in case of an earthquake. Among his assertions is that the substantial risk of earthquakes at Diablo Canyon nuclear plant has been underestimated, and that the seismic studies relied upon evaluate only a part of the risk which affects any decision of how long to continue operation of the two Diablo Canyon reactors.  David D. Jackson testimony



For Immediate Release

January 31, 2017

Contacts:  Jane Swanson, spokesperson

(805) 440-1359



Linda Seeley, spokesperson

(805) 234-1769



On Friday January 27, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP) through Ojai-based attorney Sabrina Venskus submitted expert testimony to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) showing that Diablo Canyon should be closed in 2019, not 2024, because it is becoming unsafe and unreliable. SLOMFP’s expert witness is nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, chief engineer for Fairewinds Associates, Inc.

“Diablo Canyon was designed in the mid-1960s. Some of its parts are as dated as rabbit ears on a black and white TV.  This atomic power reactor is old and tired, and it is not reliable or safe.  The faster Diablo Canyon closes, the safer Californians will be,” stated Mr. Gundersen. Replacement costs for these outmoded parts at Diablo Canyon during the next 7 to 8 years are well in excess of a reasonable investment for a plant that is scheduled to shut down in 2024. Mr. Gundersen’s testimony also illuminates the degraded condition of tens of thousands of often neglected switches, plates, springs, shock absorbers, pipes, and other components of this aged atomic power reactor that are in danger of failing well before 2024.

The companies that own nuclear reactors have a tendency to defer needed maintenance and replacement of worn parts when permanent closure is imminent. Called “running to failure,” the operator tends to take a chance that the part won’t fail before the plant closes down. In an old car that is ready for the junkyard the owner won’t replace worn tires with ones that are guaranteed for 50,000 miles. Instead, he will take a chance that the tires won’t blow out before the old car is junked. If there’s a blowout in a tire, it can be hazardous. If there’s a failure of an essential component of a nuclear power plant, the costs of of replacement or of repair of damage can be huge.

Mr. Gundersen’s testimony, attached below, cites numerous parts and components at Diablo Canyon that have been listed in the 2017 Rate Case by Pacific Gas and Electric as in need of replacement. In Mr. Gundersen’s opinion, shutting the doors of the two reactors makes sense in 2019, before parts and components are forced to run to failure.

SLOMFP is commenting as a party to the California Public Utilities Commission’s proceedings on the Joint Proposal reached in June of 2016 between PG&E and several environmental groups and unions. SLOMFP has also submitted expert testimony to the CPUC by David Jackson, Ph.D. regarding seismic damage to the plant in case of an earthquake. SLOMFP has joined with Women’s Energy Matters of Marin County regarding timing and costs of replacing the needed power at Diablo Canyon with renewable energy, using the testimony of energy analyst Robert Freehling. SLOMFP compiled documents regarding the environmental effects of Once-Through Cooling on aquatic life around the facility. By co-sponsoring a portion of the testimony by the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility’s attorney Al Pak, SLOMFP is objecting to PG&E’s request to recover the costs of its relicensing application filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2009, but later withdrawn.


— CPUC hearing Dec. 8 on Diablo Canyon “retirement”

From cpuc.ca.gov

Public Workshop Notice:

PG&E’s Application Retirement of Diablo Canyon Power Plant – (A.16-08-006)

December 8, 2016
10 am – 3 pm

California Public Utilities Commission
505 Van Ness Avenue,
Auditorium (Corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street)
San Francisco, CA 94102

The purpose of this workshop is to:
(1) to get clarification of PG&E’s proposal and the reasoning behind the proposal and how PG&E is determining its planning needs,
(2) to inform the parties of the proposed process for the IRP proceeding in order to determine if some or all replacement procurement should be deferred to IRP, and
(3) to understand PG&E’s proposal and reasoning for their proposed cost allocation, including costs allocated to CCA and DA customers.

For questions about this workshop, please contact Suzanne Casazza at Suzanne.casazza@cpuc.ca.gov or (415) 703-5906

Additional hearings are scheduled:

10:00 a.m.
ALJ Allen Comr Picker
A.16-08-006 (EH) – Application of Pacific Gas and Electric Company for Approval of the Retirement of Diablo Canyon Power Plant, Implementation of the Joint Proposal, And Recovery of Associated Costs Through Proposed Ratemaking Mechanisms (U39E), Commission Courtroom, San Francisco
(Also April 19 – 21 and April 24 – 28)

— PG&E holds meetings on Diablo Canyon deal

Great venue to hold protests and inform the public.

Press release from PG&E, July 10, 2016

…There will be four meetings, two in each location. The content of the meetings will be identical. This is to provide more chances for the public to participate. At these meetings, PG&E staff will present information about the joint proposal, address questions, and provide attendees an opportunity to provide feedback and commentary on the joint proposal.

In late June, the State Lands Commission voted to approve a lease extension necessary to run Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) to 2025, a critical first step toward realizing the goals outlined in the joint proposal. Consideration of the joint proposal moves next to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). PG&E will file the proposal with the CPUC on July 28.

Following these meetings, a public report will be made available that summarizes public questions and commentary gathered at these public information meetings and will be submitted with PG&E’s filing with the CPUC.

San Francisco
July 22, 2016
Meeting 1: 12:00- 3:45pm
Meeting 2: 4:15-8:00pm
South San Francisco Conference Center
255 S. Airport Boulevard
South San Francisco, CA 94080

San Luis Obispo
July 20, 2016
Meeting 1: 12:00- 3:45pm
Meeting 2: 4:15-8:00pm
Embassy Suites
333 Madonna Road
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

Meetings are open to the public. Each meeting will cover the same information and follow the same format.

For parties unable to attend public information meetings, comments can be submitted to diablocanyon@pge.com prior to July 26, 2016.

Joint Proposal

Reflecting California’s changing energy landscape, PG&E announced a joint proposal with labor and leading environmental organizations on June 21, 2016, that would increase investment in energy efficiency, renewables and storage beyond current state mandates while phasing out PG&E’s production of nuclear power in California by 2025.

The joint proposal would replace power produced by two nuclear reactors at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) with a cost-effective, greenhouse gas free portfolio of energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage. It includes a PG&E commitment to a 55 percent renewable energy target in 2031, an unprecedented voluntary commitment by a major U.S. energy company.

The Parties to the joint proposal are PG&E, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.

The announcement of the Joint Proposal can be found here.

The Joint Proposal can be read in its entirety here.

Additional Information

Information on the State Lands Commission approval of necessary lease extensions can be read here.

Additional information prepared by M.J. Bradley & Associates, a strategic environmental consulting firm, can be accessed here.

Media contact:

PG&E 24-Hour Media Line
(415) 973-5930


— Frauds: Friends of the Earth and NRDC abandon immediate closure of Diablo Canyon, claim victory despite nine more dangerous years

“Diablo Canyon should never have been constructed in the first place, and now it is clear it should not be allowed to operate another day. Diablo Canyon must be shut down now, and there should be both state and federal investigations into PG&E’s negligence.”

Damon Moglen, Senior Strategic Advisor, Friends of the Earth, March 9, 2015

On June 21, 2016, Friends of the Earth sent out an email entitled “BREAKING: Huge victory for renewable energy” and congratulating themselves for closing Diablo Canyon. The problem is, it wasn’t true.

With no link in the email for more information, an internet search finally located the press release from FOE with the details and agreement documents.[i] They reveal a different picture.

Yes, Friends of the Earth, in partnership with NRDC and other groups, negotiated a closure of Diablo Canyon, but it won’t happen for 9 years – in 2025.

That is a catastrophe, not a victory.

The group is now lobbying the CPUC to accept this agreement and lobbying the California Lands Commission to give a “short-term” extension of PG&E’s lease of the land until that time.

Well-known names are missing from this agreement, names such as Greenpeace, Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Committee to Bridge the Gap, the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, Beyond Nuclear, Ecological Options Network, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Hotseat, Public Citizen, Food and Water Watch, Tri-Valley CAREs, even Union of Concerned Scientists, and Sierra Club. They’re not there for one reason: this agreement lacks integrity and realism.

The only parties to the agreement are Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, PG&E, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 (IBEW), Coalition of California Utility Employees, and Environment California It’s worth noting that Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility is also supporting SB 968, Sen. Bill Monning’s bill.

Those of us who applauded the lawsuit by Friends of the Earth, after the NRC staff revelations about Diablo Canyon safety issues and all the longstanding safety problems at the plant, expected a real lawsuit, with real solutions proposed. When FOE called for an immediate shutdown in March 2015, Damon Moglen, Senior Strategic Adviser, said:

“It’s terrifying to think that for 30 years PG&E used the wrong numbers for vital equipment at the U.S. reactors most at risk from earthquakes. No one would dream of putting nuclear reactors in that location today. Diablo Canyon should never have been constructed in the first place, and now it is clear it should not be allowed to operate another day. Diablo Canyon must be shut down now, and there should be both state and federal investigations into PG&E’s negligence.” [ii]

Where did that go? This is not just a 180 degree turn. This is betrayal.

Their letter to the California Lands Commission called Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant a “GHG free generation resource” and states it doesn’t generate any greenhouse gas emissions—incredibly inaccurate but characteristic of nuclear industry propaganda.

PG&E Corporation Chairman, CEO and President Tony Earley …”Importantly, this proposal recognizes the value of GHG-free nuclear power as an important bridge strategy to help ensure that power remains affordable and reliable and that we do not increase the use of fossil fuels while supporting California’s vision for the future.”

…PG&E plans to operate the two units at Diablo Canyon to the end of their current NRC operating licenses, which expire on Nov. 2, 2024, and Aug. 26, [iii]

The letter says granting an extension to the lease would “directly promote California’s GHG emission reduction,” ignoring the danger of its continued operation every day which could destroy any future for California. IBEW got a guarantee in the agreement of $350 million for Diablo Canyon employees’ severance, retention, and retraining. Wow! What an amazing per-employee expenditure. Further, any approval by the CPUC has a condition that the approval cannot be appealed.

This is appalling, and the reasons behind this derailment can only be guessed. The organizations that refused to participate in this charade, that are opposing SB 968 in Sacramento, and that continue to fight to close Diablo Canyon should be applauded and supported.

Diablo Canyon is a ticking time bomb that endangers all life in Central California (and beyond) every day. This agreement gives Diablo Canyon and PG&E a pass for 9 long years. That isn’t progress. That is dangerous, fool-hardy denial, playing with nuclear catastrophe. With friends like these, who needs enemies? Friend or FOE? The answer is clear.

[i] http://www.foe.org/news/news-releases/2016-06-diablo-canyon-nuclear-plant-to-be-shut-down
Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to be shut down, power replaced by renewables, efficiency, storage

Letter to California Lands Commission
Joint proposal to California Public Utilities Commission

[ii] http://www.foe.org/news/archives/2015-03-diablo-pge-secretly-used-wrong-data-for-safety-equipment
Diablo Canyon: PG&E secretly used wrong design data for key safety equipment for 30 years

[iii] http://www.smartgridnews.com/story/proposal-would-phase-out-nuclear-power-california-support-state-energy-poli/2016-06-21?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal
Proposal would phase out nuclear power in California to support state energy policies



— Hearing on Senate Bill 968 Diablo Canyon, June 22

Senator Bill Monning’s Senate Bill 968 on Diablo Canyon
Wednesday, June 22
California Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee
State Capitol, Room 437

The hearing starts at 1:30 pm.

The public may attend and give testimony on opposition to this bill.

Listen to this hearing )

Mike Gatto, Chair

S.B.No. 968 Monning.Diablo Canyon Units 1 and 2 powerplant.


For the committee members and contact info:


Committee Phone: (916) 319-2083

Sue Kateley,
Chief Consultant
Email: sue.kateley@asm.ca.gov

Edmond Cheung,
Senior Consultant
Email: edmond.cheung@asm.ca.gov

Heather Hamp,
Committee Secretary
Email:  heather.hamp@asm.ca.gov