Testimony by Don Wood

Current California Law regarding Nuclear Energy is entirely appropriate and should be retained without any changes


In the mid to late 1970s, California utilities pursued nuclear industry as a panacea to increasing energy demand. At one time it was predicted that, based on demand growth projections, California would require one major nuclear powerplant every twenty miles along its coast. Nuclear energy was also touted as being safe and cheap.

All those projections have proven woefully wrong over the last 30 years. Instead of skyrocketing energy demand growth, per capita energy demand in the state has remained constant over the last three decades, due mainly to increasingly stringent statewide energy efficiency building codes and the growth of ratepayer funded energy efficiency programs.

The nuclear industry has completely failed to provide public safety. Today, no permanent repository for nuclear waste exists, and individual utilities are instead creating growing stockpiles of deadly radioactive plutonium at San Onofre, and Diablo Canyon nuclear powerplants. That plutonium has an effetive half live of thousands of years, meaning it will continue to be deadly long after we are all dead, will continue to threaten the lives of our children and their children and will continue to force ratepayers to pay for temporary waste repositories that are at risk from terrorist attacks and major earthquakes.

Nor has nuclear power proven as cheap is the industry predicted. Nuclear powerplants predicted to cost hundreds of millions actually ended up costing ratepayers billions of dollars, and ratepayers will continue to pay the cost of maintaining those plants for decades to come.

California wisely adopted legislation in the late 1970s requiring that before any new nuclear plants could be built in the state, permanent solutions to the problems and risks of radioactive nuclear waste must be achieved. The state challenged the nuclear industry and California utilities to find ways to render nuclear waste inert, or find a way to safely recycle or dispose of it, in order to be allowed to build more new plants here.

To date, the nuclear industry has failed to live up to that challenge, and really hasn't tried to solve the problem. The scientist or engineer who finds a way to render plutonium inert will be seen as the saviour of the nuclear industry, but so far that individual hasn't appeared. California's current law provides for a resumption of nuclear power here when it has been made safe. Overturning current law would be an invitation to put all Californians lives at risk. It would be far safer to continue focusing our attention and resources on increasing energy efficiency, demand response, renewable power and customer distributed generation. Nuclear power entails putting all our eggs in one basket, a poison basket. Until the nuclear industry develops a permanent solution to deadly nuclear waste, we should enforce our current laws and concentrate on safer and cheaper solutions to our energy needs.