Diablo Canyon: Independent experts reveal that PG&E/Bechtel report misleads CA Water Board

Diablo Canyon: Independent experts reveal that PG&E/Bechtel report misleads CA Water Board

Friends of the Earth warns that erroneous conclusions threaten state’s marine protection policy

SACRAMENTO – An independent technical analysis presented today to the special Nuclear Review Committee of the California Water Resources Board concludes that a Bechtel report prepared for Pacific Gas & Electric presents misleading recommendations in an effort to avoid complying with a critical marine protection policy.  

PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors are responsible for massive fish kills. The utility and Bechtel are using the report to erroneously argue that it’s too expensive and complicated for them to clean up their operations. Friends of the Earth, which commissioned the technical analysis, has also questioned the credibility of the Bechtel report, given the clear conflict of interest involved in allowing Bechtel to produce the report given that they have had billions of dollars of mutual business interests with PG&E.   

The independent analysis, produced jointly by Powers Engineering (San Diego) and Pisces Conservation Ltd (UK) of was presented today at a special session of a Nuclear Review Committee set up by the California Water Resources Board in order to develop a plan for bringing the nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon into compliance with the new Once Through Cooling policy initiated by the state in 2011. 

Diablo Canyon is responsible for about 80 percent of the seawater sucked into cooling systems of all coastal California power plants combined. The plant draws in an estimated 2.5 billion gallons of water per day and discharges that water back into the Pacific about 20 degrees hotter. Diablo Canyon annually draws into its antiquated cooling system more than a billion fish in early life stages — most all die. If PG&E were to get its way and be exempted from the state’s OTC policy, it would effectively gut that policy and result in continued serious damage to the marine environment.

Among the findings in the Powers/PISCES report:

  • Bechtel’s cost estimate for cooling tower construction is “not credible” due to Bechtel’s proposal to level a mountain at a cost over $3 billion to prepare a site for cooling towers whereas a site on the current grounds of plant, including parking areas, can and should be used.
  • The 13-year construction schedule proposed by Bechtel is not credible when compared to the actual 3-year construction schedule achieved on multiple large cooling tower retrofits at nuclear and non-nuclear power plants around the country. The inflated and unsubstantiated construction schedule proposed would make it impossible for PG&E to meet its compliance deadline of 2024.

The report concludes that the two screen alternatives to cooling towers considered by Bechtel, which include wedge-wire screens and fine mesh travelling screens for filtering out planktonic life forms to reduce entrainment, are likely to be ineffective and unreliable at this site. They would fail to meet the requirement for significant reductions in the massive fish kills at the heart of the OTC policy.

The state’s new OTC policy requires coastal power plants to build cooling towers to reduce water use by at least 90% and thus protect marine resources. For Diablo Canyon, an initial study for the Water Board, by Tetra Tech, placed cooling towers in pre-existing parking lots on the site with an estimated construction and installation cost of 1.6 billion dollars. The board, on receipt of the Tetra Tech report, stated that cooling towers would be required unless an independent study revealed their costs were “wholly out of proportion” to the Tetra Tech estimate.

“The report by PG&E’s business partner Bechtel appears to be aimed at supporting the utility’s effort to be exempted from the state’s marine protection policy that applies to all other coastal power plants,” said Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth. “The conclusions of the Bechtel report simply don’t hold water. Given this conflict of interest, the Bechtel report can not be treated as an independent third party review.”


Damon Moglen, (202) 352-4223, [email protected]
Bill Walker, (510) 759-9911

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