Diablo Canyon, Calif., Nuclear Plant to Build Waste Storage Facility

The public will gain access to three miles of coastline north of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant within the next two years, the state Coastal Commission decided Wednesday.

Dec. 9—The public will gain access to three miles of coastline north of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant within the next two years, the state Coastal Commission decided Wednesday.

The access was granted in a unanimous vote in exchange for allowing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to build a new, above-ground radioactive waste storage complex on the plant's grounds. It was the last regulatory hurdle the company needed to clear; its plans have already been approved by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"From our perspective, the important thing was that we got a unanimous approval to go ahead and start this project," said PG&E spokesman Jeff Lewis, noting that he expected construction to begin in April.

His company wanted to build the complex but didn't want to give the public coastal access because of security and safety concerns. But neither PG&E, nor San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace — a nonprofit group opposed to the facility — intend to fight the commission's decision with a lawsuit.

The complex will consist of up to 138 steel and concrete storage casks, all mounted on a number of concrete pads. Each cask will hold spent reactor fuel rods, which are highly radioactive.

Because officials believe the storage facility — and the waste it houses — will likely cause nearby lands to be off-limits to the public for years to come, the power company is legally required to compensate the public in new coastal access.

As a result, people will be able to visit the bluffs from Monta—a de Oro State Park to Crowbar Creek, as well as at least one beach, probably at Point Buchon, along that stretch.

They'll also have increased hiking access on the Pecho Coast Trail, which is currently on the power plant's property. What's more, commissioners approved improvements to the Port San Luis Lighthouse and added an outreach program that would teach schoolchildren about the environmental conditions in the vicinity.

The utility company has six months to detail the public access plan and two years to implement it.

Third District county supervisor-elect Jerry Lenthall was also at the hearing in San Francisco, testifying, he said, as a concerned citizen and fulfilling what he called a promise to his district to be a public safety watchdog.

"At a time we're spending millions of dollars to harden our facilities and ensure our safety from terrorism and general intrusion," he told commissioners, "(the public access requirement) just doesn't make any sense to me." Environmental groups, including Mothers for Peace and the Sierra Club's Santa Lucia chapter, were opposed to the storage facility for safety reasons, worrying it could become a permanent waste repository if Nevada's Yucca Mountain never opens.

That project is slated to become the nation's main nuclear waste storehouse.

Mothers for Peace spokeswoman Rochelle Becker said she was disappointed that the commission staff did not try to limit the number of spent fuel rods that could be stored at the site — something other states, such as Connecticut and Minnesota, have fought for.

She noted that her organization's expert geologists disagreed with the state's over the type, severity and location of earthquakes that could happen on the site.

"They made an irresponsible decision," she said, "and they based it on inadequate information." Coastal Commission executive director Peter Douglas, however, said the federal government has jurisdiction over the state regarding safety concerns on the plant.

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© 2004, The Tribune, San Luis Obispo, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.