Friday, April 8, 2011

Nukes in the Central Valley: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, oh, and a few questions...

Jobs, jobs, jobs! 11,000 of them in an economically depressed area! Water, water, water, in a drought-stricken area! Clean energy! And it will "...not be located in seismically active or cultural areas..." It's obviously a no-brainer.

It's come to my attention through the twitter universe (thanks @RL_Miller for the catch) that a business group wants to put a "Clean Energy Park" in western Fresno County (The Business Journal, April 7). This park will begin with the construction of wind turbines and a 150-megawatt solar thermal plant, which is a probably a great idea. But the other phase is the construction of two nuclear reactor plants. The plan is to pump up brackish groundwater, desalinate it, and make it available to agriculture in the region to the tune of 1 million acre-feet per year.

I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking this a little bit, but a couple of questions occurred to me as I read about this plan. I realize that brackish groundwater is useless for most human and agricultural uses, but have they considered the effect of removing 1 million acre-feet of water from underground in this area? The south end of the Central Valley has a long history of pumping water from deep aquifers, and one of the more profound outcomes is a serious level of subsidence, i.e. the sinking of the ground surface. In some places, the ground sank 30 feet or more. This, in a flat valley that is barely above sea level. I'm no expert on groundwater issues in that particular area, but how sustainable is removing 1 million acre-feet every year?

Then there is that issue of being located in what is not a "seismically active" area. It takes only a moment to find western Fresno County on the California Geological Survey's online interactive fault map (screen shot below). Um...that's California's Coast Ranges, one of the geologically youngest mountain ranges on the planet, which is riddled with fault lines. The San Andreas, of course, off to the west, but also the Hayward/Calaveras system, the Ortigalita zone, and the O'Neil fault system, and maybe the most worrisome system, the San Joaquin fault. Worrisome because it is not well mapped or understood.

The earthquake history of California is riddled with surprises. Many, or really most of California's earthquakes take place on faults other than the San Andreas. And many damaging earthquakes have taken place on faults that were thought to be inactive, or which were not mapped or known at all. The Coalinga quake of 1983, a few miles to the south of this area, was one of those surprises.

Well, at least the nuclear power plant will be safe from tsunamis. It apparently will be on a floodplain, though, and there are growing concerns of the possibility of a megaflood brought on by an atmospheric river storm (ARkstorm). Will this energy park be ready for something like that?

And of course there are those pesky concerns about "clean" nuclear energy. If we gear up and build dozens more nukes across the country, where will the uranium be coming from? Will the mines be as clean and tidy as the power plants? And where are they going to store the waste? It's been fifty years, and we still don't know where to put highly radioactive spent fuel rods. And when they do decide, do you want the railway system or highway system that they will use to transport those fuel rods to run through your neighborhood? Oh yeah, and what about that whole terrorism thing that certain political parties want us to always worry about? Do you trust that the rent-a-cops they will hire to defend the nuclear site will be up to the job?

Yeah, 11,000 construction jobs is great, though it will turn into just 400 jobs to run the plant. Solar and wind energy are great ideas, but I just don't know about this one....