Over forty years ago an adobe ruin was the biggest structure at Diablo Canyon. At the time every major California utility was in pursuit of a nuclear option to serve California’s expanding population.
Atomic seems to be a word that has been worn out. Perhaps too many B-grade fiction novels and movies used the word or nuclear power advocates wanted to break the association of the word atomic with bomb.
Nuclear is the word now most often used, but people argue over how to pronounce it.
A lot has changed in the intervening years. The Atomic Energy Commission, Telegram-Tribune, and the paper’s arts section once called Focus have all changed their names. Focus, now Ticket, used to be printed on ugly green paper.
Trust me, no photo looks good printed on green paper.
The major piece of news in this article was that San Luis Obispo County was not a random choice for construction. The county had the highest favorable response to a nuclear plant in a statewide survey.
Stouter fences, and tighter security are part of any tour today in the post-global terrorism world. The plant is no longer a drop-in tourist destination.
Since 1968 failures at other plants Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, Chernobyl in Ukraine, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania have become part of any conversation about nuclear power.
The Telegram-Tribune published this Elliot Curry story March 2, 1968:
Diablo—Between China, Avila Beach
Few San Luis Obispo County residents had ever heard of Diablo Canyon until little more than a year ago when Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced that it wanted to build an atomic-fueled power plant there.
Even fewer had ever been there.
There probably never has been a public road into the narrow coastal plain that runs along the western coast of San Luis Obispo County from Point San Luis to Point Buchon.
It first appears in official records in 1843 during Mexican rule as the Pecho y Islay land grant.
It passed through various ownerships until it became part of the great Marre cattle ranch which Luigi Marre started putting together in 1879.
During almost 90 years of Marre ownership, the coastal plain has been an idyllic cattle range. Crop farming was tried a few times, but mostly the cattle have grazed there undisturbed, separated from China by the Pacific Ocean and from Avila by a stout fence.
All of this seems now about to change.
A 700-acre site at the mouth of Diablo Creek has been chosen by PG&E on which to build the largest nuclear power plant in the West. On this windy coast, scientists will put together a complex power unit in which the power in the atom is used to make steam to create electricity.
From Diablo Canyon, transmission lines will pour this power, 1.06 million kilowatts, into the vast grid of power lines which serve California’s booming population.
All that remains to set the wheels of construction going is for the Atomic Energy Commission to issue a construction license. All the state and federal hearings have been conducted and PG&E officials seem confident that they will get the green light.
The old Pecho y Islay land grant no longer will be isolated, once construction gets underway. As soon as authorization for the plant is confirmed, PG&E plans to also start construction of a visitors center just off Highway 101 at the Avila Beach turnoff. From here, visitors will be taken by bus to the power plant site. It will be one more important addition to the county’s tourist attractions.
There won’t be too much difference between the Morro Bay power plant and the Diablo Canyon plant except that the new plant will use the controlled fission reaction of uranium fuel instead of gas or oil.
Is it a little bit frightening to know that the power of the atom is being unleashed for any purpose within 12 miles of San Luis Obispo?
On behalf of power companies in California, the ORC West Corp. of San Francisco recently made a survey of public opinion on this question. Eighty per cent of the 202 persons interviewed in San Luis Obispo favored an atomic plant in the area. Only seven per cent opposed. This was the highest percentage found anywhere in the state.
Three of four persons questioned statewide said they would have no fear of a member of the family working at an atomic power plant. Five of six in San Luis Obispo knew that PG&E was planning a plant here.
Can an atomic plant blow up if something goes wrong? On this question there was some wavering. Forty-four per cent said it can, 29 said it cannot and 27 per cent were undecided. The AEC is more positive. It has said that it is physically impossible for an atomic power plant to “behave” like an atomic bomb.
If the continental shelf above the water has been thinly populated by waterbirds and cattle, the same is not true of the underwater area which drops steeply into deep water off the Diablo coast.
Dr. Wheeler J. North of Caltech estimated that there were several hundred thousand giant sea urchins in the 10-acre area which he studied.
North also found many species of sea life representing both warm water and cold water types, indicating that the Central Coast is a borderline area where the two types meet and intermingle.
He believes some of the more sensitive cold water types might move out when warm water discharges start flowing from the power plant but he foresees no major dislocation. North doubts that even slight changes in water temperature would be noticeable outside the small embayment at the mouth of Diablo creek.
Luigi Marre would be a little surprised if he could see his ranch today. One side they’re planning an atomic power plant, on the other they’re building an 18-hole golf course.
Little doggies had better head for the hills.