The Fire in Paradise and the Criminal Liability of PG&E

Fire in Paradise

PBS Frontline (2019)

Film Review

This Frontline documentary concerns the November 8, 2018 wildfire that destroyed the town of Paradise (pop 50,000) in Northern California. It provides a minute by minute account of a small brush fire ignited by a faulty PG&E transmission tower that became a fire storm in 45 mph winds.

It’s rapid and patchwork spread made it impossible for firefighters to do much mroe rescue residents and assist them in evacuating

According to filmmakers, PG&E considered shutting the grid down in view of high wind speeds but decided against it. At present, the Butte County district attorney is still weighing criminal charges against the company for “reckless arson.”

Most PG&E transmission towers have a life expectancy of 65 years, but many are over 100. Malfunctioning high voltage lines has caused 100s of California wildfires in the last few years. The company has already experienced one criminal conviction for a 2010 gas explosion. This is in addition to $3 billion in fines for wildfires caused by transmission towers and lines.

At present they face $10.5 billion in liability claims for the fire that destroyed Paradise. In July they filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of multiple liability claims.

The film also suggests police and Cal fire erred in failing to evacuate Paradise residents sooner. Because there is only one road leading down the valley, Paradise, located in the Sierra Madre foothills, can only be safely evacuated by zones. A number of people burned to death in their cars, thanks to the gridlock caused by thousands of residents trying to evacuate simultaneously.

In all, 85 people died in the Paradise fire. A week after the evacuation, the winds died down sufficiently for 5,000 firefighters from around California to begin efforts to put it out. It wouldn’t be totally extinguished until winter rains started two weeks after the fire.

California’s Smart Meter Conspiracy

Smart Meter

 

According to Josh Del Sol (Take Back Your power) writing for Activist Post, evidence has now been made public of illegal actions and collusion between former California Public Utilities Commission president Michael Peevey and utility PG&E, as criminal investigations continue.

As part of a federal and state investigation into what appears to be systemic corruption involving former senior executives at PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission, 65,000 emails have been publicly released, revealing collusion and conspiracy.

Former commission president Michael Peevey and former PG&E Vice President Brian Cherry are wishing investigators would have been kept in the dark. The pair privately discussed problems with so-called “smart” meters, violating their own rules of procedure while admitting to health harm and overbilling problems which several thousand Californians had been warning about since 2010.

Details continue to surface, as press and researchers continue to delve into the mountain of collusion.

It is perhaps justly ironic that we now see, made public, the private email correspondence of those who have teamed up to deploy technology which, according to a 2012 US Congressional Research report, facilitates unprecedented in-home surveillance.

Here are some highlights from their correspondence:

1) Peevey knew – since 2010 – that “smart” meters can cause physical harm.

And he believed PG&E should do something about it, albeit “quietly”. However, instead of regulating the utility to ensure public safety, he deferred his lawful duty to PG&E – the entity causing the harm. Here are some highlights from their correspondence: From a 2010 email:

peevey-email-1-smart-meters*

“Peevey wanted PG&E to keep it quiet,” writes Sandi Maurer, Director of the EMF Safety Network. “He didn’t want other customers, or the rest of the world to know there’s a problem with smart meters causing customers pain.”

Read more here

 

As Del Sol rightly points out, former Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey had a legal responsibility to protect California residents against the health risks of smart meters. Instead he colluded with PG&E in their determination to strong arm unsuspecting households (using local police in Naperville) into installing them.

 

Photo credit: Tom Rafferty (http://www.flickr.com/photos/traftery/4493063693/) [CC BY-SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

America’s Fukushima?

 

 diablocanyon

Bye Bye California

Whistleblower Michael Peck, a senior member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), is calling for the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor to be shut down — pending an assessment of its ability to withstand a major earthquake. Peck, who was Diablo Canyon’s lead inspector for five years, asserts the NRC isn’t applying its own safety rules for the plant’s operation. Unlike other federal whistleblowers, who Obama and the FBI are busy locking up, Peck is participating in an NRC review process that permits employees to appeal a superior’s ruling.

Located on the Pacific Coast halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Diablo Canyon is California’s last nuclear power plant. It’s located adjacent to four seismic faults, the Shoreline, Hosgri, Los Oso and San Luis Bay. The Shoreline fault was only recently discovered; the Hosgri, located three miles from the plant, is the largest and most dangerous. It was discovered in the 1970s, after construction on Diablo Canyon was nearly complete. According to Peck, a 2011 Pacific Gas and Electric (PG& E) seismic study indicates all four faults are capable of producing significantly more “peak ground acceleration” (75% more in the case of San Luis Bay) than previously believed.

Citing these findings, Peck concludes that Diablo Canyon, based on the NRC’s own safety standards, lacks justification to continue operating. He’s asking the NRC to shut it down until PG&E can demonstrate that its piping, cooling and other systems can withstand higher stress levels than called for in its original design.

In 2012 when the NRC ruled Diablo Canyon could continue operating without reassessing its seismic safety, Peck filed a formal objection. In it he called for PG&E to be cited for violating safety standards. When his supervisors overruled him, he filed a second objection, triggering the current review.

Dave Lockbaum, from Union of Concerned Scientists, supports Peck’s position. He has researched four decades of records when the NRC, and its predecessor the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), faced similar situations. In all prior cases, the NRC/AEC disallowed nuclear facilities to operate with similar unresolved earthquake protection issues. For example, in March 1979—two weeks prior to the Three Mile Island accident—the NRC ordered a handful of nuclear power reactors to shut down and remain shut down until earthquake analysis and protection concerns were corrected.

Diablo Canyon Up for Re-licensing

Diablo Canyon is currently licensed to operate until 2025. In 2009, PG&E applied for a 20 year license extension. The re-licensing process was suspended immediately following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Japan’s magnitude 8.9 earthquake, which was far larger than believed possible, knocked out Fukushima’s power and cooling systems, causing three core meltdowns. This led the NRC to require US nuclear power plants to re-evaluate seismic risks. These reports are due by March 2015.

Friends of the Earth has petitioned the NRC  to intervene in the Diablo Canyon’s re-licensing proceedings.

According to FOE senior adviser Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth: “It’s now clear that Diablo Canyon could never get a license to be built at its current Central Coast site. The NRC must consider this seismic data as part of public licensing hearings.”

A Question of Magnitude

Predictably PGE, via their spokesperson Blair Jones, disagrees. Jones maintains the NRC has “exhaustively analyzed” earthquake threats for Diablo Canyon and demonstrated it’s seismically safe. According to Jones, the core issue involving earthquake ground motions was resolved forty years ago with seismic retrofitting (Diablo Canyon was originally designed to withstand a 6.75 earthquake – with the upgrade it can supposedly withstand a 7.5 earthquake). The obvious assumption being that none of the four faults surround Diablo Canyon could cause a 7.6 magnitude or higher earthquake.

PG&E’s position is understandable, as nuclear power plants aren’t cost effective to begin with. They only become profitable with massive taxpayer subsidies. If the NRC requires quire them to retrofit Diablo Canyon to current earthquake standards, a permanent shutdown is highly likely. In 1976, the Humbolt Bay nuclear power plant in northern California, which was within 3,000 yards of three faults, was shut down to reinforce its ability to withstand possible earthquakes. Retrofitting it became more difficult and costly than projected and it never re-opened.

Our Non-regulating Regulatory Agencies

A Fukushima-style earthquake and meltdown at Diablo Canyon could wipe out agriculture in California and parts of the Midwest for centuries. Yet like many federal regulatory agencies, the NRC is more concerned about protecting PG&E’s bottom line than the health, safety and food security of the American public.

Michael Peck, who holds a doctorate in nuclear engineering is presently a senior instructor at NRC’s Technical Training Center in Tennessee.

photo credit: NRCgov via photopin cc