Risk and Politics of Diablo Canyon Power Plant Shutdown


Rachel Aragaki, Sabrina Cerquera, Evan Howell, Sofia Linden

ENVS 330

Spring Semester, 2018

[Full Research Paper | Poster]

Fossil fuels are a ticking time bomb: their combustion contributes to global climate change, and they are a steadily depleting fuel source (Rashad and Hammad 2000). Nuclear power is a potential alternative energy source for nations that are attempting to transition away from fossil fuels while still working to make renewable energy economically feasible, but it has faced a lot of resistance. Many nuclear power plants are closing due to decreasing demand for energy and their age with licenses that are soon to expire (Davis 2017; Cardwell 2016). In California, the last remaining nuclear power plant, which is located in Avila Beach, is closing in 2023 prior to its license expiration and without pursuing a renewed license (Pacific Gas and Electric Company 2018). To discover whether and to what extent risk perception was present in discourse regarding the decision to close the Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP), this study analyzes the narratives used by owner PG&E and third-party news sources. For this study we used rhetorical and meta-narrative analysis of PG&E’s website, press releases and community news to understand the risk-oriented values related to DCPP’s shutdown. The most common risk-oriented concerns included economic stability, environmental responsibility, and public safety, with economic stability being the most prominent concern. We investigated risk perceptions before and after the Fukushima nuclear disaster and found that while this accident may have cultivated support for the shutdown of DCPP, it was not central to the rhetoric used. On a larger scale, this study shows how risk perceptions highlight social values in a region and have significance for decision-making processes occurring at other nuclear plants around the U.S. and the world. The discourse around the closure of DCPP serves as an example of how stakeholders’ reactions to hazards influence the decisions made related to energy production.

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