PG&E’s official website hosts pages devoted to informing readers of DCPP’s tsunami and earthquake resilience. Repeated words on the “Seismic Studies Report Fact Sheet” include provide, support, and safety, while authors avoided words associated with danger and framing hazards and risk in terms of “potential” rather than immediacy or certainty. Another section under the “Safety” tab is titled “Diablo Canyon Power Plant.” The page emphasizes the DCPP’s environmental viability as a clean energy source and its economic contributions to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties.
PG&E’s Newsroom publishes official press statements. A brief string of statements about a transformer fire at DCPP in August 2008 emphasized the safety measures taken to bring the plant back online. A press release in November 2009 announced PG&E’s intention to renew its NRC license to extend DCPP’s operation until 2045, but no press releases focused on DCPP again until June 21, 2016, when PG&E announced the Joint Proposal that would phase out nuclear power by 2025. Eleven updates regarding the Joint Proposal were posted from June 28, 2017 to February 9, 2018; the most recent one announced PG&E’s official withdrawal of its NRC license renewal application.
PG&E Currents, a community news site, featured zero articles about DCPP until March 11, 2011, the date of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. A total of eight different articles were published within one month that emphasized DCPP’s safety in reaction to the Fukushima event. Throughout the rest of 2011, six more articles were published. PG&E published articles regarding DCPP with diminishing frequency (one or two per year) after 2011. Safety rhetoric (literally, repetitive use of the word “safety”) is the main focus for articles published from 2011 to 2014, and economic contributions become the dominant topic starting in 2015. Many articles avoided using the word “nuclear,” which can be a negatively charged word for stakeholders with high risk perception associated with nuclear power. On June 21, 2016, PG&E announced that it would enter a Joint Proposal that would result in the closure of DCPP by 2025. PG&E cites significantly reduced need for electricity in California as the primary reason for this action. Six more articles were published in 2016, one in 2017, and thus far two in 2018. Each article serves to update readers about progress in negotiations, legal proceedings, and community actions regarding the closure of DCPP. Repeated statements included a prediction that customer energy bills would not increase.
Recent third-party news sources provide a different perspective (see bottom of page for list of articles examined). Article topics included comparisons between DCPP and Fukushima Daiichi, a San Francisco protest against the Joint Proposal, increasingly expensive energy bills, the California Public Utilities Commission’s involvement in DCPP’s closure, local economic impacts, and future land use.
Considering the observations above, the narratives produced by PG&E and third-party news sources reveal that the actors involved in DCPP’s decommission are primarily concerned with risk factors regarding physiological safety, economic stability, and environmental responsibility, with economic stability taking prevalence. We base these findings on the trends we observed in our data, which showed an initial emphasis on rhetoric regarding physiological safety but ultimately demonstrated the importance of economic stability in risk-based
decision-making at DCPP. These risk factors became points of discussion and contention between opposing actors, and their resolution ultimately produced the Joint Proposal currently being executed.
PG&E likely did not believe that the general public strongly perceived risk to their physiological safety from DCPP until the Fukushima nuclear disaster. After this event, it is possible that PG&E overestimated the increase in risk perception, but it is difficult to determine given our sample of third-party news sources from 2011. PG&E provided statistics about contributions to local economic stability as implicit justification for the plant’s continued operation, but now that the Joint Proposal threatens many Californians’ jobs, education, and county budgets, the public has raised their voices in opposition to DCPP’s closure, indicating a stronger risk perception of economic loss. This is likely because the effects of economic loss are more personal and more immediately felt than risk of injury or death due to a nuclear disaster, and thus the former is taken more seriously (Lindell and Perry 2012). While environmental responsibility is also valued by all actors involved, its risk perception is much lower and less-discussed; this may also be due to the lack of immediacy of the risk.
Avalos, George. 2018. “Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant shutdown plan approved, closure will raise PG&E customer bills.” The Mercury News, January 15, 2018. https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/01/11/diablo-canyon-shutdown-plan-approved-closure-will-raise-customer-bills/.
Baraniuk, Chris. 2017. “How should we manage nuclear energy?” BBC, June 23, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170622-how-will-we-manage-nuclear-energy-in-the-21st-century.
Cardwell, Diane. 2016. “California’s Last Nuclear Power Plant Could Close.” The New York Times. June 21, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/22/business/californias-diablo-canyon-nuclear-power-plant.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=408448591F4D1A1582779217379A2574&gwt=pay.
Conca, James. 2016. “Pro-Nuclear March In San Francisco To Protest Closing Of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant.” Forbes, June 21, 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/06/21/pro-nuclear-march-from-san-francisco-to-sacramento-on-june-24th/#447573f46da4.
Davis, Lucas. 2017. “Evidence of a Decline in Electricity Use by U.S. Households.” Energy Institute at Haas, May 8, 2017. https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/evidence-of-a-decline-in-electricity-use-by-u-s-households/.
Leslie, Kaytlyn. 2018. “Diablo Canyon will close in 2025 — without SLO County’s $85 million settlement.” The Tribune, January 11, 2018. http://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/article194189949.html.
Perlman, David. 2011. “Japan works to contain nuclear reactor meltdowns.” SFGate, March 14, 2011. https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Japan-works-to-contain-nuclear-reactor-meltdowns-2389700.php.
The Editorial Board. 2016. “Good News From Diablo Canyon.” The New York Times. June 27, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/27/opinion/good-news-from-diablo-canyon.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=85AB792B13704EB79789ED067E20120B&gwt=pay&assetType=opinion.
Silverstein, Ken. 2018. “California Governor’s Race Is Heating Up And Spotlighting Nuclear Energy.” Forbes, March 7, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2018/03/07/california-governors-race-is-heating-up-and-spotlighting-nuclear-energy/#2ccc3aeb609a.
Vaughan, Monica, and Lindsey Holden. 2018 “Plans for massive 15,000-home city on Diablo Canyon lands uncovered in private email.” The Tribune, February 26, 2018. http://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/environment/article201926004.html.
World Nuclear News. 2018. “PG&E accepts Diablo Canyon decision.” World Nuclear News, February 13, 2018. http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/C-PGE-accepts-Diablo-Canyon-decision-1302187.html.