On a recent trip to Northern California, driving south from Trinidad,California where we were staying, we saw a large building that looked like power plant or even a nuclear reactor. Later that afternoon we met a woman on the Luffenholtz Beach near Arcata, California and she told us that the building we saw was a closed nuclear reractor that was in the process of being decomissioned.
The former active reactor was the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Reactor owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The reactor hasn't been operational since 1976 when it was shut down for seismic upgrades and other repairs. The site is still active; mothballing the building is expected to be finished in 2019 or 33 years since it was closed. Even crazier is that it was only operational for 15 years and took just 2 years to build. That was 1961 to 1976.
Today, the idea of a nuclear reactor in a very active earthquake zone like coastal Northern California seems ill advised in the extreme . It goes, however, a long way to show a number of positive things. First, the study of earthquakes and improved technology have come along way since the 1970's. Secondly, public policy recognizes that nuclear reactors and earthquakes are a terrible idea- just ask Japan after the Fukushima Daichii Disaster. Finally, the impractical nature of most coastal nuclear reactors has forced governments to seek out alternative sources of energy.
When and if The Big One comes to Northern California locals will at least feel better that they took the initiative to protect themselves by de-commissioning their local nuclear reactor.
By Diarmuid O'Dea