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Offshore Nuclear Seismic Testing? Cue the Humpback Whales

The only remaining nuclear power plant in California happens to be both on a fault line and looming over a rich seasonal cetacean feeding ground.

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo in the central coast of California is the state's only nuclear facility currently operating—the San Onofre plant near Camp Pendleton in North San Diego county has been shut down since January and appears to be on the road to decommissioning. There's at least one big problem with the Diablo facility (besides the name): it was built directly above a fault line.

The plant's license to operate for another two decades is in a multi-year review process and certainly the Fukushima disaster has not put Californians at ease when it comes to the combination of nuclear power and seismic activity. The Diablo facility is set to begin a round of off-shore seismic tests next month to map the bathymetry of the sea floor using "high energy air guns" dragged behind a research boat. As you might suspect, the creatures of the sea don't seem to like these experimental explosions. They've been known to flee.

As if the whales got the memo, humpbacks have recently put on quite a show in the cove a stone's throw from the Diablo Plant. A local photographer captured some astounding images recently and this video surfaced last week showing some very close encounters with a massive humpback feeding just off shore.


Nuclear power is a thorny matter, particularly for environmentalists. We're three decades out from the disaster of Three Mile Island without any comparable mishaps in the States and nuclear power produces almost no greenhouse gasses. France has long generated most of its power through nuclear and has such a surplus that it exports electricity all over Europe. Perhaps we should all get over the "fright factor" as Slate called it.

But mutant butterflies showing up in the wake of Fukushima and fish getting hooked with 258 times the radioactivity of the Japanese government's safety standard likely won't elevate U.S. very low public opinion around the nuclear option.


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