Located 55 miles outside of Phoenix, Arizona the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is a babe in America’s nuclear power plant scene. The first two units went into operation in 1986 while the third began operations two years later. Palo Verde is the largest nuclear power generating plant in the United States and is owned by seven utilities companies, including three out of California. With the tragedy occurring at the in Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Complex in Japan, eyes turn to the power plants located in your backyard. As reported by the Associated Press, Palo Verde provides electricity throughout Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, so the importance of safety and the effects of a failure expand well beyond the Valley.
As media reported the failures at the Fukushima Daiichi, citizens across the world questioned the safety of local nuclear plants. In Phoenix, Arizona, a mere 45 miles from the Palo Verde Plant, the Arizona Corporation Commission requested a hearing on the plant’s safety and emergency preparedness plan as a result of concerned citizens stepping forward and asking the big question. What if the unthinkable happens here?
Most power plants are found near large bodies of water, but in Arizona’s Sonoran desert, Palo Verde relies on treated sewage water to cool the units. There is no fear of tsunami and minimal worry of flooding. Palo Verde, however, insures that plans are in place for any possible water-related disasters like flooding from broken pipes. Japan’s Fukushima Plant actually survived the 9/1 earthquake with minimal damage, the tsunami caused the problems they are seeing now. In Wintersburg, where Palo Verde is located, there is minimal seismic activity. The closest fault line is found 70 miles away. Geologists report little, if any, danger of a major earthquake occurring. Still, accidents can happen and Palo Verde has it’s individualized dangers.
While earthquakes and flooding rank low on the lists of natural disasters relating to the safety of Palo Verde, fissures are natural occurrences which can pose a threat and of which one lies close to Palo Verde. These fissures are cracks that occur in the earth’s surface resulting from ground water drilling. State Geologist M. Lee Allison said these fissures are of low concern. For residents of Phoenix, however, any risks are notable.
Outside of nature’s own hazard’s Palo Verde has endured politically-motivated dangers. In March of 2003 National Guard troops were called to the plant as protection against possible terror attacks. Being one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world, and the largest in the U.S. puts a spotlight on Palo Verde endangering it against possible acts of war. Even during the Cold War, Palo Verde was targeted by Russia adding Phoenix to the list of relevant U.S. cities.
In February of 2006, the Arizona Republic reported an extensive article listing the plant’s many problems and citations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission placed Palo Verde into Category 4, making the plant one of the highest-guarded plants in the U.S. The resulting category move came after a series of these citations including an incident in 2004 involving “dry pipe” found in the plant’s core cooling system.
While nuclear power proponents work to sway public opinion toward the safety of this energy source, many Arizona residents wonder why take risks when solar power offers a safer alternative? As with most issues facing energy, it falls on individuals to reflect on personal consumption and consider the overall benefits of self sufficiency. Until solar power becomes more cost-effective, citizens may have to turn off a few more lights, raise the air conditioning a degree or two higher in the summer and reconsider the techno-energy vampires within the home.
Reprinted with permission from Ecolocalizer