Anyone who has ever driven south on U.S. Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka during a storm at high tide can't help but notice how close the water comes to the highway. Sea level rise, which scientists assure us is now inevitable, will only make things worse. The only questions are how much worse and when. If and when the ocean covers the 101 corridor between Eureka and Arcata, nobody will be able to say the issue hadn't been on Caltrans' radar. Whether the agency will have actually done anything, however, remains to be seen.Aldaron Laird of Trinity Associates says the Ocean Protection Council's 2018 sea level rise projections indicate planners should expect the waters along the U.S. Highway 101 safety corridor to rise a foot by 2030, 1.6 feet by 2040, 2.3 feet by 2050 and 3.1 feet by 2060. Some believe those projections are already outdated. The lowest point on the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 101, meanwhile, sits about 2 feet above peak high tide levels.
Hank Seemann, deputy director of environmental services for the Humboldt County Public Works Department, explained the intricate process of planning a workable project. Although the county does not own or operate the freeway — that is Caltrans' domain — it is responsible for several miles of adjacent land that are equally vulnerable to sea level rise. The two agencies will need to work closely together to find solutions that benefit both.
Lessons learned during decades covering nuclear power and, now, its aftermathThe Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant was shut down in 1976 because, suddenly, 13 years after it came online, seismologists found it was built practically on top of the Little Salmon earthquake fault. Its design was not nearly strong enough to be retrofitted against potential shaking and if an earthquake broke open any critical part of the plant, the results could have been catastrophic... The casks now holding the irradiated parts of Humboldt's old nuke are made up of three shells. An inner shell for containment, a series of thick steel intermediate shells for gamma shielding and an outer enclosure shell that houses the neutron shielding material, according to Holtec. The casks, in turn, are tucked inside a vault made of reinforced concrete between 3-feet and 7-feet thick. According to Holtec, the manufacturer, "Humboldt Bay became the first plant to feature subterranean storage, which is so unobtrusive and produces such a negligible [radiation] dose that the path to the beach runs in close proximity to the [storage site]!" The casks are meant to "temporarily" hold the waste for 100 years or so. If the scientists who predict a 240,000-year toxicity are correct, that would leave 239,900 years, and for that, there's no plan. Yet, some local environmentalists are laying the groundwork to plan for site protection at least into the next century. They foresee a drowning bluff and an unsuspecting future generation.
"If the bay is our region's most important resource, the future integrity of the [storage] site, which sits 115 feet from the shoreline, across the mouth of the entrance to the bay, is a big deal," noted Jennifer Marlow, an assistant professor in Humboldt State University's Department of Environmental Science and Management. "For example, with 2 meters of sea level rise in Humboldt Bay, monthly and annual high tides could overtop the protective revetment wall protecting the bluff."
"According to the Ocean Protection Council's 2018 sea level rise projections, 2 meters of sea level rise could occur 'as early as 2076 under the extreme scenario, or by 2093 under the high-risk projection.' If either scenario comes true, it is likely that the spent nuclear waste will still be onsite. The California Coastal Commission has stated that, given the lack of an alternative permanent storage site, it 'must presume' that the spent nuclear waste will remain on site 'in perpetuity.'"
That phrase, "in perpetuity," underscores a heavy responsibility.
"It's unlikely that there will ever be a permanent national repository," said Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt. "Waiting for that is not realistic. Ultimately, there's no safe place for the waste. Moving it will be dangerous and controversial and expensive, but it needs to be moved farther from the bay, out of the sea level rise hazard area. We need to start figuring out a real plan. Otherwise, we're just leaving the problem for future generations to deal with."
But more work remains: 37 tons of nuclear waste are in an eroding bluff near King SalmonFollowing a years-long effort to decommission the former nuclear power plant in Humboldt Bay, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. recently filed a request with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to terminate the power plant’s license marking a “major milestone” for the Humboldt County community.Decommissioning efforts for the Humboldt Bay Power Plant Unit 3, a 63-Megawatt electric boiling water reactor, began in June 2009, more than 30 years after the power plant had ceased operations. It operated from 1963 to 1976 and was permanently defueled in 1984.At the time of the power plant’s construction, atomic energy was hailed as the solution to global energy needs. Cost-efficient construction methods and innovative engineering made the power plant “the first economically viable, privately funded nuclear power plant in the world,” according to documentation from the Library of Congress.At this point, the site has been remediated to levels “meeting an extensive set of standards and release criteria for a post-industrial, ‘residential farming’ use,” according to PG&E. “The ‘resident farmer’ scenario is the most restrictive level for remediation in (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) guidance for decommissioning former nuclear reactor sites.”However, the work is not over. Buried deep into Buhne Point, a highland bluff directly northeast of King Salmon, is an underground nuclear waste storage facility known as the Humboldt Bay Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation, or ISFSI. While the ISFSI will effectively contain the 37-tons of nuclear waste for approximately 50 years, it is not a permanent solution.“The projections indicate that the sea level will be four feet higher in 50 years than it is today,” said Jennifer Kalt, Humboldt Baykeeper director. “The ISFSI is on the top of an eroding bluff, it’s 44-feet above sea level, it’s buried to 30 feet below the surface, so the bottom is only 10 feet above sea level currently. …What are we going to do, you know? It’s pretty clear that there needs to be a plan to at least move it back from the bay, it’s going to be really expensive and controversial, but leaving it there is not a plan. It’s a nightmare.”It won’t be easy, but Kalt said there needs to be a community process in deciding where to relocate the ISFSI. “It is essential for the community advisory board to continue meeting but we also want the community involved and not just experts researching it,” she said.Matthew Marshall, executive director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, also underscored the need to develop a plan to relocate the spent fuel casts. “There will be an ongoing need to address the safe, long-term management of this radioactive waste, and there is currently no viable alternative/permanent storage location,” he said. “But it is great to have the plant decommissioning and site cleanup safely and thoroughly completed after so many years of complex work.”When asked what happens next, PG&E spokesperson Carina Corral said, “PG&E does not currently have plans beyond industrial use for the site as the ISFSI and the Humboldt Bay Generating Station are located within the former (power plant) site boundary.”Read More
In wake of recent fatality, safety upgrades urged on Eureka’s Broadway corridorIn wake of recent fatality, safety upgrades urged on Eureka’s Broadway corridor. After two nonmotorists were recently struck by vehicles on Broadway in Eureka on the same night, a local advocacy organization continues to call for safety improvements along this highly used thoroughfare. Colin Fiske of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities told the Times-Standard the two cases make the group’s calls for Broadway corridor safety improvements for nonmotorists feel more urgent than ever. “It’s so sad, it’s frustrating. It’s infuriating, really. We’ve been saying for the last several years we need to make these (nonmotorist safety) improvements now so people don’t keep being killed. It hasn’t happened yet and people keep being killed,” he said.The coalition has previously spoken in favor of safety improvements along the Broadway/U. S. Highway 101 corridor and began to circulate a petition Aug. 27 calling for several key safety improvements. More specifically, the petition calls for various safety improvements to be made in the nearterm including building additional safe pedestrian crossings, improving safety of signal intersections with new infrastructure and reprogrammed signals, building protected bike lanes, supporting the city’s efforts to provide pedestrian- scale lighting and providing landscaping and raised medians on Broadway.
A Wyoming-based corporation’s plan to get federal-sign off on use of a vacated rail line has provoked Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors into pursuing a local coal export ban. At their Oct. 5 meeting, supervisors took action on heading off coal export through Humboldt County. During public comment, Colin Fiske of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities asked the county to also get involved in the federal railbanking process. Fiske said railbanking is “the most effective way to address the coal export threat” and it’s important for the county to advocate for it. Also during public comment, Bruce Silvey of the Humboldt Trails Council said the environmental impacts of coal transport are severe and proposals for it have been squashed in several West Coast regions. “It would take hours to lay out all the research on the damage and unavoidable toxic coal dust in the air and water, and human health impacts that come with transporting and exporting coal,” he said. “And then there’s coal’s impact on climate change.” Supervisors didn’t need to be persuaded and public comment was limited to a handful of people due to lack of doubt about what the board’s stance would be. Supervisor Rex Bohn had suggested that there’s no need for public mobilization against coal transport through the county because there’s absolutely no support for it. “This horse is dead and the hole’s already dug,” he said. Read More