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Initiative to Shut Down Nuclear Plants Back on the Table, Sponsor Seeks to Sue State

Evening sets on the San Onofre atomic power plant in northern San Diego County, south of San Clemente, California. | Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
Evening sets on the San Onofre atomic power plant in northern San Diego County, south of San Clemente, California. | Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

For the third time in just over a year, a proposed ballot initiative that would effectively shut down California's two nuclear power plants has been approved to gather petition signatures. If over 500,000 registered voters sign on by early November, Californians may end up voting on the proposition in a couple of years.

But will voters sign a petition that's been passed around twice already? Even the initiative's sponsor knows the answer to that: No way!

As the Secretary of State announced that the nuclear initiative was cleared for circulation on Wednesday, sponsor Ben Davis, Jr. was filing paperwork to sue the state over how it handled his last two petitions. At issue has been the analysis, which is crafted by the state's Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance, of the effects if the two plants are shut down: billions of dollars in costs to government, price increases for customers, and rolling blackouts, to name a few negatives.

(The only positive note: Shutting down the plants gives governments "potential avoidance of significant future... costs and lost revenues in the rare event of a major nuclear plant incident.")

Davis, an anti nuclear proponent who in 1989 helped shut down the Rancho Seco nuclear plant in Sacramento, calls the analysis "bogus." In his brief submitted to the California Supreme Court, he said staff from the California Energy Commission told him via e-mail in 2011 that the state has the capacity to meet peak demand without the two plants, although there were would be challenges in the Los Angeles basin where the San Onofre plant is a "linchpin" for the region's transmission system.

It just so happens that San Onofre has been shut down since January 31 and will remain so through at least the summer. So far, customers haven't seen blackouts, but plant officials at Southern California Edison warned last week that power outages are possible this summer, according to KPCC's Ed Joyce.

California's other nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon in the central coast county of San Luis Obispo, is still in operation.

"We're in an excellent position to shut down because we have short-term solutions and a long-term one with the governor's push with renewable energy," Davis told KCET by phone.

In his brief, he wants the court to compel the state to put his initiative on this November's ballot because the analysis "prejudiced the voters... and the public generally against supporting and signing the subject initiative petition." At the very least, if the negative analysis can be stripped from the current petition, he said he might go forward.

If voters do end up voting on Davis' initiative, either this November or in 2014 during the next statewide election, it would shut the two plants down until the high-level nuclear waste can be permanently disposed of by the federal government, something that could take years.

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