The Tribune


Social distancing in a nuclear power plant? How Diablo Canyon is coping with coronavirus

By Kaytlyn Leslie
April 07, 2020 02:03 PM, Updated 2 hours 28 minutes ago

Inside Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant

Take a closer look at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near Avila Beach. California’s last operating nuclear power plant will close in 2025, owner Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has announced. By Courtesy of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

As coronavirus forces many businesses to close and all workers who can to work from home, one major local employer is still up and running — with a few modifications.

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, one of the largest employers in San Luis Obispo, is running much the same as usual, according to PG&E spokeswoman Suzanne Hosn, though the company has implemented new measures to ensure the safety of its workers and customers.

“The health and safety of our customers and our employees, that’s our primary responsibility,” Hosn said. “Now more than ever, our customers rely on safe and reliable service from their power company. So that’s what we are focused on.”
According to Hosn, PG&E has closely been monitoring the plant’s operations since late February to ensure Diablo Canyon is continuously — and safely — staffed throughout the pandemic.

Office workers at the plant were asked to work from home, and PG&E is deferring some non-critical maintenance around the site to reduce the number of people at the property at the same time.
Hosn said she did not know specifically how many Diablo Canyon employees were asked to work from home, though she said it was a “large number” of its 1,500-person workforce.

Many employees cannot work from home, of course — since nuclear power can’t exactly be produced remotely.

Those workers have been encouraged to wear protective gear such as face masks and neck gaiters, and to honor social distancing suggestions, Hosn said.

Employees who are feeling sick or those who have traveled recently were also encouraged to stay home, she added.

To date, no Diablo Canyon employees have tested positive for coronavirvus, Hosn said, noting PG&E has an incident management team that has “closely been monitoring attendance numbers” since late February.

The company has also been examining and updating its “holistic pandemic plan” — essentially its emergency response plan in the event of an outbreak — to prepare for every way the plant could be impacted by coronavirus.

This includes responses if certain departments and essential workers were to be impacted by the virus, she said.

“If we were to make any changes in how we are staffing the plant, we would proceed very carefully,” Hosn said, noting that changes would required regulatory approval as well. “We would work very closely with our medical advisor and others to ensure that any actions that we took would promote the health and safety of employees and our customers.”

One thing the coronavirus pandemic is not impacting is Diablo Canyon’s ongoing decommissioning process.

PG&E is still in the process of getting approval for its various decommissioning components, Hosn said, and those have not been stopped by the changes in operations.

Meanwhile, PG&E is dedicated to continuing to provide power to California throughout the length of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The team is really dedicated to our customers,” Hosn said. “Supplying safe, reliable electricity is important every day, but during this pandemic our work is more essential than ever for our customers and communities.”