California is considering allowing Pacific Gas Electric Co. to use powerful air cannons in an undersea seismic study that could interfere with marine life and public safety.
The company wants to use the air guns to emit sound waves, in order to make a three-dimensional map of fault zones near a Central California nuclear power plant, reports Yahoo! News.
Some of the fault lines were discovered in 2008 and lie near the Pacific Gas Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon plant. A state study that was mandated by AB1632 (2006) found that the project will likely have “unavoidable adverse effects” on marine life, as well as the surrounding environment.
Use of high-energy air guns is opposed by biologists, environmental groups, and fishermen, because the blasts could harm endangered whales, California sea otters, and other creatures that frequent the waters near the nuclear plant. John Calambokidis, an Olympia, Wash.-based marine biologist who has studied Pacific Ocean whales for decades, stated:
“I am very concerned about impacts to marine mammals, especially some of the large whales including blue, fin, and humpback whales. There are many uncertainties on the impact of this type of operation on whales, especially since we have not seen this type of large air gun survey off California for a long time.”
The Huffington Post notes that the project is slated to cost $64 million and will help the company understand potential seismic threats to the plant. The effort has been intensified since the 2011 Tohoku quake and tsunami that disabled the reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Earthquake experts were surprised that such a strong quake came from a fault that they predicted couldn’t produce a quake stronger than 8.0.
Bruce Gibson, a former seismologist who now serves as a San Luis Obispo County supervisor, supports the project, saying:
“People need to understand, we’re living in the world post-Fukushima, so we need to go back and review everything we think we know about the seismic threat situation around important structures like this power plant.”
If the project is approved, it will allow air guns to be towed through an area that is home to two state marine protected areas — Cambria and White Rock — which is host to dozens of endangered and threatened species.
While the State Lands Commission environmental impact study showed that there would be “unavoidable impacts” on marine life in the area, the commission concluded that the “benefit of the project outweighs the unavoidable adverse impacts.”