What the construction of the Diablo Canyon power station looked like in 1969

The excavation of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant was well under way on May 6, 1969, when this photo was taken.

The excavation of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant was well under way on May 6, 1969, when this photo was taken.


When the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant was under construction, it was believed that up to six units would be built instead of the two that were completed.

According to the US Census Bureau, California’s population was growing at a breakneck rate, nearly doubling from 1950 (10.6 million) to 1970 (20 million), and utilities were in a desperate race to stay ahead of demand.

The hyperbole around the industry was that nuclear science could provide energy that was too cheap to be measured. It was too good a promise to be true.

A July 10, 1987 Telegram-Tribune series on the plant described how it went from a budget of $ 320 million to $ 5.8 billion.

The cost threatened to bankrupt the utility until it was allowed to ask taxpayers to pay for the plant.

The public service blamed bad luck, protests, restrictive government policies and changes in the economy.

Utilities Commission staff said PG&E management was arrogant and short-sighted.

Protest groups said they kept the public service focused on security.

The plant’s construction plans have undergone a changing set of design standards as more is learned of an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Also during construction, the Hosgri fault was discovered and assessed off the coast. Bechtel Power Corp. was hired to complete the construction of the utility after the discovery of a plan error.

Since the entry into service of Unit 1 in May 1985 and Unit 2 in March 1986, the plant has provided reliable power 24 hours a day, with breaks for refueling and maintenance.

It generates around 20% of PG&E’s electricity, enough for around 3 million customers. The factory also provides many head-of-household jobs for county residents.

There have been calls recently to extend the plant’s license with evidence of climate change appearing regularly in the news. The plant produces electricity without the carbon impact of a coal or gas plant.

And if anything, we’ve become even more reliant on electrical devices in the half-century since the plant was first proposed, although the state’s astronomical population growth has leveled off. Some new neighborhoods in the region are being built without natural gas pipelines.

However, Diablo Canyon owner PG&E has announced plans not to renew the operating licenses for the two units.

The federal government never provided the promised storage for used nuclear fuel, and the impact on fish larvae sucked into the cooling system confused regulators and resulted in fines.

Safely storing the radioactive waste produced by the plant is a task on a timescale that humans have never attempted before.

The Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disasters occurred after Diablo opened, the California electricity market underwent a drastic regulatory change, and PG&E sold small inefficient power plants like Morro Bay, which was ultimately closed. Meanwhile, huge solar and wind farms have been built over the past decades, each with their own environmental costs and technical limitations.

It was a much simpler story, of Missing Women apparently, that Elliot Curry wrote on May 10, 1969, when construction began, almost 20 years before the plant went into operation.

Progress is choking Diablo surfing

An alien suddenly left at the mouth of Diablo Canyon on the coast of San Luis Obispo County might assume that this was indeed a very odd location for a football stadium.

A large rounded excavation, like an amphitheater, was dug in the coastal plateau.

Men and machines are at work in all directions, digging, filling, dynamiting, transporting, testing earth and stone.

Construction of the $ 188,413,000 PG&E nuclear unit is on schedule and gaining momentum with each passing week.

This job will last a long time and will appeal to many men with multiple skills.

Walter Burn of Jamestown, Calif., Was one of the details working to cut a rocky ledge this week when a Telegram-Tribune photographer passed by. Burke released the pressure on his jackhammer and for a moment the sound of the waves could be heard crashing against the rocks at the entrance to the once lonely cove.

Wayne Hummel of Oceano and Doug Weatherly of Avila Beach collaborated with Burn. Nearby was Wayne Key of Paso Robles, operating a backhoe.

For two years, the Diablo Canyon plant consisted of plans, engineering studies, PUC hearings, AEC hearings, legal briefs.

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Heavy machinery moves the earth to create the substation at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant on May 6, 1969. Michael Raphael Telegram-Tribune

Today it’s men and machines, lunch buckets, payroll and helmets.

About 150 men work on the site, including 35 PG&E employees. Most of the rest are employed under excavation and earthworks contracts by Walter Brothers of San Luis Obispo.

During the excavation phase, employment will remain more or less as it is. Next year, however, as the plant begins to set up, the number of jobs is expected to reach 500.

Even at this early stage, approximately $ 9 million of construction has been completed or is underway on the Diablo Canyon project.

Excavation of the dome-shaped reactor containment structure and turbogenerator is moving rapidly towards completion.

Next come the foundation formwork in which between 80,000 and 90,000 cubic meters of concrete will be poured.

Work is also progressing rapidly on the massive embankment at the mouth of the Diablo Canyon on which the switching stations will be built. Two million cubic meters of earth are moved.

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An unpublished photo shows construction at the site of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in May 1969. Michael Raphael Telegram-Tribune

The men driving the earthmovers descend a roller coaster hill carrying loads of 50 to 55 meters of earth on a journey.

A driver’s license is not sufficient for this job. It takes skill and courage – no mistakes are allowed.

Robert V. Farley, resident engineer for the project, leads the PG&E team immediately responsible for the progress and quality of the work. Laurence Rasmussen and Terry Ewald are his immediate assistants.

Mr. H. Chandler, Director of the Station Construction Department at PG&E, is a frequent visitor to the San Francisco office as it is now the largest construction site in the system.

One of the project’s veterans at this point is neither an engineer nor a scientist. This is Bill Young, the cook, who presides over the kitchen and dining room available to PG&E employees if they wish to make use of it. Young has been in the post for nine months.

Those who are used to eating there hope that it will stay there for the duration.

If all six units are built at the Diablo Canyon site, it could take 20 years.

This story was originally published December 18, 2021 5:00 a.m.

David Middlecamp is a third generation photojournalist and Cal Poly graduate who has covered the Central Coast region since the 1980s. A career that began developing and printing black and white films now includes a pilot’s license from drone certified by the FAA. He also writes the historical chronicle “Photos of the safe”.