Proposed nuclear plant near Malibu generates controversy
May 13, 1965: Shown is a model of a nuclear power plant proposed for the Malibu coast at Corral Canyon.
The model for a proposed nuclear power plant near Malibu shows the surrounding area, including a golf course projected to be developed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. This photo appeared in the June 21, 1965, edition of the Los Angeles Times.
The plant, first proposed in 1963, was cancelled in 1970.
In a June 14, 2005, article headlined “Still Generating Controversy”, writer Bob Pool gave this overview of the 1960s project:
In 1963, Los Angeles officials proposed building a San Onofre-style atomic generating plant in Corral Canyon as a solution to the fast-growing city’s need for more electricity.
DWP engineers viewed nuclear power as the perfect solution to a looming electricity shortage. The Corral Canyon plant would be larger than any atomic plant in existence and would have the capacity to generate enough power for every home, office and factory in Los Angeles for four hours a day, the agency predicted.
Unlike oil- and coal-powered generating stations, the atomic plant would be pollution-free and would not contribute to the smog that was blanketing Los Angeles almost daily.
Corral Canyon’s isolation was another plus.
The atomic plant would be tucked between hillsides at the bottom of a deep ravine. Seawater pumped from pipes buried under Pacific Coast Highway and the beach and extending half a mile into the ocean would cool the reactor.
The plant’s electricity would be carried into Los Angeles by a line of steel transmission towers constructed across the Santa Monica Mountains through Calabasas and connected to the DWP’s existing electric grid in the San Fernando Valley.
The deal sounded sweet to Los Angeles officials for other reasons as well.
The federal Atomic Energy Commission was willing to classify the Corral Canyon reactor as a nuclear power demonstration project. As such, the commission would pay up to $8 million for the design of the plant and would waive fuel-use charges of up to another $8.2 million.
City officials thought at first that the atomic plant plan would sail through federal and local reviews. In 1963, they entered into a tentative agreement with the Westinghouse Corp. to buy the generating equipment. The Atomic Energy Commission named a Boston company to design and build the reactor. Officials announced that the plant would be completed by 1967.
But the proposal quickly caused a furor in Malibu, helping galvanize a fledgling environmental movement, leading to the creation of a vast network of public parkland and land-development restrictions throughout the Santa Monica Mountains — including Corral Canyon.
Malibu celebrities joined in public hearings conducted by Los Angeles County to complain that the coastal area was seismically active.
The thought of a nuclear plant up the road from her beachfront home “makes my hair stand on end,” actress Angela Lansbury told the county’s Planning Commission. “The two words ‘atomic energy’ are the most horror-packed words in the English language. We have harnessed it, but as long as there is a margin for error, I don’t think the few in Malibu should be sacrificed for the many.”
Singer Frankie Laine cited an incident involving a leaking truck at an Idaho nuclear plant that forced officials to dig up a street and bury the contaminated pavement.
In 1970, after six years of debate and dozens of conflicting geology reports over the canyon’s safety, the city quietly dropped an option to buy nearly $100 million worth of equipment that would have launched the first 490,000-kilowatt phase of the atomic plant project. …
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