Friday, May 27, 2011

Buchon Trail Revisited, Diablo Canyon, Power, and Six Billion Bears

The two little domes just right of center are the reactor buildings.
A while back we took a hike on the Buchon Trail which offers a view the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Most folks living in the San Luis Obispo area are aware of the power plant, and more than a few work for Pacific Gas and Electric some at the plant itself. The power plant is on a rather secluded patch of coast line and it is hidden from view unless you work there or take time for the hike. Being out of sight it's easy to forget about. At the time of our hike the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the resulting radiation leaks at Fukushima were all in the future. None the less seeing the Diablo Canyon power plant made me think about how close we live to it. I've wondered about the domes of nuclear power plants since I was a kid. When we would drive past San Onofre I'd stare out the car window at the off-white globes until they disappeared over a slight rise in the freeway. When we'd visit my Aunt and Uncle in Atascadero I would imagine I could squint and see the Diablo Canyon plant from highway 101 where it darts inland just south of Avila Beach. I knew it was there and had seen pictures of the red brown domes but I never laid eyes on it.

Since the earthquake in Japan I have toyed with writing something about our local reactor. A brief internet search brings up many articles and gobs of angry comments regarding Diablo Canyon from both sides. There's the shut-it-down-now-it's-too-dangerous camp and there's the we-need-the-electricity-and-jobs camp. Before the earthquake the plant was already facing an uncertain future. Pacific Gas and Electric was applying to renew the plant's licence to operate for the next twenty years, and the debate was already heated. In the aftermath of the Japan's earthquake even more divisive attention has been heaped on Diablo Canyon. The safety of the plant's location has been in question since before it was built and each new fault discovered and each temblor in the local hills renews the issue. I can't add much to the debate over the new license and I won't try to add links to any articles as it would necessitate showing some kind of bias in what articles to choose. If you are interested I am sure you will have an easy time finding lots of articles on your own.

The opinions of seismologists working for Pacific Gas and Electric versus those outside the company will likely never agree. Predicting the volatility of any fault line is a difficult game. Nuclear disasters are still a rare thing and our history with the atomic stuff is still rather short. How much risk we are taking with any nuclear power plant I'm afraid will only be accurately judged in hindsight... but by then the mess is made and what's the point of judging. Keeping the plant operating seems to come down to how bad do we need the electricity and can we live with the worst if it arrives.

I'm in no position to figure that one out. It'll suck pretty bad for me and my neighbors if the worst arrives, but it isn't driving me to move away. As part of the emergency warning system for the power plant the air raid sirens around town are tested regularly. Hearing the tests is chilling, but again it isn't driving me to move away. Having electricity without burning anything is swell, but then there's all that nasty spent fuel that will far out live me. Nope, I have no answer.

Then a thing occurs to me. It's the same thing that comes to mind when ever I'm in a worrying mood. We fuss over nuclear power, oil, pollution, critters disappearing, illegal immigration, water rights, pesticides..... but one thing doesn't seem to have much voice. Population. There really are so damn many of us, and more and more of us want to have a car and electric lights. Can't say I blame anyone, it seems only right that anyone should be allowed to pursue these things. I suppose nuclear power along with every other form of power will have to be in play if everyone here is going to get to have some toys.

With population too I'm in no position to figure and point. I can't claim that we'd necessarily be better off if the population of the planet was cut in half... or a third... or less. And how does one go about arguing who stays and who goes.  Whoo boy... that leads down a dark hole, don't it?

Are we stuck with this? It kinda looks like we really don't need a nuclear war to wipe us out. Steady population growth will do the job... either through pestilence, shortage of water, or famine... slow and easy compared to nuclear disaster. Population growth scares me more than most things, and even with out our eating habits and toys we would eventually be a problem for ourselves. Heck, six billion bears would wreck the place about as fast as six billion people. It's getting close to seven billion by the way.

Ok, gotta go out and smell the flowers now. Sorry for the bummer folks. Just had to get it out.

Friday, May 13, 2011

the lost hard drive

my long lost Shenandoah drinking buddy
For anyone who was following our Big Trip of 2010 you may remember the hard drive crash in Rhode Island. We had to have a new drive installed in the laptop but the old drive took a mess of travel photos with it. mrs. a-go-go had uploaded some things to Flickr and a few things made it into blog posts but most of the photos from North Carolina to New York were in jeopardy. The folks who put in the new drive told us they could not recover what was on the drive and gave us the name of a company in California that might be able to retrieve something... for a price. Not having the dough or the time to deal with it, the old hard drive lived in a drawer with the hope that one day it could be resurrected.

Well folks, now I have a job at a little company, iFixit, that sells parts for apple laptops (among other things) and publishes free guides for the adventurous electronic device mechanic in the rest of us. Over the last two months or so working at iFixit I have learned a great deal about tinkering with computers. This gave me the confidence to see if I could get anything out of the old hard drive. Turns out it was no sweat! The directory on the old drive was a mess but I had no difficulty at all transferring the lost photos off the old drive. Hmmm... those nincompoops who put in the new drive didn't try very hard at all.

So here's to being bold and adventurous in travel and in electronics. And now, a short selection of the missing part of the Big Trip:
 Pisgah Covered Bridge, North Carolina
a wee water fall, Hanging Rock, North Carolina
fireflies! woo woo!
in Virginia a bit East of Shenandoah National Park
estuary on the Chesapeake
c'mon mr. Lincoln, jump!
so many D.C. museums yer head'll cave in
magic outsider art in Baltimore
people who died of smallpox in Philly
Coney Island mermaids
Washington Square, Manhattan, dance revolution
hail hail
flying over the Hudson on foot
more leaping in the cemetery
That's all folks. Thank you, Kingston, New York.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

beyond the moutain of gold

Buchon Trail, 2/3/2011

We made this hike way back in February, but I never found the time to write a little about it. Pacific Gas & Electric owns a large patch of coast on either side of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant but there are two trails along the bluffs that PG&E will let you hike if you follow the rules. Buchon Trail begins where Montaña de Oro State Park ends and makes its way about three miles along the bluffs.

The trail has little change in elevation and is not very strenuous but there are slippery bits if you're not sure of foot. The California Poppies and other wild flowers like this patch of coast so you may get a colorful show if you go in the spring. The craggy coast is spectacular and you may see some marine mammals foraging in the kelp. Coast birds of all sorts are a sure bet and maybe a pirate or two hiding in the little coves. Beware of the ground squirrels... cute little disease vectors. There are several places along the hike that provide a bench to rest your heels and be still for a while so plan on some extra time to dawdle.

The trail end takes you within sight of the Nuclear plant so the PG&E folks are not kidding about the rules and reservations for this hike. Trust me you are being watched the whole way. The folks at the entrance station know who is on the trail and what they are up to. Stay on the trail, don't even think of climbing the bluffs, there are porta-potties about two miles in so don't pee on the trail, and don't drop any litter. Behave yourself and PG&E will be very friendly... goof around out there and they will either come get you and escort you out or they will take you aside as you leave and kindly ask you not to come back for at least six months.

To get to the trail head take Los Osos Valley Road West from highway 101 just south of San Luis Obispo. This will turn into Pecho Valley Road when you get to the little town of Los Osos. Take Pecho Valley Road all the way to its dead end in Montaño de Oro State Park (no entrance fee). The road ends at a locked gate with a sign posting the trail hours and if it is open that day (rain? don't bother, they won't let you in). Park in the gravel lot and walk through the small pedestrian gate and down the paved road. This will take you to the entrance station where they will check you in and review the rules with you. There are more porta-potties here. Make use of them, it's a good walk to the next ones. The hike is free too but if you are going on a weekend or a nice summer day I do suggest using the reservation form for the trail and start out early. Depending on the season the trail closes at 4 or 5pm. If you arrive too late and the PG&E folks don't think you can make it out and back by closing they won't let you in.

We all get to hike this bit of coast as long as we stay in PG&E's good graces so be courteous. Plan ahead and this is a great hike on the far side of the mountain of gold.


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