Trusting the Devil

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, In San Luis Obispo County. Photo: Doc Sedaris.
Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, In San Luis Obispo County. Photo: Doc Sedaris.

By ISAAC HERNANDEZ, based on story first published in El Mundo in Spanish under the title “Fiarse del Diablo.”

Energy companies, like good politicians, like to keep us reassured, saying that everything’s just fine and under control. After the catastrophe of Fukushima Dai-ichi, we were told once again that everything’s okay with US nuclear power plants. The US government’s 2012 budget included $36 billion in loan guarantees to energy companies to build new nuclear plants. The Japanese accident may be changing the minds of politicians, though. The US nuclear industry has been quick to explain that their plants are not like those in Japan, but much safer, even though 23 of the 104 reactors on U.S. soil are the same design as those at Fukushima.

In the case of the two nuclear plants built near tectonic faults in California, experts say the plants are designed to withstand earthquakes ten times stronger than those ever possible there. San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are designed to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 and 7.5, respectively. According to experts, the Cristianitos fault, five miles (8km) away  from the San Onofre nuclear power plant, could only muster a 6.9 earthquake on the Richter scale; and San Gregorio-Hosgri fault, 3,700 meters from the Diablo Canyon plant, won’t cause earthquakes of a magnitude greater than 7.4. The Hosgri fault wasn’t “officially” discovered until October 1972 (once the building permit for the second reactor had been approved), even though the seismologists for the oil companies had already found it in February, 1969.

But there’s still a tiny problem. A couple of years ago a new fault, named Shoreline, was discovered 275 meters from the Diablo Canyon plant. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the energy company that built and operates the plant, will invest $17 million in a 3D tectonic study to attempt to predict what would be the worst earthquake that could result from this fault. Without waiting for the results, PG&E was quick to request the renewal of their operating licenses for twenty more years, even though the current permits do not expire until 2024 and 2025. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) almost renewed the licenses, even without the new seismic survey; apparently they didn’t deem them necessary. Is it coincidence that the NRC agrees with PG&E? It must be. It couldn’t be that a utility company would bribe the NRC. Bribery only happens with oil, not with the “peaceful energy.”  Some will say I’m wrong; that there was a case of bribery to the president and directors of the Sierra Club, the environmental NGO, who sold their souls to the Diablo. What if it was so? That was long ago, back in 1963.

Do we believe the utility company’s reassurances about the safety of its nuclear power plants? Why not? If they say they’re safe, they must be. Just as we should trust Transocean, the company that operated the BP rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, when they said that 2010 was “the safest year in company history” for the same year of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. It didn’t matter that of the eleven workers killed, nine of them worked for Transocean. That didn’t stop the company from giving $898,282 in bonuses to its top five executives. Following criticism of the press, those good executives “voluntarily” donated 25% of the bonus to a fund established to helping the families of the victims. Those poor executives reduced “their 2010 pay from a respectable $19.6 million to an unthinkable, wage-slaving, poverty-inducing $19.3 million,” according to Colin Barr, a reporter for Fortune magazine. What if eleven lives are lost and millions of barrels of oil are poured into the ocean? Don’t pay attention. If Transocean says it was “the safest year”, then it was. If a “power company” says it, it must be true. That’s why they’re called “power” companies.

According to these standards, PG&E has a very reliable history when it comes to ensuring safety. In fact, they invested $5.8 billion in the construction of the Diablo Canyon plant, instead of the $300 million originally budgeted, to correct the many mistakes made by engineers and contractors. They were so careful that they built the reactors three times. And so what if one of the reactors had its seismic structural supports installed  backwards, leaving many parts needlessly reinforced while other necessary supports went missing? Anybody can make a mistake. Don’t worry, the domes were later reinforced to compensate for the error that was never corrected.

It’s true that Diablo Canyon is not Fukushima Da-ichi, and that it has many security systems, including emergency generators powered by diesel, “far” from the sea, and two pools filled with water for emergency cooling. But throughout its history, different things have occurred to dissolve trust. In 1975, for example, up to 13,000 abalone died due to copper waste that was poured into the sea when the plant was first put into operation. Never mind that Southern California’s white abalone is near extinction, with only 1,600 animals left in California and Mexico as of the year 2000. I’m sure it won’t happen again, because PG&E was admonished with a fine of $14 million. I’m sure they’ve learned the lesson, even if they didn’t have to pay the fine (thanks to their lawyers) . May this serve as a warning.

According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, as reported in the Christian Science Monitor,  “operators found themselves unable to open the valves that provide emergency cooling water to the reactor core and containment vessel, during a test on October 22, 2009.” Apparently, the problem had been there for a year and a half. In the words of an NRC Special Inspection Team (SIT), “A misguided repair to valves that would not open fast enough prevented other key valves from opening. Tests after the valve repairs failed to detect the problem. The reactor operated for nearly 18 months with vital emergency systems disabled.” The report, which lists 16 near-misses in US nuclear power plants during 2009-2010, explains that the “SIT found that a misguided fix of an earlier problem had caused this even larger problem. When the valves failed to open and close within specified time limits, workers shortened their ‘travel distance.’  The workers didn’t realize that this meant that these valves no longer reached their finish lines. Interlocks prevented other safety valves from opening until the first valves were fully open.” We’re lucky to have the NRC to catch these problems, even if it takes them eighteen months. Since workers could have still opened the valves manually in case of emergency, the NRC rated this violation as “Severity Level IV”, the least serious sanction, but a sanction nevertheless. Thank you, NRC.

The rest of the events of Diablo Canyon are nothing but little sins. According to Mothers for Peace, between 1984 and 1985 there were several arrests of security guards who trafficked cocaineDuring the San Simeon earthquake of 2003, with a force 6.5 on the Richter scale, 56 of the 131 emergency sirens distributed in the area didn’t work because the batteries weren’t charged. In October 2008, one of the gates to collect sea water for cooling the reactors stopped operating, clogged by jellyfish. It may have been scary, but thanks to PG&E the problem was fixed without even having to close the plant.

There is nothing to worry about the great amounts of radioactive waste stored there over the last thirty-some years. The two pools that store waste in Diablo Canyon were about to overflow, but the creativity of the engineers, and lawyers, invented a way to get twice the nuclear waste into the same space. It’s true that now, after twenty-six years in operation, the pools are almost full again, but I’m sure PG&E will think of a new solution to continue storing extra waste for decades to come.

Sometimes politicians stand up to energy companies instead of just letting things flow as usual, as in New Orleans, where both Democrats and Republicans defended a continuation of off-shore drilling  even after the BP accident. The Republican California State Senator/seismologist Sam Blakeslee and the Democratic US Congresswoman Rep. Lois Capps have called for the new Shoreline fault seismic survey to be completed before approving any new permits. The NRC would have approved the renewal if it wasn’t for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which canceled a meeting scheduled with PG&E to authorize an increase in electricity rates in order to cover the cost of renewing the license.  As good capitalists, PG&E wants to pass the cost of renewing the license to the consumer; that’s $85 million. But the CPUC didn’t approve the rate hike, and PG&E has decided to stop the request for an extension, at least for now. Back in 1989 electricity rates did go up, from 8 to 14 cents per kwH to cover the cost of construction of Diablo Canyon (including the $110 million invested in legal fees).

Some might dare to call these rate hikes a nuclear tax, and to suggest, for example, that we could spend this $85 million instead on solar panels. Citing this comparison chart of energy production costs, they’d say that we could produce 16,000 megawatt hours if we used the proposed new rate hike for the construction of a solar tower; this would be eight times more than the 2,200 megawatt hours generated by the two reactors at Diablo. And they might also add that the costs of maintaining a solar power plant are much lower, and that solar panels are less toxic than nuclear waste, and that solar energy doesn’t dump radioactive waste into the sea. Don’t be fooled, though. Nuclear waste may be carcinogenic… but so is the sun.


Interview with Juliano Brotman, Hollywood’s Raw Vegan Food Chef

Julano Brotman and chard
Julano Brotman and chard
Chef Juliano Brotman and chard. Photo: ©Isaac Hernández
Chef Juliano on the back page of El Mundo.


If you are ever in Santa Monica, you must eat at Planet Raw. Not only you will have a delicious uncooked meal, but you may even run into actors Natalie Portman, Alicia Silverstone, Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey or Darryl Hanna, who eat there often. Juliano’s Planet Raw offers french fries, burritos, cheeseburgers, and many different dishes, but all raw and vegan. The cheeseburger is one of the most popular dishes, which includes their very own homemade mustard.

If you have a chance, spend some time talking to “the world’s number one premiere living raw chef,” according to The New York Times. Or better yet, take one of his raw food classes on Saturdays. You can also grab a copy of his book, Raw: the Uncook Book: New Vegetarian Food for Life.

Carlos Fresneda, from El Mundo, and I had a chance to talk to him before I took his portrait outside of Planet Raw. Since El Mundo’s audience is in Spain, he kindly spoke in his best kitchen Spanish. The story was published in El Mundo, right before the Oscars. You can find highlights of his interview in the following video. For those not proficient in kitchen Spanish, I did a lose translation of the video, further down the page. It’s truly worth reading. Enjoy! And bon appetit!

Translation to English of interview with Juliano Brotman. ©Isaac Hernández

Raw: The Uncook BookI started eating vegetables. We didn’t have tofu, Whole Foods, Internet… I ate fruit, vegetables and nothing else. One day my sister came over and said, let’s make milk. We put almond and water in the blender and made milk. It was very thick, it was cream. We made sweet cream. Once instead of milk and vanilla, I put garlic, parsley and basil, and made a savory cream, instead of sweet. When this happened, everything changed. Now we can put cheese in tortillas and vegetables and make cheese burritos, but with no cheese. I wanted to get out of the white dough because I knew it’s not good for you. I changed the tortilla for a collar green. And I made the first raw food burrito. It was the first raw wrap

Animals never eat cooked food, like the zebra. They are not obese, they have perfect teeth. Even the grandma is in great shape, she can run, fight… People say it’s because they are wild animals. No, it’s because they eat raw food.
We spend trillions of dollar a year in dentist. They don’t spend a dime.

Alzheimer’s, dementia, senility come from cooked food. It’s poison. We don’t have cancer, AIDS or diabetes. We have cooked food, cooked food, and cooked food. I was in good shape all my life. Every year or every other year, I would get sick (before switching to raw food). From when I was 17 until 40, I never had a sour throat, never had a cold, never had a cavity.

People tell me, “Juliano, it’s not right we need cooked food, we need meat…” I’m 40. In the last 25 years, I can’t get fat. I eat all day oil, avocado, walnuts. I sleep four hours and jump out of bed to go running. I see my brother who eats cooked food, and is three years younger than me; he and gets up, “ah, my back.” Just yoga and raw food and you’re going to be good all your life.

To do something you just don’t cook, and you’re raw. Isn’t that amazing? To do anything else, you have to do research, and time and energy. To be raw all you have to do is not do something. You just don’t cook and you’re raw. It’s pretty amazing food.

The food that you like without the bad things, that’s what we do here.

47% of the pollution in the world is for the production of the packaging and labels for cooked food. Then we throw this packaging and labels away, and 85% of the landfill is waste from cooked food.

It’s crazy to eat this, when an apple, an eggplant, a zucchini comes without a label or packaging and you know what it is, because it’s true. In the US, if they print something, you know it’s not true.

The only thing that can save humanity is if everybody stops working and goes to the beach. It’s what everybody wants to do, but nobody is going to do it. My friends say, “Who’s going to manage the cellphone communications so you can call someone?” You’re going to the beach with the family. If you want to call someone, you say, “Eh! Eh!” What’s going on? Forget the cell phone. We are going to have cell phone, but we are not going to have a world. How great! Who are we going to call when we don’t have a world anymore?

All this aggression is because we are eating meat all day. I always say, to make peace and love on Earth, start on your dish. If you start killing and torturing and murdering on your plate… Animals have wives, they have dreams, they have work… Ants have colonies. They have presidents. They have everything we have, only that they don’t speak English, so let’s kill them. Gringos want all metal and concrete. I don’t know why the gringo turn out so crazy. Because the Indians were great.

You can have a gun, but not raw almond.

Peace on Earth begins on your plate.

Juliano’s Planet Raw restaurant. Santa Monica, California.

Same-Sex Marriage: Love Will Prevail

Sarah, Dan and Kevin, San Francisco, 2000.

Twelve years ago, I photographed several gay families with children for El Mundo in Spain. I was told that these photos moved people to tears, and started a shift in the conversation. I like to think that the love of these families for their children triumphed over the hatred inherited by years of misunderstanding and fear.

When I was assigned by Magazine, the large Sunday supplement of El Mundo, to photograph a gathering of gay families with children in San Francisco, organized by All Our Families coalition, I didn’t know that the article accompanied by my family portraits would change the world — or at least impact public opinion in Spain.

Ann, Noah, Elaine and Dan, San Francisco, 2000.

The love of these families, apparent in the photos and in the magnificent article by USC Religious Studies professor Juan Herrero Brasas, titled “Papa y Papi Me Miman” (Daddy and Poppy Love Me), traveled across the ocean and sparked a national debate. The photos were shown on TV numerous times, and were plastered on the walls of bookstores in Lavapies, Madrid’s gay district. I heard from my sister’s hairdresser, who was moved to tears to see these happy gay families with children recognized in the Spanish national media, inspired by the dream that one day he might be able to have that.

Same-sex weddings and adoptions weren’t legal anywhere in the U.S. at the time (2000). In fact, gay marriage was not legal anywhere in the world. Those San Francisco parents could form civil unions but couldn’t get married, and went through many legal loops in order to be able to co-adopt. They fought for their children like nobody else I knew.

A few months later, the Netherlands approved same-sex marriage. It became the first nation to do so, on April 17, 2001. Two years later, on January 30, 2003, Belgium did the same. In November, 2003, the Massachusetts high court got the ball rolling in the U.S. saying that banning same-sex marriages was unconstitutional according to state law, and gave legislators 180 days to legalize gay weddings. On February 12, 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed gay weddings to be performed by city clerks. The families I had photographed four years earlier could finally get married.

Opening page for story on San Francisco Gay Weddings, as it appeared in El Mundo on March 7, 2004.

I convinced El Mundo’s editor to let me cover the weddings at the San Francisco City Hall. I traveled 350 miles to San Francisco and photographed nearly 50 weddings in one day, interviewing the newlyweds. I remember the words of Anne Peacock, a high school teacher who married her sweetheart: “This issue really does need to have a human face. It is easy for people to hate ‘the other’ but much more difficult, and even absurd, to hate your teacher or cousin or neighbor or daughter or nephew.”

A few days after the story came out in print in Spain, California banned same-sex marriages, and the 4,000 weddings performed between February 12 and March 11 were annulled.

Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S. and 1,000 couples were married the first day, May 17, 2004.

While California went on to legal battles over this issue, Canada and Spain were finalizing plans to legalize same-sex marriages, which they did on June 28 and June 30, 2005, respectively. The tables had been turned. It was Spain’s turn to inspire California to achieve marriage equality.

On June 16, 2008, finally, the Supreme Court of California ruled the ban unconstitutional. But the joy lasted only until Election Day on November 5, 2008, due to the passage of Proposition 8, the so dubbed “Marriage Protection Act”. This would later also be found unconstitutional by the Ninth District Court of Appeals, but same-sex marriages are still not allowed in California, pending further appeals. (The trial has been written into a play, “8″, by Oscar-winning author Dustin Lance Black, and was performed in LA with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Bacon.)

On November 6, 2012, voters in Maine, Maryland approved same-sex marriage by ballot measures, while voters in Minnesota rejected a ballot that would have changed their constitution to deny deny same-sex couples the right to marry. And voters in Washington approved a same-sex marriage law passed earlier this year.

President Barack Obama brought the conversation out of the closet and turned it into a national debate. Supporting same-sex marriage is finally no longer a political taboo. It’s something we can talk about. The president’s words possibly encouraged voters to support same-sex marriage in these four states. Incredibly, this is the first time that opponents of “redefining marriage” lose a statewide referendum; they had won the previous 32 times.

By now, Argentina, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden have joined the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Spain in recognizing same-sex relationships. Brazil approved same-sex civil unions and Israel honors same-sex marriages performed in other countries even though they are not allowed within the country. Even Mexico City and Quintana Roo (Mexico), as well as Connecticut, DC, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Maine, Maryland and Washington now perform gay weddings. But the people who inspired many others, those original San Francisco families in my black-and-white photographs, still cannot get married at home.

The recognition of same-sex marriages is a civil rights issue. It’s about people being treated equally. Let’s leave Satan out of this; and the fear of children becoming homosexuals just from being raised by homosexuals, as if it were some kind of disease. That is so last century!

I hear that certain “marriage defenders” fear that legalizing same-sex marriage will result in the desire to legalize polygamy or marriage between a man and dog. They say they defend tradition. But I don’t believe in defending tradition for tradition’s sake. You don’t have to go back very far in time when it was also tradition for black people to drink from “colored only” water fountains. Backtrack a few years more and it was tradition to own slaves.

What does “defending the sanctity of marriage” mean, anyhow? I don’t understand. Shouldn’t divorce be illegal then, too? How about pre-marital sex? Shouldn’t we ban that, too?


Let’s defend the sanctity of love. If people want to get married, let them. Let love triumph over hate.


The Love of Gay Families

“All Our Families” portfolio, as published in a 34-page spread in Diario magazine in Italy. ©2000-12 Isaac Hernandez. (More photos below)

I wanted to be a photographer to make a difference. Thanks to perseverance and luck, I believe I finally did, if only with one photo essay. It was the year 2000. I got a call from USC Religious Studies professor, and writer, Juan Herrero Brasas. He was referred to me by Carlos Fresneda, bureau chief for El Mundo in Spain. Juan needed a photographer to travel with him to San Francisco to document a gathering organized by All Our Families for children of gay families to socialize and have a good time. I rented a Hasselblad, loaded it with black-and-white film, and was ready to go (not quite because I had loaded the film backwards, but a kind Samaritan-photographer showed me the correct way of loading the film, and the rest is history).

Juan spent a few minutes doing interviews before I snapped two or three pictures of the happy families. The result was published in Magazine El Mundo, with a beautiful article by Herrero Brasas with the title “Papa y Papi Me Miman” (Daddy and Poppy Love Me). I was really moved by the love present in these families, and I’m eternally grateful by the generosity of the people who allowed me to photograph them.

The article generated an uproar in all media in Spain, sparking a national debate. From what I heard, the photos were shown on TV, and plastered the walls of bookstores in Lavapies, Madrid’s equivalent of San Francisco’s Castro District. My friend’s hairdresser had it on his wall and was moved to tears by its significance. It started a conversation that a few years later resulted in the legalization of gay marriages and adoptions.

A few years later I would meet Maurizio Garofalo, editor of Diario magazine in Italy, almost by chance at VISA Pour L’Image photography festival in Perpignan, France. A war documentary had left me with a feeling of despair; it seemed as if everybody hated everybody. As I walked out of the theater, I needed to talk to anybody to remind myself that there’s love in the world. I talked to the first person I saw, and that was Maurizio. He asked to see my portfolio of gay families and fell in love with it to the point that he published every single image in a special issue, under the title “Radicci dell’Odio”, or “The Roots of Hate” (seen here). It illustrated the most comprehensive gathering of stories on gay rights ever published in an Italian journal, with stories by renowned Italian thinkers and writers. I’m happy and proud to share the love present in these images. Like my son said wisely when he was just a toddler, “Let’s love all the hate away!”