Cool Jobs: Marine Biologist’s Work Critical To Diablo Canyon Power Plant’s Safe Operation

Jim Kelly has been a marine biologist at Diablo Canyon Power Plant nearly four decades and has seen his share of storms hit California’s Central Coast.

Jim’s work, along with daily PG&E weather forecasts, is the bridge between nature and engineering that helps Diablo operate safely and efficiently. He monitors the aquatic ecosystems along a 14-mile stretch of coastline that borders the plant.

This year, with powerful El Niño-driven storms forecasted, his work is even more critical. “What El Niño does is create more and bigger storms. It is creating several wave events for us to deal with one after another,” says Jim.

He uses a computer modeling program to forecast ocean swells that could affect the flow of seawater used for coolant at the plant. Powerful Pacific storms dredge up all sorts of debris that have the potential to foul Diablo Canyon’s seawater cooling system. So in addition to protecting the thriving marine ecosystem in Diablo Cove, he’s also protecting a system vital to plant operation.

Even though the Central Coast has not been hit with ferocious Pacific storms this year, it has taken a pounding with powerful waves. This is why Jim has been closely monitoring weather and waves to provide plant operators important information for Diablo’s daily operation.

Years of mild winters allowed coastal kelp to grow unchecked by nature. December storms broke much of that kelp loose requiring cleanup of equipment to get the plant operating at peak efficiency and adding impetus to the high swell advisories Jim issues for the plant.

“I could retire at any time, but I love my job. There is always something that keeps it interesting. The plant is engineering and physics. It’s all pretty much nailed down. It’s black and white. The ocean is not. The ocean is a lot of grey and multi-varied factors that affect things like our power plant,” he says.

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