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California governor reconsidering the future of PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

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Posted at 7:39 PM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 22:39:26-04

Concerns about California’s power grid, especially with shutdowns as Californians have seen in the past two summers, prompted California Governor Gavin Newsom to think twice about shutting down the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

“Any large chunk of electricity from the grid especially Diablo Canyon, which provides 24/7 electricity to the grid, is putting at risk increasing blackouts,” said Isabelle Boemeke, founder of Save Clean Energy, an organization looking to keep the Diablo Canyon Power Plant open.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s office confirmed they are exploring the option of keeping the power plant open, but it is not up to the governor to extend a license for Diablo Canyon.

In a statement, Erin Mellon, the Communications Director for Gov. Newsom, said, “The Governor is in support [of] keeping all options on the table to ensure we have a reliable grid, especially as we head into a summer where Cal ISO expects California could have more demand than supply during the kind of extreme events that California has experienced over the past two summers. This includes considering an extension to Diablo Canyon which continues to be an important resource as we transition to clean energy."

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford published a report in 2021 weighing in on the benefits of keeping the power plant open and further using it for a desalination and hydrogen plant.

“The state would avoid increasing emissions, carbon emissions, in the near term,” explained Jacopo Buongiorno, an MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering professor and co-author of the report. “In the longer term, it would actually save a lot of money because it would reduce the amount of electric capacity that it needs to deploy if Diablo Canyon were to shut down.”

President Joe Biden recently announced funding to support his pledge to create a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.

The U.S. Department of Energy has a $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program and Governor Newsom told the LA Times he would look into tapping into those funds.

“The program he is referring to does not apply to Diablo Canyon, it only applies to nuclear plants that have operating losses in terms to their financial management and Diablo Canyon doesn't have operating losses now,” said Ralph Cavanagh, Natural Resources Defense Council’s Energy Program Co-Director. “That is not why it is retiring. It’s retiring because its license will be up by 2025.”

But applying for federal funding is up to the plant operator. In this case, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).

“PG&E doesn’t really have competition because they are a regulated monopoly," said Jane Swanson, the spokesperson for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, an organization that has been advocating for years to close down the power plant. “For two reasons I would be very, very surprised if this ever came to pass. I don’t think Diablo Canyon qualifies. I don’t think the governor has that kind of power.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said there is no current request to extend the plant’s license, which is set to expire in 2024 and 2025.

The NRC said PG&E did apply for a 20-year license extension for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant but later withdrew the application in 2018.

“The process of renewal was initiated in the late 2000s, so some of those replacements had already taken place. For example, the steam generator replacement or the reactor pressure vessel were replaced back then before the decision of shutting down,” added Professor Buongiorno.

PG&E has consistently said they plan to close the plant when its current license expires, but on Friday, PG&E spokesperson Suzanne Hosn said, "The people of PG&E are proud of the role that Diablo Canyon Power Plant plays in our state. We are always open to considering all options to ensure continued safe, reliable, and clean energy delivery to our customers.”

“Shutting any existing nuclear power right now is a terrible mistake, not only in terms of reliability but also in terms of climate change, and it would also jeopardize the clean energy goals,” added Boemeke.

The NRC also weighed in on any last-minute license extension requests.

“If any plant seeks renewal with less than five years remaining on its license, it would very likely have to lay out a legal and technical justification to apply ‘timely renewal’ to help ensure there would be enough time for a proper application, NRC review and decision,” explained Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesperson.

In a statement released Friday, Rep. Salud Carbajal, (D) District 24, said, “If Governor Newsom is changing course, it is imperative for him to include the same community stakeholders who were a part of the decision to retire DCPP–including PG&E, environmental stakeholders, nuclear safety advocates, and labor–in any revisiting of that choice."

The Natural Resources Defense Council said the retirement of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant could be used as an example for other nuclear plants. On the other hand, Save Clean Energy is planning to push for more social media campaigns and rallies at the grassroots level.