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PG&E gets approval to keep nuclear power plant running during license review

Posted at 11:01 AM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-02 21:53:03-05

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) can continue to operate the Diablo Canyon Power Plant past the plant's current licenses while its License Renewal Application is under review.

PG&E had planned to decommission the nuclear power plant when the licenses for its two units expire in 2024 and 2025.

But last year, amid concerns over possible blackouts as the State of California transitions to more renewable energy sources, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 846, which sought to extend operations at the power plant for another five years.

The NRC must renew the power plant's licenses in order for it to keep running, however, a process that usually takes two or more years.

In October, PG&E asked the NRC to resume consideration of an application it initially submitted in 2009 but later withdrew after the company decided to close the plant. The NRC denied that request.

PG&E says it intends to submit a new License Renewal Application by the end of this year.

"We are pleased the NRC approved our exemption request. Aligned with Senate Bill 846, PG&E will continue on the path to extend our operations beyond 2025 to improve statewide electric system reliability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as additional renewable energy and carbon-free resources come online," said Paula Gerfen, PG&E's Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer.

However, some groups that oppose the power plant's continued operations are expressing their concerns.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is contorting its rules and procedures in granting this exemption to Pacific Gas and Electric," said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. "Nearly 5 years ago, Pacific Gas and Electric withdrew its license, and the NRC closed the renewal process. The NRC cannot simply invent new rules just because the State of California is having second thoughts about the decision. This is an ominous warning sign for how independent the NRC will be in evaluating the earthquake risk and the overall operational integrity of the Diablo Canyon reactors."

According to the NRC, the agency's staff determined the exemption is authorized by law and will not present a risk to the public. Normal inspection and oversight of the power plant will continue.

“The determination from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission today is consistent with precedents that had been set and it's consistent with other exemptions that they've granted to other utilities,” said Suzanne Hosn, PG&E spokesperson.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who visited Diablo Canyon Power Plant on Wednesday, said, “As we experienced during the record heat wave last September, climate change-driven extreme events are causing unprecedented stress on our power grid – the Diablo Canyon Power Plant is important to support energy reliability as we accelerate progress towards achieving our clean energy and climate goals. I look forward to our continued work with the Biden-Harris Administration and the Legislature to build a reliable and resilient clean electric system.”

gavin newsom diablo canyon 2.jpg
California Gov. Gavin Newsom toured the facilities at Diablo Canyon Power Plant on Wednesday, March 1, 2023.

If the NRC grants PG&E's license renewal, it would authorize the continued operation of the power plant for up to 20 years.