By Lindsay Potter
A coalition of environmental action groups is fighting reversal of the slated closure of Diablo Canyon, California’s last two nuclear reactors. As a result of the coalition’s 2016 lawsuit against twice-bankrupted owners, Pacific Gas & Electric, the state had agreed to shut down the reactors at the end of their licensing periods in 2024 and 2025. PG&E admitted a shift to renewables could save California ratepayers $1 billion. However, the Civil Nuclear Credit earmarked $1.1 billion in subsidies to keep Diablo Canyon open and California promised a $1.4 billion ‘forgivable’ loan. On March 2, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agreed to allow the two reactors to operate beyond the end of their existing licenses, through the next five years, side-stepping the standard licensure process. California lawmakers lauded the step, although many previously supported shutting down Diablo Canyon. The NRC decision does not guarantee approval beyond 2030, but gives PG&E time to complete a 20-year license extension application.
California’s Governor and State Legislature withdrew from the closure agreement in September, claiming the twin reactors will prevent blackouts during heatwaves. Diablo Canyon produces less than 9 percent of California’s electricity, or 2.2 GW. It was running during blackouts in summer 2020, and California added 3.0 GW of solar in 2021 alone. A 2015 NRC report found the reactors could not withstand seismic shock from any of the dozens of nearby faults. Newsom’s revival plan would exempt PG&E from halting their ocean water cooling system and complying with environmental review. Necessary upgrades to Diablo Canyon could cost billions more – which draws funding and grid capacity away from renewable sources. — Reuters, Feb. 14; Associated Press, Jan. 25; LA Times, Mar. 2, 2023 and Aug. 16, 2022