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31 Great Reasons to Keep Diablo Canyon Power Plant Open - From the Company That's Shutting it Down

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Nuclear Power Policy Activist Independent

I am a passionate advocate for the environment and nuclear energy. With the threat of climate change, I’ve embarked on a mission to help overcome the fears of nuclear energy. I’ve been active in...

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  • Apr 26, 2021
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Shortly after California Gov. Jerry Brown was re-elected in 2010, the rumor mill began to turn. San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, the state's two nuclear power plants, were suddenly "dated", "uneconomical", and "expensive". It was time to replace their 100% clean, reliable energy with energy from the wind and sun that depended upon natural gas backup power.

Either something dreadful had happened after the election - or maybe Brown was the source of those rumors.

With Brown's extensive property holdings in California oil country, he stood to make hundreds of $millions if those plants were replaced with ones that burned gas. His sister Kathleen, after all, happened to be on the Board of Directors of Sempra International, the largest gas dealer in the U.S. The Brown family was close to the Newsom family - young Gavin was Jerry's protégé, and in the 1960s Gavin's father had helped Jerry's father, former Gov. Pat Brown, win an exclusive franchise for Indonesian gas giant Pertamina, reportedly worth $10 million - when $10 million really meant something.

The connections to Big Gas didn't end there. Acquaintances say Gordon Getty, grandson of oil billionaire J. Paul Getty, was "like another son" at the Newsom home during Gavin's boyhood. With $2 billion he inherited from his forebears, Gordon financed Gavin's budding career in the hospitality business and contributed to the political campaigns of both Brown and Newsom.

Approval would be routine, with gubernatorial appointees staffing the California Public Utilities Commission. The understanding would be implicit: either kill nuclear in California, or find another job.

But maybe the rumors were true, and PG&E really wanted to ditch the plant back in 2010. If so, you'd never know it from this archival page on PG&E's website, published in 2013. On it, PG&E struggles to extol all of Diablo Canyon's virtues:

  • "PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant is a vital local economic engine and brings significant benefits to San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara counties.
  •     Diablo Canyon contributed $919.8 million to the region in 2011 (direct, indirect and induced benefits).
  •     Diablo Canyon helps to make PG&E the largest private employer in the area with more than 1,400 workers and a payroll of $202 million in 2011.
  •     Diablo Canyon spent $22 million locally in 2011 on goods and services.
  •     The plant is the largest property taxpayer in San Luis Obispo County - $25 million for the fiscal year 2011/2012 which helps fund schools, public work projects, public safety, and health and other vital services.
  •     U.S. nuclear energy facilities are held to the highest of standards by independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors, who conduct ongoing oversight at each reactor every day.
  •     To maintain high levels of safety, plant officials plan for the unexpected with layer upon layer of redundant safety features.
  •     U.S. nuclear energy facilities have four-foot-thick concrete and steel containment domes that surround the reactor, plus backup safety systems that function in the event of an emergency.
  •     The nuclear energy industry began making immediate safety improvements as part of a self-assessment of U.S. nuclear facilities within days of the 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi. The industry has committed to work in the short and long term to ensure that lessons learned are well-understood and that improvements are effectively coordinated and implemented industrywide.
  •     One hundred nuclear facilities in 31 states provide nearly 20 percent of all U.S. electricity.
  •     Nuclear energy generated 769.3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2012.
  •     Improved efficiency and technologies at U.S. nuclear energy facilities since 1990 have led to an increase in electricity production capable of powering more than 16 million homes, the equivalent of building 24 new nuclear reactors.
  •     The industry has added more than 6,800 megawatts of capacity through facility improvements called uprates - enough to power 4.7 million homes.
  •     Nuclear energy facilities generate electricity 24/7 at an 86 percent capacity factor. This is more efficient than other types of energy - combined-cycle natural gas, with a 56 percent capacity factor; coal-fired at 55 percent; and wind at 31 percent.
  •     One uranium fuel pellet creates as much energy as one ton of coal or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.
  •     A typical large nuclear energy facility produces enough electricity for more than 690,000 homes while using only 20 metric tons of uranium fuel each year.
  •     The volume of used nuclear fuel rods created over the past 40 years - 69,720 metric tons - would cover one football field 7 yards deep
  •     The U.S. nuclear industry has built a comprehensive system for safely and securely storing used fuel that keeps the public and environment safe. Used fuel rods are stored safely in steel-lined, water-filled concrete vaults or in concrete and steel containers at each nuclear energy facility site.
  •     The average nuclear energy facility pays approximately $16 million in state and local taxes and $67 million in federal taxes annually.
  •     Each nuclear energy facility generates about $470 million annually in sales of goods and services in the local community.
  •     Approximately $40 million is spent annually in wages at each facility.
  •     Nine license applications are being reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 14 new reactors.
  •     Five new nuclear reactors are under construction in three states: Georgia (Vogtle 3 and 4), South Carolina (V.C. Summer 2 and 3) and Tennessee (Watts Bar 2).
  •     One reactor creates up to 3,500 jobs at peak construction.
  •     A new nuclear energy facility creates 500 permanent jobs per 1,000 megawatts of electricity generating capacity, compared to 190 jobs for a coal plant, 50 for a wind farm and 50 for a natural gas plant.
  •     An equivalent number of additional jobs are expected to be created indirectly with each project.
  •     Nuclear energy produces more clean-air energy than any other source and is the only one that can produce large amounts of electricity 24/7. Nuclear energy produces 64 percent of all U.S. emission-free electricity.
  •     In 2012, nuclear energy facilities prevented 569.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from 110 million cars.
  •     Nuclear energy facilities also prevented the emission of 1 million short tons of sulfur dioxide and 0.47 million short tons of nitrogen oxide in 2012.
  •     A nuclear energy facility's life-cycle carbon emissions - including mining and producing fuel and construction of the plant - are among the lowest of any electricity generation source at 17 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per gigawatt-hour, comparable to geothermal (15 tons) and wind (14 tons).
  •     Protecting the environment extends to safely managing used fuel, protecting water quality and preserving and improving habitat for plants and wildlife. All U.S. nuclear energy facilities have extensive environmental monitoring programs, which are under the oversight of the NRC and state regulators."

If only Diablo Canyon burned gas, it might stay open for another 40 years - if not for any great reason.

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