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California makes a play to save the controversial Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, acknowledging a volatile energy reality.

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
  • 710 items added with 344,202 views
  • Jul 29, 2022
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The pitch from the two former U.S. energy czars in a November 2021 LA Times op-ed was simple: The state should reverse a 2016 agreement and keep the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County open rather than shutting it all down by 2025. Diablo Canyon, PG&E's golden child, makes up 8.5 percent of California’s total energy portfolio and about 15 percent of the state’s clean energy output. It alone can power about 3 million homes. 

The second-guessing of this six-year-old agreement reflects a larger shift in U.S. nuclear politics, driven by the climate crisis and the growing understanding that a firm clean power source could be extremely helpful in mitigating the roller coaster of renewable energy. Nuclear energy has refreshed its reputation from dangerous to a reliable and carbon-free player. The inherent safety risks remain and memories of nuclear disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima loom large.

By April 2022, the Biden Administration made its move by opening up a $6 billion purse to rescue nuclear power plants across the country. That same month Gov. Gavin Newsom made his first public comments supporting Diablo Canyon's salvation. Then, Newsom turned comments into coin. Wrapped within the $308 billion budget signed on June 30 is a $75 million reserve to finance a part of the Diablo Canyon extension, as long as state and federal regulators agree. The same day as the California budget's passage, the U.S. Department of Energy offered PG&E a 60-day extension beyond its July 5 deadline so the utility could apply for Biden's nuclear purse. 

Keeping the plant open would require consent between the state legislature, federal regulators and PG&E. Central California Coast legislators say they are unsure their colleagues will bite.

However, the work to extend a nuclear power plant’s life is highly complex and will require more than political approvals. During a June 22 meeting of the state-established Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee, chair Robert Budnitz said the effort to shut down Diablo Canyon’s two nuclear reactors has been underway for years; reversing that work so that the power plant is operational in 2026 is going to be a “tough technical challenge.” 

“It’s still feasible, but it ain’t going to be feasible if that decision is made just before [the decommissioning deadline]. Two or three years is barely enough time.”.

 

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