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Destructive Restoration – Part 2, Nuclear

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John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant, Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

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  • Dec 8, 2020

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Many nuclear power plants in the U.S. are scheduled to be decommissioned, or they are in the decommissioning process. Thus the primary purpose of this paper is to review this process, and then review the proposed specific process for one of those reactors – PG&E’s Diablo Canyon. Decommissioning a reactor, especially fully decommissioning, without any site restrictions, is neither simple, inexpensive nor fast.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 8, 2020

" I support continued operation of existing nuclear power plants as long as this can be done safely and economically."

Then you support continued operation of Diablo Canyon, which generates carbon-free electricity for a marginal cost of $.026/kWh (according to PG&E's annual Form 1 filing). As of 2025 the plant's capital costs will be completely paid off, and it has never had a serious safety issue.

"The 'August 2020 blackouts... noted above were caused by an extremely rare weather event / sequence...

From your link:

"...although the convergence of the three events that created our storm (heat, humidity and the wind tunnel effect) are probably somewhat rare..."

Which was it, "extremely rare" or "somewhat rare"? Funny how justifying the shutdown of a nuclear plant can turn California's predictable late-summer heatwave into an "extremely rare weather event." Combined with the convergence of other factors - increasing demand, increasing reliance on unreliable renewables / energy imports, and the shutdown of San Onofre - the August blackouts were entirely predictable.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), recognizing the problem will continue to worsen if Diablo Canyon is shut down, is planning to replace Diablo's lost generation not with clean energy, but with imports conveniently labeled "unspecified sources of power" - just like they did with San Onofre. As in 2012, the unspecified sources will almost certainly be be coal power imported from Wyoming.

Below, note the added 2.3 GW of coal imports in 2025-2026 coincide precisely with the shutdown of Diablo Canyon Units 1 & 2 in 2024-2025.

California's strategy for meeting its climate goals may be clever, but is ultimately worse than nothing: we're exporting our emissions to Wyoming. If only it were that easy.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Dec 9, 2020

Hi Bob, I hope you are staying well.

Starting at the top.

I have lived in the Bay Area is the late 1970s, and I never seen an electrical storm approaching what we had in August. Also, it was a major contributer to the record wildfires that we had in 2020. Climate change is causing many extremely rare weather events to become much more common, and any of them could be the new normal or a transient.

I started a paper on resources adequacy a couple of months ago and aborted it because the issues were too complex for most of my readers, and it was taking too much of my time. However, I did get far enough along to see that the PUC, CEC, etc. recognized that the amount of imports we are using to fulfil resource adequacy requirements were increasing and they think this might be a problem in critical conditions (like during the heat wave in August). Of course these are at least partially caused by the CAISO's Energy Imbalance Market, which the state's energy bodies helped to create to promote wider use of renewables, but other generation in WECC goes along for the ride. Go to the paper linked below and the links therein for details.

You will be happy to know that next Tuesday's post is on decommissioning coal-burning plants.


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 10, 2020

"....the PUC, CEC, etc. recognized that the amount of imports we are using to fulfil resource adequacy requirements were increasing and they think this might be a problem in critical conditions."

It's obviously already a problem, and as you correctly note: climate change is causing extremely rare weather events to become more common.

"I started a paper on resources adequacy a couple of months ago and aborted it because the issues were too complex for most of my readers, and it was taking too much of my time."

I don't blame you. But resource adequacy is not really as complex an issue as CPUC would like us to think it is. Electricity resources are becoming increasingly inadequate as California becomes more dependent on the sun and wind for electricity.

I understand the commission has recently opened a proceeding to ask CA utilities how responsibility for our erratic electricity might be shifted from nature to consumers: "Should we raise prices during hot weather to discourage consumption?", they ask (I paraphrase). "In emergencies, should we limit consumption remotely, or even cut off major consumers entirely?".

One of my favorites:

"Should we encourage industrial and corporate consumers to crank up their own generators? Benefits therefrom would be twofold - less demand, and fewer emissions on our books!".

No one can say California isn't an innovator. Now, we're developing technology to keep outsourced emissions in-state!

I hope you're staying healthy too, John. It seems more and more that involves staying indoors.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Sep 14, 2021

Update on the above paper. See the Energy Central Article described and linked below.

CPUC approves $3.9B decommissioning cost for Diablo Canyon Power Plant: Sep. 9--Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s $3.9 billion estimate to decommission Diablo Canyon Power Plant was approved Thursday by the California Public Utilities Commission, which will bump up customer's utility bills, a PG&E spokeswoman said.


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Thank John for the Post!
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