Democratic Governor of California Gavin Newsom told the Los Angeles Times last week that he is taking action to hold off on closing down the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which was set to be shut down over the next few years.
The governor told the outlet that California would be looking to try to receive federal funds directed at helping save nuclear reactors facing shutdowns; funding announced by the Biden administration in April. There is a question, however, as to whether or not Diablo would qualify for the money.
“The requirement is by May 19 to submit an application, or you miss the opportunity to draw down any federal funds if you want to extend the life of that plant,” Newsom said. “We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option.”
Newsom noted that state authorities could determine later on whether or not they want to go forward with that as a possibility. A spokesperson for Newsom told the Times that the governor still wants to witness the plant shut down in the long run.
The owner of the plant is Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which is planning to close it down by 2025. The nuclear plant reportedly created 6% of California’s power last year. In 2016, PG&E reached an agreement with environment organizations and its union workers to stop its nuclear work after its licenses for nuclear reactors end in 2024 and 2025.
Suzanne Hosn, PG&E spokesperson, told The Daily Wire in an email, “PG&E is committed to California’s clean energy future. The people of PG&E are proud of the role that Diablo Canyon Power Plant plays in our state.”
“We are always open to considering all options to ensure continued safe, reliable, and clean energy delivery to our customers,” Hosn added.
Nuclear power is often pointed to as a climate-friendly solution to energy, although it has gotten pushback from some activists.
PG&E explained that the Diablo Canyon plant “has continued to safely produce clean and reliable energy without greenhouse gases,” keeping away six to seven million tons per year of greenhouse gases that would be discharged by “conventional generation resources.”
The two reactors at the plant create a total of 18,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity each year, which the group notes is an amount sufficient to accommodate almost “10% of California’s energy portfolio and 20% of the power that PG&E provides throughout its service area.”
Electricity has been an issue in California for the past several years, and the decision to end the use of the nuclear power plant could make the problem worse. In August of 2020, hundreds of thousands of Californians went through rolling energy blackouts as a heat wave struck at the state’s power grid. That same year, nuclear energy made up more than 9% of the state’s total power mix. Newsom told the Times that he has been considering keeping the plant open for longer since the August 2020 blackouts.
Still, some groups are not happy about the possibility that the plant will stay open.
In response to the governor’s interview with the Times last week, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace released a statement wondering “whether the governor has the power to make any decisions about how long Diablo Canyon should operate,” and pointing to multiple problems with trying to keep the plant open at this stage in the shutting-down operations.
The group describes itself as a non-profit “concerned with the local dangers involving the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and with the dangers of nuclear power, weapons, and waste on national and global levels.” It also said it “concerns itself with issues of peace, social justice, and a safe environment.”
Mothers for Peace said that if PG&E wants to keep going past the 2025 shutdown date, “it would have to face a variety of complicated issues.”
“Logic and the safety of our community requires Diablo Canyon to close as planned in 2024 and 2025,” the group concluded. “Millions of dollars of taxpayer and rate payer money have already been spent to support an orderly shutdown process.”
As the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported, the group also pointed out how the federal funds from the Biden administration’s Nuclear Credit Program mandates that the applicant be the nuclear plant’s owner, which would be PG&E.
Environmental groups in the past were reportedly worried about how the cooling system would impact sea life, and how close the facility was to multiple geologic faults, per The New Yorker. They took these concerns to the California State Lands Commission, which has to provide a lease to the in order for the nuclear plant to be able to function.
Newsom, who chaired the commission at the time while he was lieutenant governor, reportedly said he would consider the problems, and at a meeting in December of 2015, he said, “I just don’t see that this plant is going to survive beyond ’24-2025.”
The unreliability of the electric grid continues to be on the mind of many Americans, all while some climate activists push for nuclear energy, noting that it is a reliable power source that is arguably better for the environment than others. The Times noted that nuclear energy accounts for almost as much as all other renewable energy sources combined.
As California shifts to potentially keeping the plant open, several other reactors might still be shut down, The New Yorker reported last year. The outlet pointed to a 2018 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists describing how expensive it would be “to bring unprofitable plants back to a breakeven point.” The group described how shutting down “unprofitable and marginal at-risk plants early could result in a 4 to 6 percent increase in US power sector emissions.” It also noted that if fresh policies aren’t formed, natural gas and coal will fill the hole created.