Pacific Fuel & Electrical cleared a serious hurdle Thursday in its bid to function the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant past 2025, with a federal company ruling that PG&E can preserve the reactors buzzing whereas the corporate navigates a prolonged relicensing course of.
The choice by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Fee comes six months after California lawmakers overwhelming authorized a invoice aimed toward preserving Diablo Canyon working till 2030 — 5 years previous its present scheduled shutdown date.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has argued the state nonetheless wants the nuclear plant — its single largest electrical energy supply — to assist preserve the lights on as international warming drives greater demand for air-con, and as California more and more depends on photo voltaic farms that cease producing electrical energy after sunset. Two evenings of temporary rolling blackouts in August 2020 — and a number of other shut calls since then — have highlighted the necessity for climate-friendly power sources that may be counted on 24/7.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who beforehand supported Diablo Canyon’s shutdown however modified her thoughts final yr, praised the Nuclear Regulatory Fee.
“This resolution will enable Diablo Canyon to function a bridge to a clean-energy future, sustaining a dependable supply of carbon-free energy as we proceed to spend money on renewable power,” Feinstein mentioned in a written assertion.
The California Power Fee agrees. The company dominated this week that preserving Diablo working by way of 2030 is required to make sure electrical reliability.
“As California confronts a quickly altering local weather, extraordinary warmth occasions and report power demand have gotten more and more strange. The state must preserve all choices on the desk to guard public well being and security,” mentioned Siva Gunda, the Power Fee’s vice chair, in a written assertion. “This contains sustaining Diablo Canyon’s operations.”
It’s not but a assure that the reactors will probably be allowed to maintain spinning previous 2025. Underneath final yr’s Diablo Canyon invoice, the governor’s appointees on the California Public Utilities Fee nonetheless should approve the plant’s continued operation.
However it’s trying seemingly that nuclear energy will stay a part of the state’s power combine, at the very least by way of the tip of the last decade.
The Biden administration introduced in November that it will give PG&E a $1.1-billion mortgage to assist the utility cowl the prices of federal relicensing, in addition to upkeep, gasoline purchases and extra on-site storage for radioactive waste.
A ballot final yr co-sponsored by The Instances discovered that 39% of California voters opposed shutting down Diablo, in contrast with 33% who supported closure — a dramatic change from earlier many years, when the general public largely opposed atomic power.
Nuclear critics proceed to argue that the know-how is essentially unsafe.
They notice that Diablo Canyon sits close to a number of seismic fault traces alongside the Central Coast in San Luis Obispo County. PG&E says the plant would deal with an earthquake simply fantastic, however critics fear about the potential of a meltdown spreading lethal radiation — a state of affairs that calls to thoughts earlier nuclear disasters at Chernobyl in Ukraine, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Fukushima in Japan.
Nuclear waste is one other concern. Within the absence of a everlasting storage repository for spent gasoline, radioactive waste is piling up at energy crops throughout the nation, together with the shuttered San Onofre facility alongside the coast in San Diego County.
Three anti-nuclear teams — San Luis Obispo Moms for Peace, Pals of the Earth and the Environmental Working Group — filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Fee final month urging the company to disclaim PG&E’s bid to maintain Diablo Canyon working after the plant’s licenses expire. The teams wrote that finishing a full relicensing overview, together with public hearings, “is crucial to guarantee that continued operation of the reactors will probably be secure for the general public and the setting.”
“There may be completely no precedent for the exemption requested by PG&E,” Diane Curran, authorized counsel for Moms for Peace, mentioned in a written assertion final month. “The [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] has by no means allowed a reactor to function previous its license expiration dates with out completely assessing the security and environmental dangers. And it should achieve this on this case too.”
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Federal laws usually require that nuclear relicensing functions be filed at the very least 5 years earlier than an influence plant’s license expires. At Diablo Canyon, the license for one reactor expires in November 2024, and the opposite in August 2025.
However the Nuclear Regulatory Fee granted PG&E’s request for an exemption, ruling the corporate can preserve Diablo working throughout the relicensing course of so long as the corporate submits a adequate license renewal software by Dec. 31, 2023.
The fee “decided that the exemption is permitted by legislation” and “won’t current undue threat to the general public well being and security,” the company mentioned in a written assertion. Fee employees additionally concluded that Diablo Canyon’s continued operation “is within the public curiosity due to critical challenges to the reliability of California’s electrical energy grid,” the assertion mentioned.
The fee’s license renewal course of usually takes 22 months, the company famous. Meaning at the very least one of many Diablo Canyon reactors may find yourself working for a full yr whereas the fee decides whether or not to resume its license.
Conserving Diablo open “is vital within the context of creating positive we’ve got power reliability,” Newsom mentioned final yr, throughout a brutal warmth wave. “That power doesn’t produce greenhouse gases. That power offers baseload and reliability and affordability that can complement and permit us to stack all the inexperienced power that we’re bringing on-line at report charges.”
The nuclear plant provides about 9% of California’s whole electrical energy and 17% of its climate-friendly electrical energy.
However atomic power is much from the state’s solely choice for preserving the lights on whereas phasing out fossil fuels. In 2021, the Public Utilities Fee ordered utilities and native governments to purchase 11,500 megawatts of recent clear energy assets by 2026 to assist change Diablo Canyon and 4 Southern California fuel crops. These assets will embody a lot of batteries to retailer solar energy for after darkish. Simply final week, the company ordered an extra 4,000 megawatts of recent clear energy.
Nuclear critics say the state may shut down Diablo on schedule with extra help for batteries and geothermal power, in addition to packages that pay properties to make use of much less power, and efforts to coordinate electrical energy provides extra carefully with different states.
“This isn’t a query of nuclear energy versus renewable power. This can be a query in regards to the security and reliability of the California power grid, and the place it must go,” Erich Pica, president of Pals of the Earth, instructed The Instances final yr.
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Revisiting the choice to shut Diablo Canyon wasn’t PG&E concept. In 2016, the corporate struck a deal with environmental teams to get out of the nuclear enterprise — a deal the utility meant to maintain till Newsom proposed throwing it out final yr.
Since then, PG&E has endorsed the governor’s efforts.
“We’re pleased with the position [Diablo Canyon] performs because the state’s largest clear power producer, offering dependable, inexpensive, carbon-free power to the folks of California,” PG&E Chief Nuclear Officer Paula Gerfen mentioned in a written assertion.