Energy Policy

California Extends the Operation of Its Only Nuclear Power Plant

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant

In early September, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that extended the life of California’s only nuclear power plant. Two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate members voted for the bill to keep Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) open. The bill extended the plant’s retirement by five years to 2030. 

The bill gives plant operator Pacific, Gas, & Electric (PG&E) up to $1.4 billion in a loan that may be forgivable. Ratepayers in California will absorb the costs of the plant’s operation. The state would also pay PG&E, the largest power company in the nation, $7 for every megawatt-hour of power generated “prior to the start of extended operations.” The annual subsidy would end up being over $120 million.

Located in Central California near Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, the DCPP began operating in 1985. In 2016, PG&E announced plans to close the plant’s two reactors in 2024 and 2025. The California Public Utilities Commission approved the decision in 2018. 

“The Governor’s decision to try and extend the life of Diablo Canyon is reckless beyond belief,” said Erich Pica, President, Friends of the Earth U.S. “Governor Newsom should honor his and the State’s commitment to retire the plant on the timeline that plant workers, environmentalists, Pacific Gas and Electric and the State of California has already agreed upon.” 

“The rush by lawmakers and Gov. Newsom to keep Diablo Canyon running is dangerous and dumb and will only set back California’s drive to make solar and wind the prevailing sources of electricity in the state,” said EWG President and Bay Area resident Ken Cook. 

No Need for Nuclear Power in California

California does not need the DCPP for numerous reasons. One of the biggest reasons, perhaps the main reason, that California’s only nuclear power plant needs retirement is that it sits near earthquake faults. One of those fault lines is only 2,000 feet from the plant’s reactors. An earthquake could cause more ground motion than the reactors can handle, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. In 2014, Michael Peck, a senior federal nuclear expert advised nuclear regulators to close the DCPP and research whether its two reactors could withstand an earthquake. 

Another reason California can kiss nuclear power goodbye is that the state continually adds more renewable energy. On April 30, 2022, California was powered by 100 percent clean energy, most driven by solar power. That shows the great potential of clean energy. 

The DCPP supplied only 9.3 percent of California’s power in 2021, which is 18,000 gigawatts a year, or enough to power three million homes in Northern and Central California. However, solar power supplied 26.21 percent of California’s power during the second quarter of 2022. Over 4,000 new megawatts of power were added to the state’s grid from June 2021 to June 2022, which is the equivalent of two Diablo Canyons. 

Extending the operation of the DCPP “is misaligned with California’s energy challenges,” according to Robert Freehling, an independent consultant who focuses on state and local clean energy policies. When outages occurred in the early 2000s and 2020, nuclear power plants were online, he pointed out. 


Image credit: dirtsailor2003 on Flickr

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