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Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. (Photo: slocounty.ca.gov)

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant to Remain Open As License Renewal Is Considered

Nuclear Regulatory Commission could extend life of plant into 2040’s

By Evan Symon, March 3, 2023 7:17 am

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced on Thursday that the last remaining nuclear power plant in California, Diablo Canyon, will be exempted and will continue to operate while the license renewal application is considered.

The debate over extending the life of the Diablo Canyon Plant has been ongoing since 2018, when concerns over earthquakes, nuclear waste pollution, and other factors convinced the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to close the plant by 2025. Proponents of the plant quickly moved to try and extend the life of the plant, with concerns over state energy production quickly bringing more and more support in their favor. Many were attracted to the fact that keeping the plant open for a decade or two more would save the state $21 billion in systems costs, while others, concerned about large gaps in California’s energy production while transitioning into the 100% renewable energy power by 2045 goal, signaled support as a power source to help bridge the gap. The fact that Diablo Canyon provides 9% of California’s total energy production, and is a clean source of energy, has also convinced many people of keeping the plant open.

While several bills in the 2010’s and early 2020’s failed to keep the plant open, one, SB 846, was finally passed by both houses in the state legislature last year. At the same time, Governor Gavin Newsom put out a proposal to keep the plant running for another 5-10 years, outlining how state and federal support would be needed. Despite signing the bill into law in September, over $1 billion in funding was still needed to make the extension feasible, as well as final approvals from multiple state and federal agencies, such as approval of a new license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In November of last year, the Department of Energy awarded $1.1 billion to extend the life of the plant, signaling federal support for the plant for both clean energy and to help avert a power crisis in California in the next decade while green energy production gradually replaces fossil fuel energy.

This led to the NRC’s decision on Thursday. According to the NRC, Diablo Canyon poses no safety or health risk and has adequate safety and security. While the operating licenses for the reactors at the plant were to expire in 2024 and 2025 respectively, the NRC’s decision on Thursday will allow the reactors to stay online as long as PG&E submits a license renewal application by the end of the year. If approved, the plant could potentially stay open well into the 2040’s and serve as a gap filler for any energy fluctuation as the state converts more to green energy.

“After evaluating the company’s exemption request, the NRC staff determined that the exemption is authorized by law, will not present undue risk to the public health and safety, and is consistent with the common defense and security,” said the NRC in a press release on Thursday. “In addition, the staff determined Diablo Canyon’s continued operation is in the public interest because of serious challenges to the reliability of California’s electricity grid.”

“The current operating licenses for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, Units 1 and 2,expire on Nov. 2, 2024, and Aug. 26, 2025, respectively. The exemption granted today will allow those licenses to remain in effect provided PG&E submits a sufficient license renewal
application for the reactors by Dec. 31, 2023. The NRC will continue its normal inspection and oversight of the facility throughout the review to ensure continued safe operation. If granted, the license renewal would authorize continued operation for up to 20 years.”

“NRC regulations allow a reactor’s operating license to remain in effect beyond its expiration date contingent upon the licensee submitting a sufficient license renewal application at least five years prior to expiration – a status called timely renewal.”

Extension for Diablo Canyon

Energy experts and lawmakers praised the NRC’s decision on Thursday, citing the need for the plant, the clean energy, and for future electrical needs in the state.

“The NRC doesn’t do this for everybody but they obviously saw that Diablo Canyon was still in good shape and needed in California,” explained Sal Braith, a nuclear engineer who has worked at multiple nuclear plants in the U.S., in a Globe interview. “It’s pretty critical to California, but if it was a danger, the NRC would have just said no. There’s no way they are going to risk a Chernobyl or a Fukushima or a Three Mile Island. But as it turns out it’s fine, and can be for years to come. It’s just really good news all around.”

Governor Gavin Newsom added in a statement, “As we experienced during the record heat wave last September, climate change-driven extreme events are causing unprecedented stress on our power grid – the Diablo Canyon Power Plant is important to support energy reliability as we accelerate progress towards achieving our clean energy and climate goals. I look forward to our continued work with the Biden-Harris Administration and the Legislature to build a reliable and resilient clean electric system.”

However, environmental groups challenged the decision, saying that the NRC is bending rules to accommodate Diablo Canyon and that it could put the environment at risk as a result.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is contorting its rules and procedures in granting this exemption to Pacific Gas and Electric,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “Nearly five years ago, Pacific Gas and Electric withdrew its license, and the NRC closed the renewal process. The NRC cannot simply invent new rules just because the state of California is having second thoughts about the decision.

“This is an ominous warning sign for how independent the NRC will be in evaluating the earthquake risk and the overall operational integrity of the Diablo Canyon reactors. We will consider all available means to ensure that they are held to the letter of the law on this and future decisions and do not put people and the environment at risk.”

More federal decision around the extension of Diablo Canyon are due in the near future.

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5 thoughts on “Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant to Remain Open As License Renewal Is Considered

    1. No kidding, CG, blackouts and people dropping over and perishing from the heat in your home state don’t look so good when you’re trying to snag the Dem nomination for president. It was too close call last heatwave/blackout season. Gruesome may be evil but he’s not entirely stupid

  1. Newsom said that he looks forward to continued work with the Biden-Harris Administration and the Legislature to build a reliable and resilient clean electric system? LOL! The Biden regime and Democrats are focused on Ukraine and are too busy sending billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars there for money laundering. America comes last with Democrats.

  2. So anyone in charge having second thoughts about shutting down San Onofre, instead of repairing the parts that were damaged/failing???

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