A new Stanford University/Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study released on Monday found that an extending the life of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant past it’s planned 2025 closure date would help the state greatly reduce carbon emissions and meet state climate goals.
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For decades, nuclear power plants have been slowly been taken offline in California. Ever since the closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant in 2013, Diablo Canyon, located in San Luis Obispo County, has been the sole remaining power plant in the state.
Following the Fukashima Daiichi disaster in Japan in 2011, pressure from environmental and local public groups fought against keeping the plant open. Concerns over earthquakes, nuclear waste pollution, and other factors convinced the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to close the plant by 2025.
While legislators have been scrambling to keep it open, largely due to California being behind on green power generation and the plant accounting for 8% of all power generated in the state, it is still on track to close by mid-decade.
The Stanford/MIT Study released Monday bucked the recent trend of moving away from nuclear power, finding that keeping Diablo Canyon open until 2045 would not only help power and environmental concerns, but could also significantly help California battle drought in the future.
According to the report, extending the life of the plant would save $21 billion in power systems costs, would give more time for California to build up green energy plants, would help California meet the growing demand of power provided to electric vehicles, reduce power sector carbon emissions by 10%, and largely prevent brownouts in the future.
“Delaying the retirement of Diablo Canyon to 2035 would reduce California power sector carbon emissions by more than 10% from 2017 levels and reduce reliance on gas, save $2.6 Billion in power system costs, and bolster system reliability to mitigate brownouts,” noted the study. “If operated to 2045 and beyond, Diablo Canyon could save up to $21 Billion in power system costs and spare 90,000 acres of land from use for energy production, while meeting coastal protection requirements.”
The additional, unplanned energy, if linked to a new desalination and/or hydrogen plant, would also provide more fresh water being brought back into reservoirs than any current state plan and would drastically reduce green energy costs while working on far less needed land for future green energy production.
Positives, negatives of keeping Diablo Canyon open until 2045
The report also hinted at a possible return of more nuclear plants allowing for more of an ease into California’s 2045 carbon emission-free power goal.
“In order to combat climate change in the best possible way, I think nuclear power is something that we should really consider and ask PG&E to reconsider,” said former Secretary of Energy and current Stanford Professor Steven Chu. “When Japan and Germany shut nuclear power plants in recent years it led to a rise in carbon emissions from fossil fuels.”
Other experts agree that keeping Diablo Canyon open would bring vastly more positives than negatives.
“Our nuclear energy technology has greatly reduced the chances of a meltdown or a similar disaster from occurring,” said Sal Braith, a nuclear engineer who worked at several nuclear plants in the Northeast, in a Globe interview on Tuesday. “All the big incidents people think of, like Three Mile Island, or Chernobyl, or Fukashima, they were all in plants with older technology. Upgrading Diablo Canyon, which still has a sound design that still holds up today, would do wonders for California. They’re so worried about power and emissions in the future, well, they have this gem they don’t really want anymore. The solution to their problems is literally right there.”
“And everything the report brings up, like lowering emissions and connecting to other environmentally friendly things, we’ve been screaming that for years for states to pick up on that. California has an easier time for emissions goals to be met, it staves off power concerns for awhile, the water crisis is largely alleviated, and a lot of jobs are created. And if more are built, it only increases those by many-fold.”
However, environmental opponents stressed that even with the report showing many positives, the negatives are still too much for any kind of reconsideration.
“It is enticing, I have to admit that,” said Melissa Key, an environmental lawyer who has represented environmental groups against energy companies with nuclear power plants in the past, to the Globe on Tuesday. “But every year of operation means the greater chance of something going wrong. And I don’t think that I even need to tell you the dangers of what a major nuclear accident, especially one so close to fault lines, can do.”
“This is the last one in the state, and for the good of California, it needs to stop. Solar, wind, and other energies will be able to pick up the slack by 2025.”
As of Tuesday, the Stanford/MIT has yet to illicit a response from California energy officials.
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