Nuclear power may not end this decade if a new Assembly Bill is passed this session.
The last nuclear plant in California
Assembly Bill 2898, authored by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-Paso Robles), would add nuclear power to the California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program. This would redefine nuclear power as a renewable energy source and would give PG&E an additional resource in meeting renewable energy goals. Another company could also theoretically buy it and use it as their own renewable source.
Diablo Canyon is currently the only remaining nuclear power plant in California following the closure of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in the early 2010’s.
Assemblyman Cunningham introduced the bill in an effort to save Diablo Canyon and to help battle climate change in California by having a large alternative energy power station remain open.
“If PG&E were able to count the power produced at Diablo toward its renewable goals, it might, I’m not saying it will or would, but it might, cause them to reconsider applying to extend the operating license at Diablo,” said Assemblyman Cunningham in a statement last month. “If we’re going to get serious about being a national leader as California has been on dealing with climate change, I think nuclear is part of the answer.”
Supporters of keeping nuclear power in California also noted that nuclear power currently accounts for 9% of all generated in-state power, a number which used to be at 18% before the closure of San Onofre. They have also pointed out that natural gas and other non-renewables would have to take up the slack of that 9%, making California even more reliant on fossil fuels. Currently only about a third of all power generated in California is renewable.
“It makes no sense to shut it down, at least not this way,” noted Dr. Zachary Lang, an energy expert in Washington, D.C. “California should have a more gradual letting go in balance with the number of new wind or solar plants. Or expand nuclear. Not just cut it off all at once for more non-renewable use. That’s hypocrisy, as well as a burden on resources.”
Opposition to Diablo Canyon and nuclear power
Opponents of the bill have said that nuclear power causes many dangers, such as those highlighted by such past incidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. PG&E, who owns the plant, has also said that the plant will shut down because of how uneconomical it is to run the plant and because of consumer electricity changes.
“People in California don’t want nuclear,” explained former professor and anti-nuclear advocate Dr. Lindsay Smith. “Electric companies in California don’t want nuclear. It’s not only potentially dangerous, but it’s just not working in California anymore. We have so many types of clean energy we can use instead. Why not use them instead when they can be cheaper and more efficient?”
Cunningham has acknowledged that passage of AB 2898 is unlikely due to Democrat and environmental opposition. However, with 9% of California’s power and a larger reliance on gas and oil on the line, lawmakers may give the bill more consideration than in other sessions.
PG&E plans to start closing Diablo Canyon in 2024 before taking it completely offline in 2025.
AB 2898 is due to be heard in two Assembly committees in the next few months.