California’s last remaining nuclear power plant will definitely remain open at least a couple more years, and the state wants it running until 2023, but PG&E wants it running another 20 years.
In 2016 we got news of the impending permanent closure of the San Luis Obispo’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, the only remaining nuclear power plant in the state of California, which at the time was declared would shut down entirely by 2025. But as is often the case with PG&E and its properties, state and federal officials tend to be quite lenient with them despite an atrocious safety track record. The PG&E-owned Diablo Canyon plant got a $75 million boost from the state last July, and then the Biden administration gave PG&E $1 billion to keep the plant running last November.
On paper, the plant was still slated to be closed in 2025, though these huge government money windfalls made it a foregone conclusion that the plant would stay in operation. And now it’s official, as the Associated Press reports that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gave PG&E an exemption to keep the nuclear plant running, and moreover, will allow PG&E to apply to keep both of its nuclear “units” producing power there for another 20 years.
The NRC statement of exemption is online, and cites the specific federal exemptions, (we’ve added the links to this statement) which are existing policy and not just carve-outs for PG&E. “The current operating licenses for [Diablo Canyon power plant] Units 1 and 2, expire on November 2, 2024, and August 26, 2025, respectively,” the NRC says. “The staff has completed its evaluation of PG&E’s exemption request and has determined that pursuant to 10 CFR 54.15 and 10 CFR 50.12, the requested exemption is authorized by law, will not present an undue risk to the public health and safety, and is consistent with the common defense and security.”
As CalMatters explains, a 2022 state law specific to the Diablo Canyon plant allows that "Unit 1 can keep running through Oct. 31, 2029, and Unit 2 until Oct. 31, 2030,” as long as they have NRC approval. But CalMatters also adds that PG&E plans to submit an application to keep the El Diablo plant “operating for up to 20 additional years — the full extent that is customary for a nuclear power plant application.”
Environmentalists are predictably furious at the NRC’s decision. “In its bow to PG&E, [the NRC] completely ignored its own rules, with far-reaching implications for all its safety standards,” Diane Curran, lead attorney for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, told CalMatters. (Yes, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace is a group that exists, they’re an anti-nuclear nonprofit.)
But Governor Gavin Newsom has become an unlikely cheerleader for the plant, touting that it now provides 10% of the state’s energy. Newsom actually visited the plant Wednesday, and per CalMatters, said “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.”
This might not be such a potentially scary safety concern if it were any company other than PG&E here, the same PG&E of 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter fame. That utility is known to cut a few corners in the name of profit, plus there are two earthquake fault lines within a few miles of the plant. This nuclear power plant certainly serves a purpose, but there are legitimate fears that Diablo Canyon could eventually live up to its hellacious-sounding name.
Image: DIABLO CANYON, CA - DECEMBER 1: Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon, the only operational nuclear plant left in California, due to be shutdown in 2024 despite safely producing nearly 15% of the state's green electrical energy power, is viewed in these aerial photos taken on December 1, 2021, near Avila Beach, California. Set on 1,000 acres of scenic coastal property just north and west of Avila Beach, the controversial power plant operated by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was commisioned in 1985. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)