Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and many lawmakers came to a last-minute agreement to give the state’s final running nuclear reactor an additional five years of life. However, the proposal’s future is in doubt as the Legislature’s two-year session ends this week.
The proposal to maintain the operation of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant requires a two-thirds vote in both the state Assembly and Senate, a requirement that can be challenging to meet. The twin-domed plant is scheduled to be shut down by 2025. Still, a competing proposal from Democratic legislators last week would use $1.4 billion to hasten the development of renewable power and transmission lines.
As California transitions to solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources, Newsom has claimed that reactors are required to fill the state’s energy supply gaps. Before the most recent revision of the plan, he suggested that the reactors run for an additional ten years.
The measure is predicated on Pacific Gas & Electric, the operator, being eligible to receive a portion of the $6 billion the Biden administration has put aside to save nuclear plants in danger of closing. However, if that doesn’t happen, the state might consider pulling out of the agreement.
Additionally, PG&E would require permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue operating, a procedure that has not yet begun and can take years to complete.
Pro-nuclear activists and groups with ties to the industry lauded the prospect of a longer lifespan for the reactors and their carbon-free power in the age of climate change. Environmentalists and other opponents, however, raise concerns about the safety dangers posed by the site’s massive amount of spent nuclear fuel and the adjacent seismic faults, as well as potential future expenses that ratepayers could bear.
Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the organisations that negotiated and signed the agreement to shut down the plant by 2025, drew attention to a provision in the bill that would permit PG&E to ask the government for money to cover as-yet-unknown refurbishment costs for a longer operating run.
Cavanagh said his group would reject the agreement because it amounted to a risky “blank check” for the utility.
The NRDC and others have complained that no thorough analysis has been done, concluding that the reactors are needed beyond 2025. He also cited language in the bill that states a longer run for the facility “may be necessary” to improve statewide power dependability. Additionally, it instructs state utility regulators to research to see if Diablo Canyon power will still be required after that time.
The law recommends extending the plant’s lifespan to increase reliability, but Cavanagh noted that “the study hasn’t been done yet” to back up that recommendation.
Nine per cent of California’s almost 40 million citizens’ electricity is generated by the plant on the coast halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A $1.4 billion forgiven debt for PG&E is also included in the measure. The state had already set aside up to $75 million to keep older power facilities operating after they were supposed to shut down.
PG&E is now in a delicate position as it considers the potential of a prolonged run while simultaneously continuing to plan for the plant’s scheduled closure and deconstruction.
Newsom is attempting to unravel the 2016 shutdown agreement reached by environmentalists, plant worker unions, and the utilities to keep the facility open. The Legislature, California utility regulators, and the state’s then-Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, all supported the decision to shut down the plant.
Legislators have complained that they were bullied into voting on a highly complex plan by the end of the two-year session. The vote is scheduled to take place by midweek.
Last week, state senator John Laird, a Democrat from Santa Cruz whose district includes the plant, suggested that the Legislature consider passing a more condensed bill that would only give PG&E the information that is “necessary” for the utility to apply for federal funding.
Diablo Canyon needs state legislation to demonstrate that it has a plan to continue operating after its anticipated shutdown to apply for the $6 billion federal program by the Sept. 6 deadline.
According to Laird, the solution addresses several concerns, including a more aggressive timeframe for developing renewables and imposing a five-year cap on continued operations. Laird said he is examining the compromise.
Even if it is approved, state utility regulators could halt the extended run at a later time if there is a lack of federal funding, if capital needs exceed $1.4 billion, or if enough new, zero-carbon power comes online to render the reactors unnecessary, according to a summary of the compromise bill released by the state Public Advocates Office.
Laird refrained from predicting whether the bill would pass.
He claimed that everyone is reading it and attempting to reach their own decision.