Incredibly upbeat talk about the future of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, California’s last operating nuclear reactor, was the dominant theme at a recent gathering of nuclear professionals and enthusiasts in Anaheim.
The American Nuclear Society couldn’t have picked a better place to hold their four-day convention in the shadow of Mickey Mouse. Gene Nelson, who stands out not only for his height but also for his signature headbands and his years-long campaign to keep Diablo Canyon operational beyond a planned shutdown by the end of 2025, smiled the widest of anyone present.
Pacific Gas and Electric, the plant’s owner, has been experiencing difficulty getting necessary permits, licenses, and funding, and this month, Newsom proposed a measure that would provide a forgivable loan of $1.4 billion to the company. To make this plan a reality, the California Assembly would need to pass the necessary legislation in September and have it signed by the governor.
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To keep existing nuclear plants running, the U.S. Department of Energy provided $6 billion to their respective owners.
However, there are still significant challenges to overcome, including obtaining a license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and updating the facility so that it is up to code. The State Water Resources Control Board, the California Coastal Commission, and the California Public Utilities Commission have all given their stamps of approval, and the California State Lands Commission, from whom PG&E leases the land, has also given its OK.
In addition, the process of shutting down the plant has been governed by a settlement agreement.
Gunda and other energy authorities worry that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of harsh weather events and natural disasters, therefore they say that Diablo is necessary to keep the electricity grid running smoothly. The present model used to predict future electricity supply and demand assumes that Diablo would close in 2025, which could result in a deficit of electricity between 2025 and 2030. However, some argue that the model understates the significance of dispersed resources like rooftop solar and house batteries, as well as recent shifts in consumer behavior.
According to Gunda, “If everything goes smoothly, I think we will be OK” in terms of meeting projected electricity consumption. “That’s a huge if. Our actions are best described as cautious.
Nelson and Diablo backers think it’s a solid bet, but Newsom’s office insists the extension is temporary.
Ana Matosantos, a member of Newsom’s Cabinet and his point person on energy affairs, stated during the recent workshop, “From our standpoint, any extension has to be as brief as feasible.” For the sake of security, it must be thus.
Concerns have been voiced regarding safety and the possibility of the extension breaking the settlement agreement due to its rapid speed.
According to Diane Curran, an attorney for Mothers for Peace, which was a party to the settlement agreement to close the facility, “in 2016, by deciding to retire the two Diablo Canyon units at their license expiration dates, PG&E resolved the extremely significant earthquake and environmental risks that would have been posed by continued operation of the reactors.”
One of the two units at Diablo Canyon had to be shut down in 2020, the last time California had rolling blackouts, a fact acknowledged by the authors of a paper praising the extension of Diablo Canyon from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Because of this, there have been calls for prudence.
Having inspected nuclear reactors all around the world, Najmedin Meshkati, a professor of engineering at the University of Southern California, was “a little bit heartbroken” by the governor’s proposal. The term “safety” appears only once in a footnote. There needs to be extraordinary effort put in to address concerns about safety and dependability.