Diablo Canyon gets extension option


Acting on California Governor Gavin Newsom legislative proposal to extend the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility (Units 1 and 2), state lawmakers voted on September 1, 2022, the last day of the legislative session, to provide Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) the option to extend the nuclear power station’s operations by another five years. The two Westinghouse pressurized water  reactors are sited in an active earthquake zone on the Pacific coastal cliffs near San Louis Obispo, just 40 miles west of the San Andreas earthquake fault. Both units were slated to permanently close in November 2024 and August 2025 with the expiration of their original 40-year operating license.  The new law adds a $1.4 billion forgivable state loan to the utility with the caveat that PG&E apply for federal funding to keep the two reactors open through October 2029 and October 2030, respectively. PG&E now has to apply by September 6, 2022 for access to federal funding  that the Biden Administration and Congress created through the Civil Nuclear Credit Program passed as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure law in November 2021.

The legislative vote opens a path for PG&E to restart a process which includes going back before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). But many uncertainties remain with no guarantee of what will now happen. PG&E had previously submitted an application before the federal licensing agency for an initial twenty year operating license renewal (40- to 60-year extension) on November  23, 2009. The renewal process opened an evaluation of reactor safety and an environmental review for the renewal period including a seismic re-evaluation. In 2011, PG&E requested a deferral of a final decision on the license renewal application until seismic studies and a report addressing the results of those studies were completed. The utility’s request generated an NRC safety evaluation report that listed PG&E’s commitments for the renewal of the operating licenses.

In 2016, PG&E would subsequently enter into  a “Joint Proposal” with Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Environment California and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility to alternatively permanently close Diablo Canyon at the end of its 40-year operating license for its “orderly replacement” for deep Greenhouse Gas portfolio of energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy storage by 2031.

Subsequently, on June 21, 2016, PG&E requested that the NRC staff suspend the license renewal review. PG&E also requested approval from the CPUC not to proceed with license renewal.

The NRC staff suspended its license renewal review in July 2016. On January 11, 2018, the California Public Utilities Commission approved PG&E’s proposal to close DCPP, Unit Nos. 1 and 2, when its current licenses expire. The PG&E application was formally withdrawn on April 23, 2018.

Those seismic commitments along with other reactor safety and environmental impact issues and their cost now come back under review.

National Public Radio reported a regional spokesperson from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Juliet Christian-Smith, warning, “’The bill ignores the plant’s environmental impacts and vulnerability to earthquakes,’ she said. ‘Safety cannot take a back seat in our quest to keep the lights on and reduce global warming emissions.’”

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