Diablo Canyon to resubmit license renewal application lapsed since 2016


With the strenuous pushback from safe energy groups, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has rejected a request by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to resume the federal agency’s review of a 20-year license renewal application for California’s last remaining nuclear power station at Diablo Canyon. The power company had allowed the relicensing application’s review to lapse since 2016. The company then sought to illegally pick up the federal relicensing review even after PG&E withdrew from the NRC application process altogether in 2018 to instead sign a “Joint Proposal” with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, Environment California and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. In the joint agreement with the environmental groups and labor, PG&E publicly recognized that it could save California ratepayers more than an estimated $1 billion dollars by phasing out the aging power station at the end of its forty year license and replace it with more efficient and reliable carbon reduction with renewable energy, increased electricity storage capacity, energy efficiency at significantly less cost and provide a just transition for workers and communities affected by the permanent shutdown.

The decision to permanently close Diablo Canyon and redirect state resources had factored the reactors’ questionable economic viability and the steeply rising operational costs of the aging nuclear station, environmental and earthquake upgrades. There was also the avoidance of the costly mitigation of the harmful thermal impacts of the reactors’ once-through cooling system scouring of the coastal marine environment. There was also the further avoidance of cost of a host of license renewal-related maintenance and inspection measures. All these factors were part of PG&E’s shift to abandon its 2009 NRC application to extend the nuclear power station operations out to 2044 and 2045.

The political winds have now shifted again with California Governor Gavin Newsom persuading the California legislature to hastily legislate an initial $1.4 billion “forgivable” loan renew Diablo Canyon’s operating license and recoup the state loan from a nuclear industry-lobbied federal bailout through the Biden Administration’s Civil Nuclear Credit Program. However, given the environmentalists and consumer challenge and the NRC’s January 24, 2023 rejection, PG&E will now have to resubmit an entirely new application to include an updated reactor safety and environmental analyses for the projected 40- to 60-year operating period. The new application is being prepared for submittal by PG&E at the end of December 2023. PG&E will face significant public opposition and another legal challenge from the San Louis Obispo Mothers For Peace, Friends of the Earth and the Environmental Working Group.

The NRC is presently reviewing a PG&E exemption request to allow the reactors to continue operation during an anticipated 22- to 32- month federal application review process which will likely extend beyond the reactor operating license expiration dates in November 2024 and August 2025. The NRC staff decision on the PG&E exemption request is anticipated in March 2023.

Now, as the new year begins, California and PG&E are entering into a new nuclear error. PG&E now has to begin to tally up the real costs of Diablo Canyon’s now long deferred license renewal upgrades, maintenance tasks, and the even longer ignored seismic hazard analysis and marine environment destruction from the reactors’ once through cooling system.

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