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Gov. Newsom's new proposal could extend Diablo Canyon's operation through $1.4 billion loan

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PG&E
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The Diablo Canyon Power Plant produces about 9% of the state's energy supply.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced a major step today in his attempt to delay the decommissioning of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, proposing a $1.4 billion loan to utility Pacific Gas & Electric to keep the plant running for five to ten more years.

The plant south of Morro Bay produces about 9% of the state’s entire energy supply, without adding carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Pro-nuclear advocates say that’s too much clean energy to give up during the plant’s decommissioning scheduled for 2025.

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Rachel Showalter
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Activists gathered in front of San Luis Obispo Superior Court last December to fight to delay the closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

Now, Newsom has released a draft proposal to state lawmakers proposing the more than $1 billion forgivable loan to PG&E, which operates the plant but has planned to shut it down for years now.

Pro-nuclear advocates say the plant needs to keep operating past its scheduled decommissioning in order to prevent projected blackouts in California over the next few years, and to avoid having to resort to fossil fuels to keep the grid stable.

Central Coast Republican Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham has been an outspoken supporter of delaying Diablo Canyon’s decommissioning. At a California Energy Commission hearing today, he said the state can’t afford to wait for other future clean energy sources like offshore wind turbines proposed for Morro Bay to take over nuclear’s role in the state’s electricity supply.

“The industry folks are saying the soonest we’re going to have turbines spinning 35 or 40 miles off the coast in Morro Bay — and putting juice in the grid — is realistically 2030. That’s still a ways away, and that’s if everything goes well with procurement."

"So it may well come to pass and be the reality that we do need an extension on the nuclear power plant for a particular period of time," Cunningham said.

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Gabriela Fernandez
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Nuclear free advocates rallying to recognize Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings

The bill would exempt the plant from the rules of the California Environmental Quality Act, and require legislators to act within the next few weeks. Though pro-Diablo advocates have been pushing for this for a long time, Newsom’s recent back-and-forth on extending the plant’s lifespan seems to have also galvanized the anti-nuclear movement.

Carole Hisuase is with Mothers for Peace, a San Luis Obispo County-based advocacy group pushing for the plant’s decommissioning. Hisuase says she didn’t know the Central Coast had a nuclear power plant until she moved to Los Osos from Tokyo, Japan in 2006. When she realized that, and especially after the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, she got involved in anti-nuclear activism.

With Fukushima in mind, as well as older nuclear disasters in Japan like the World War Two bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she said she lives in constant fear of Diablo Canyon.

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Benjamin Purper
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Attendees of the American Nuclear Society's 2022 conference hold up signs supporting Diablo Canyon's continued usage.

“Every day I look south and pray that nothing happens at Diablo Canyon, seven miles from my home — every day," she said.

Hisuase said keeping the plant open longer makes it more likely that risks from earthquakes, system failures or other threats could create a “catastrophic” event at Diablo Canyon.

“The longer a nuclear power plant stays in operation, the greater the risk of an accident, equipment failure or terrorist attack causing a release of radiation," she said.
PG&E maintains that the plant has a long record of safe operation going back to its first years of operation in the 1980’s, and that it is seismically secure.

Steve Nesbit, former president of the American Nuclear Society, told KCBX in June that the thorough oversight of the plant by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission means the chance of catastrophe at the plant is low.

“If there was a significant risk there, it would be evident and they would not let the plant continue to operate,” Nesbit said.

Nesbit said though the plant may not need to stay open in the very long term, he feels the planned decommissioning in 2024 and 2025 would come at the wrong time.

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The Central Coast's Regional Economic Action Coalition has proposed a renewable energy "tech park" for the Diablo Canyon facility post-decomissioning.

"We wouldn't presume to tell the companies in California — the people of California — how long they ought to operate Diablo Canyon," Nesbit said. "We can't predict the future, but I do know this: based on what we know today, shutting down Diablo Canyon [in 2024 and 2025] is a really, really bad idea."

If the state legislature approves Newsom’s new proposal, the state Department of Water Resources will be able to lend PG&E up to $1.4 billion for things like licensing and maintenance that could be returned if federal funding were to come through instead.

Newsom has asked the federal government for those funds, but it isn’t clear yet if PG&E is eligible, though his office has said they are hopeful.

There is also an ongoing public meeting until 7p.m. tonight with the California Energy Commission discussing Diablo Canyon’s decommissioning, including local elected officials like Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham and multiple SLO County Supervisors.

Benjamin Purper came to KCBX in May of 2021 from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.