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California legislature approves plan to extend Diablo Canyon's operation to 2030

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

California lawmakers this morning approved a last-minute plan to keep Diablo Canyon Nuclear power plant operating until 2030. The plant near Avila Beach had been scheduled to close in 2025, but could now stay open five years after that.

The legislature approved a loan of up to $1.4 billion to Diablo Canyon’s operator, Pacific Gas & Electric, to cover the costs of keeping the plant open and re-licensing it. The loan is forgivable, meaning PG&E could give the money back if federal funds from the Biden Administration come through separately.

Newsom and nuclear advocates say the previous plan to close the plant by 2025 would hurt the state’s renewable energy goals and grid reliability. They say it’s too soon to lose a plant that produces about 9% of the state’s energy and an even higher percentage of its carbon-free energy.

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

Central Coast Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham helped introduce the bill, SB846, to the legislature. On the Assembly floor, Cunningham said extending Diablo’s operation would help the state reach its clean energy goals and prevent blackouts.

"It's a vote for reduced carbon emissions, it's a vote for a transition that makes sense [and] works towards a fully renewable grid sometime in the future," he said.

Other lawmakers are more conflicted about nuclear energy. Democratic Assemblymember Chris Holden voted yes this morning, but said it was despite his reservations about the plant.

"I am not a proponent of Diablo Canyon Power Plant," Holden said. "I am a proponent of keeping the lights on."

The Central Coast nonprofit Regional Economic Action Coalition (REACH) supported the bill, and issued a statement today applauding what they call the bill's economic and environmental benefits.

"The inclusion of $160 million for Diablo Canyon land conservation and economic development is a huge win for the Central Coast and shows what advocating with a united voice, as regional leaders did over the last several weeks, can accomplish in state and national decisions," said REACH CEO Melissa James.

Mothers for Peace Hiroshima rally
Gabriela Fernandez
Nuclear free advocates rallying to recognize Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings

Many opponents of extending Diablo Canyon’s operation cite safety concerns, arguing that the risk of a major disaster at the plant from an earthquake or tsunami outweigh the benefits of keeping its energy.

Mothers of Peace is a local nonprofit that supports decommissioning the plant. In a statement today, the organization said the vote puts years of "deliberate and careful planning" in jeopardy.

"Further, this vote will cause financial pain to taxpayers and ratepayers, extends the ongoing fear of a seismic event, and exacerbates the environmental damage Diablo Canyon inflicts. Mothers for Peace will continue to fight to keep Diablo on track to close by 2025," the release said.

PG&E maintains that the plant has a long record of safe operation going back to its construction. Pro-Diablo groups also point to its safety oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

PG&E will have to go through the federal re-licensing process to extend the plant’s operations, along with maintenance and any upgrade processes it would have to undergo.

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.
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