PG&E Applies to Keep Diablo Canyon Open

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

November 17, 2023

The owner of California’s last operating nuclear energy plant has filed paperwork to extend its life for 20 years past it’s original planned closure date.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., on Nov. 7 filed a “license Renewal Application with the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission “seeking to extend operations at its Diablo Canyon Power Plant,” the company said in a news release. “The facility is the state’s largest power plant and producer of clean energy, generating enough carbon-free electricity to meet the needs of three million people.”

The application for an extended license comes on the heels of a whirlwind of on-off decisions by PG&E regarding the fate of Diablo Canyon.

Nearly 10 years ago, the company announced that it would halt efforts for a new operating license form the NRC and instead close the two reactors  — Units 1 and 2 — by 2024 and 2025 respectively. That’s when the plant’s original operating licenses are slated to expire.

That decision was arrived at through negotiations with environmental groups that had been fighting against the license renewals and wanted to shut down the plant. 

But over a year ago, the State switched paths and Gov. Gavin Newsom asked PG&E to keep Diablo Canyon going for another 5-10 years. This was to allow the supply of clean, carbon-free energy to catch up with demand and to keep this 2200 megawatts of reliable energy to help prop up the power grid.

They backed this up with a bill (Senate Bill No. 846) that provided $1.4 billion in a forgivable loan to the company to help pay for whatever needs to be done to stay open. It also gave them a pass on a State Water Board mandate to stop using once through cooling to cool steam at the plant.

Then the Federal Government pitched in another billion dollars.

Meanwhile, PG&E continues with a process aimed at the eventual closure and decommissioning of the plant, and the ultimate disposition of some 12,000 acres of pristine oak woodlands, and coastal terraces surrounding the plant.

“PG&E,” Corporation CEO Patti Poppe said, “is committed to answering the state’s call to ensure the continued operation of the facility and safely deliver affordable, reliable and clean energy for California. Diablo Canyon is a treasure and tremendous resource for the state, as well as one of the safest operated nuclear power plants in the nation.”

The company sees the State’s interest in continued operations as a positive sign. “We are pleased policy makers see the value of DCPP,” Poppe said. “It would be a great honor to continue serving California for as long as the state supports the operation of the facility.”

But the road ahead is likely to still be rocky, as environmental groups that negotiated the 2025 closure, have cried foul and filed suit seeking to force the plant to close. They contend that maintenance has been lacking, there are major problems with one of the reactors and continued danger from offshore earthquake faults, among other issues. They also believe the notion that Diablo Canyon’s power is need for grid reliability is false.

PG&E had at first sought to restart the licensing process it had previously begun and then halted, piking up where they left off, but the NRC said it had to submit a whole new license application. But submitting the NRC application, a milestone in itself, comes nowhere near to the end of this saga.

“In compliance with federal regulations,” the company said, “PG&E’s license renewal application includes general, environmental, and technical information about DCPP. Once the NRC determines whether the application is sufficient for its review, a multi-year evaluation process will begin, which includes ample opportunities for public feedback and involvement. Under federal regulation, DCPP will continue to operate until the NRC has taken final action on PG&E’s application.”

The chief at the plant gave reassurances. “Diablo Canyon Power Plant,” Diablo Canyon Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer, Paula Gerfen said, “is safely generating clean electricity 24-hours a day, seven-days a week, 365-days a year, rain or shine. We have a dedicated workforce that is committed to operating DCPP with integrity and safety at the forefront. We’re all excited for the opportunity to continue serving the state and help power California’s clean energy future.”

The plant will continue to operate and produce energy while the NRC goes through its evaluation and permitting process.

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