The plans to keep Diablo Canyon providing 9% of California’s electricity may be crumbling. Under the existing rules, the operating licenses for the sister reactors will expire in 2024 and 2025. Once their license has expired, they will be shut down and ultimately shuttered.
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) had asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to resume consideration of an application that was initially submitted in 2009 to extend the plant’s life. This application was withdrawn after PG&E announced plans to shutter the reactors, in 2016.
The NRC staff rejected the idea of going back in time to resume consideration of their previous license-extension plan, saying that “resuming this review would not be consistent with the Principles of Good Regulation,” referring to its guiding values, including independence and openness. They further indicated that it would not be effective or efficient for the NRC staff to start the review without updated information on the plant’s status and condition.
In response, PG&E announced it would produce a new application to extend the plant’s life by the typical term, twenty years, by the end of 2023. PG&E indicated that they had already planned for this possibility.
PG&E has requested that the plant be allowed to continue operation beyond its current license expiration date, while the federal agency considers the license extensions. To date, the NRC hasn’t ruled on that request.
A new question has emerged, how much it will cost to update the plant for a longer run? If the plant is relicensed “there will be new maintenance activities to perform to support extended operations,” PG&E said in a statement.
Newsom’s decision last year to support a longer operating run for Diablo Canyon shocked environmentalists and anti-nuclear advocates, since he had once been a leading voice for closing the plant. His turnaround came about during the rolling blackouts suffered by California that year. Critics point out that even though nuclear power doesn’t produce carbon pollution like fossil fuels, it leaves behind waste that can remain radioactive for centuries.The Newsom administration still wants to expand clean energy, as the state aims to cut emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, but to accomplish and maintain grid reliability requires nuclear for now.