Diablo Canyon Credit: File photo

Owen Lavine is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.

Nestled only a few dozen miles from Avila Beach is California’s only surviving nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon. 

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is under threat of closure in 2025, as the wishes of the anti-nuclear movement have come to fruition, and now 10% of California’s electricity and, according to Hunter Stern, a union representative for IBEW 1245, 1200 high-paying, largely union jobs are at risk right now.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), IBEW 1245 (the union of electricians that help operate the plant) and the State have signed an agreement to close the plant under the assumption that PG&E will be able to replace the lost energy with green energy by 2025.

At a time when the fruits of the climate crisis have begun to bear, it is no time to walk backwards away from sustainable energy sources. California is stepping on its own foot by closing Diablo Canyon. 

Stern has watched the slow closure of the plant happen before his eyes. 

“We have to start with PG&E and their reasoning in short was that it became less economically viable, that it would be shut down for days on end,” Stern said.

Other forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar can start and stop very quickly and don’t take hours of start-up time like nuclear plants do. The plant also sits near the San Andreas fault, something that was known to engineers when building the plant, however Hunter adds that “three more faults were identified later.”

“There’s always been a strong bias against nuclear power in California… the strong environmental presence in California has made Diablo Canyon a target,” Hunter explains. 

In 1976, the grassroots anti-nuclear movement successfully lobbied to pass a bill that banned the creation of any new nuclear plants until “certain stipulations which may ‘clog’ the nuclear fuel cycle are resolved.”  In other words, the bill forbids the creation of new nuclear plants until nuclear waste can be sustainably discarded. 

The real nail in the coffin for Diablo was the closure of the San Onofre plant due to failed safety inspections. Hunter calls it “a black eye on the industry.” And of course, the Fukushima disaster in 2011. 

Jake Gutterman, a Nuclear Engineering student at UC Berkeley and member of the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate program, reaffirms the safety of nuclear power. 

“The probabilities of an earthquake in that specific spot are quite low,” Getterman said. 

Big claim, especially from someone who isn’t a geologist, but the numbers bear out, as the USGS finds that there’s a “1 in 23810” chance of an earthquake striking the coastal bluffs near the Diablo Canyon reactor. Even if an earthquake did occur, the earthquake retrofitting is top of the line for nuclear reactors.

The most relevant and profound fear when it comes to nuclear power is the possibility of an event similar to Fukushima happening at Diablo Canyon. But according to Gutterman, a disaster like Fukushima is “not really possible at Diablo.” 

Diablo Canyon has multiple design features that prevent a Fukushima type meltdown. Most importantly, the back up generators are not below the main reactor, one of the factors that contributed to the Fukushima disaster. 

Hunter counters PG&E’s decision to close the plant in favor of profit.

“Energy is an essential service today, it’s not a commodity, even though people still try to act that way,” Hunter said. 

Despite our society being inextricably linked to energy consumption, California still delegates the responsibility of energy creation to a private corporation, PG&E. And when PG&E can’t get the state subsidies or doesn’t find something profitable for them, they shut it down. 

This has some dire consequences. Earlier this year the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found PG&E responsible for the Dixie fire which burnt 963,309 acres of land in 2021. In 2019, PG&E plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter after the 2018 Camp fire. Both were due to mismanagement and underfunding of safety equipment. Simply put: it wasn’t profitable for PG&E to keep up with safety protocols

After the San Onofre plant closed, PG&E opened new coal and gas-fired plants. Inevitably, carbon emissions in the area soared by 9 million tons, equivalent to putting 2 million new cars on the road

PG&E’s willingness to prioritize fossil fuels puts renewable energy such as nuclear and wind energy on the back burner. Nancy Rader, executive director of the California Wind Energy Association and colleague of Hunter Stern, puts it best: “We’re very frustrated with the lack of serious planning for offshore wind in California… We’re just banging our head against the wall.”  

Point being, progress has been extremely slow on improving and adding to California’s pre-existing renewable energy infrastructure. Removing the Diablo Canyon Power Plant will drastically set back California’s already insufficient progress towards renewable energy. 

Hunter and other nuclear energy advocates don’t see nuclear power being grouped together with other environmentally dangerous fuel sources –– they see it working in tandem with other renewable energy sources in ending greenhouse gas emissions, a serious threat contributing to climate change.

While it may be considered to be more dangerous than other sources of renewable or clean energy, it’s the best we got. Nuclear plants have the highest energy production capacity factor, 1.5 that of fossil fuels and 2.5-3.5 that of the most reliable wind/solar arrays. Ruling out the nuclear option will be detrimental to solving climate change.