Diablo Canyon Credit: File photo

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power plant will remain open past its previous closure date after a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September.

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is nestled only 15 miles from Avila Beach and is California’s only remaining nuclear power plant. Though it was previously set to decommission by 2025, Senate Bill 846 will extend its life for another five years. 

The Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel would require both nuclear units to be shut off, the plant to be demolished, employees would receive a pension package and the creation of nuclear waste storage facilities, according to a report done by the Diablo Canyon Strategic Commision.

The existence of Diablo Canyon has been the center of controversy since its inception in the early 1970s. The anti-nuclear and anti-war group Mothers For Peace San Luis Obispo, among others, has fought to close Diablo Canyon since 1973. Their fight continues today through a series of lawsuits and political pressure campaigns. 

Mothers for Peace claim that Diablo Canyon is an environmental hazard and that its existence opens California up for the possibility of a Fukushima-style disaster.

Previously, the San Luis Obispo Mothers For Peace won a lawsuit against PG&E over the disposal of nuclear waste emanating from Diablo Canyon and the possibility of a terrorist attack using said nuclear waste.

Senate Bill 846, known as the “Dodd Bill,” was passed as an urgency bill to keep Diablo Canyon’s two reactors, Unit 1 and Unit 2, operational until 2029 and 2030 respectively. The bill was passed ahead of the worst heatwave, or “heat storm,” and subsequent peak load (highest megawatt usage at one time) in California history, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. To prevent rolling blackouts and brownouts, emergency diesel generators were turned on across the state despite the state’s goals to achieve 100% renewable energy.

Previously, a 2018 agreement with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), required that the Unit 1 reactor be decommissioned in 2024 and Unit 2 in 2025 contingent upon the PUC replacing the lost power with renewable energy. 

However, according to the PUC, the PUC did not order the creation of replacement power for Diablo Canyon until 2021 and said power would not come online until between 2023 and 2026. Furthermore, those projects were stalled by a one-year tariff placed on photovoltaic panels from South East Asia, an essential component for solar panel technology, according to Hunter Stern, Union Representative for the plant’s IBEW electrical workers.

The bill also gives PG&E – the plant’s operator – a $600 million infusion of state funding on top of a $1.4 billion loan. If Diablo Canyon fails to qualify for the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, a new federal program designed to give federal dollars to nuclear plants, then the loan will be terminated. Previously, Diablo failed to qualify for the funding program. 

“The original fund was designed for nuclear plants that were losing economic value and needed assistance to sustain their operations,” added Stern. 

In spite of the near doubling of the price of uranium futures over the past year, Diablo has remained economically viable for PG&E to operate. On June 1, the Department of Energy (DOE) amended the rules of the credit program to “not recover more than 50 percent of its costs from cost-of-service regulation or regulated contracts.” The change in this essential part of the program’s rules coupled with a 60-day extension to apply for the credit program after the June amendment was put into place, gave Diablo a second shot to apply for the credit program. 

The bill also provides $1 billion in funding for the Clean Energy Reliability Investment Plan for “programs and projects that accelerate the deployment of clean energy resources, support demand response, assist ratepayers, and increase energy reliability,” over the next three years.

The bill prohibits PG&E from paying any money given to them from the loan to their shareholders. Previously, PG&E has stirred controversy as some watchdog groups, such as the Environmental Working Group, allege that PG&E prioritized shareholders and its board of directors over the environment and ratepayers

According to the bill, a provision has been included that allows Diablo to violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)’s rules on once-through cooling systems by imposing a $10 fee per every million gallons of water. 

Stern predicts that the once-through cooling provision of the bill will open the state up to a lawsuit by environmental and anti-nuclear groups.

In reaction to the extension of Diablo Canyon’s license, as well as other provisions within the bill, San Luis Obispo Mothers For Peace stated in an infographic they uploaded alongside their analysis of SB 846 that they and other groups intend to “challenge this decision.”