California’s last nuclear power plant may run longer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Aggressive push for renewable energy is a response to keeping the lights on in California, where the largest utility considers whether to extend the life of the state’s last operating nuclear power plant. I am running into anxiety.

California, the birthplace of the modern environmental movement, has for decades had a difficult relationship with nuclear power, which doesn’t cause carbon pollution like fossil fuels and leaves behind waste. Dangerous radioactive material for centuries.

Now environmentalists find themselves at odds with those they normally see as allies. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom calls for Diablo to close Canyon nuclear power plant by 2025 He backed the 2016 deal Green is. longer uptime.

Newsom is often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate and an attorney for consumer advocacy groups.

Matthew Freedman of The Utility Reform Network said the impetus to keep Diablo Canyon operational “clearly comes from the governor’s office.” Newsom said, “We recognize that electrical system reliability issues may carry political liability, and we will take all possible action to avoid a possible power outage in California. I am determined.”

Newsom certainly doesn’t want to repeat what happened in August 2020, when a record heat wave caused air conditioners to use a lot of electricity and overwhelm the grid. Two consecutive nights of rolling blackouts affected hundreds of thousands of residential and business customers.

In a statement, Newsom’s communications director Erin Mellon didn’t address political issues, but said the governor’s focus is on maintaining reliable energy for homes and businesses, while reducing carbon pollution. He continues to support closing Diablo Canyon “in the long term.”

The debate over nuclear power plants has led the long-struggling nuclear industry to fight climate change. reason to be optimistic. President Joe Biden has embraced nuclear power as part of his strategy to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

Nuclear power supplies about one-fifth of the country’s electricity, even though the nuclear industry’s output has declined since 2010. Saving power plants in green energy-friendly California carries symbolic weight, but the odds of a sharp turnaround seem slim.

PG&E CEO Patricia “Patti” Poppe told investors in a phone call last month State legislation must be enacted by September to pave the way for PG&E to change course. She said other measures, such as additional orders for reactor fuel and storage casks to house the spent fuel, which remains highly radioactive, would be necessary to keep the plants running, so utilities would He said he faced a “sense of urgency”.

Extending the operating life of power plants “is not an easy option,” Poppe said. “The permitting and relicensing of facilities is complex and there are many hurdles to overcome.”

Located on the coast halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the power station produces 9% of the electricity for California’s approximately 40 million residents. The state previously set aside up to $75 million to extend the operation of an older power plant that was scheduled to close, but it’s not yet clear whether taxpayers may share some of the bills.

The Newsom administration has pushed for clean energy expansion as the state aims to reduce emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030.warm Reliability remains questionable As temperatures rise in climate change.

The problem for Diablo Canyon is how the Newsom administration, working with investor-owned PG&E, can find a way to unlock the 2016 shutdown agreement agreed by environmentalists, factory workers’ unions and power companies. whether or not The decision to close the factory was also supported by California’s utility regulator, Congress, and then-Democrat Governor Jerry Brown.

Nuclear workers now support keeping the reactors running, but anti-nuclear activists and environmentalists are rejoining a battle they thought was settled six years ago.

“It makes sense to keep Diablo open,” said Mark D. Joseph, an attorney with the California Union of Public Utility Workers, who represents plant workers. “Nobody wants to see California’s carbon emissions go up.”

Critics question whether it is feasible or even legal for power companies to break contracts.

Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that negotiated and signed the agreement, said:

Another signatory to the agreement, Friends of the Earth, will oppose any attempt to extend the operating life of the reactors. “No terms have been changed to withdraw from that agreement,” said Erich Pica, head of the group.

There are also concerns about Safety in an aging factory. Construction at Diablo Canyon began in the 1960s, and critics say potential tremors from nearby seismic faults were not recognized when the design was first approved — one nearby fault occurred in 2008. It wasn’t discovered until — It can damage equipment and emit radiation.

Withdrawing from the deal “would put huge numbers of people at enormous risk, and that’s what we’re talking about here,” said the Environmental and Nuclear Policy Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Former director and long-time critic of nuclear power plant safety Daniel Hirsch said.

PG&E has long said the plant is earthquake resistant, but has been less clear on whether it will push for extended operations beyond 2025. It’s a new state policy,” she said in a statement, PG&E spokesperson Suzanne Hosn.

PG&E is considering applying for a share of $6 billion in federal funds set up by the Biden administration to bail out nuclear power plants at risk of closure. The utility announced the move after Newsom suggested a longer period of operation would help the state address potential power shortages in the future.

The Department of Energy recently revised rules at the request of the Newsom administration that could pave the way for applications from Diablo Canyon. But some environmentalists question whether these changes conflict with the federal law that funded them.

As part of the closure agreement, the state granted PG&E a short-term lease of the ocean water intake and drainage structure through 2025, which also needs to be extended to keep the plant operational.

Elements cited in the lease agreement indicate that the utility does not seek an extended operating license and that PG&E will use that term through 2025 to develop a greenhouse gas-free renewable energy and efficiency portfolio, including Diablo Canyon. power.

PG&E said in a statement that it has met the replacement power supply requirements to date.

PG&E’s decision to close Diablo Canyon comes at a time of rapidly changing energy landscape.

With California prioritizing renewable energy to meet future power demands, it was expected that after 2025, the need for power from large power plants like Diablo Canyon would decrease. There was even the risk of over-production.

State officials have warned there could be a power shortage this summer, rather than a power surplus. New tariff disputes over products are delaying solar and storage projects, government officials said.

But environmentalists argue that nuclear power plants (those that continuously produce large amounts of electricity) are not the solution to fill the occasional gap, such as when the sun sets after sunset.

Reliable power “isn’t a 24/7 problem,” said NRDC’s Cavanagh. “What we don’t want to solve that kind of problem for is a huge machine that has to run 24/7 to be economical.”