Environment

Here’s what could happen to Diablo Canyon once it closes

SLO County leaders push state to consider economic impacts of Diablo Canyon closure

One after another, city and county leaders — from San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx to county Supervisor Adam Hill — took the podium at a California Public Utilities Commission meeting Thursday, Oct. 20, to voice their concerns about what would happe
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One after another, city and county leaders — from San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx to county Supervisor Adam Hill — took the podium at a California Public Utilities Commission meeting Thursday, Oct. 20, to voice their concerns about what would happe

The land surrounding Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant should be conserved and its buildings repurposed when the plant closes in 2025, according to a new report from a citizen panel on the decommissioning.

The report was compiled by the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel, a group of citizens chosen to decipher exactly what the public wants to happen during and after the shutdown.

Since May, the group has held monthly meetings and special workshops on topics like future land uses, storage of spent fuel rods and economic redevelopment, gathering roughly 465 documented comments.

In its draft report — released Nov. 27 — the group lists its findings from those meetings and workshops, and outlines a vision for decommissioning.

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Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant Joe Johnston Tribune file

Chief among those findings?

  • Decommissioning and decontamination “should begin immediately upon shutdown.”
  • It should include “cost-saving approaches that save ratepayers money while assuring that the safety of the community is not compromised.”

  • The 12,000 acres around Diablo Canyon should be conserved and allow for “managed public access.”
  • As many on and off-site facilities as possible should be repurposed to reduce the amount of demolition and costs.

“We are grateful for the panel’s thoughtful deliberations in crafting this report,” PG&E spokesperson Suzanne Hosn told The Tribune in a phone interview Thursday. “It captures the hundreds of public comments that the panel received as a result of their ongoing interactions with the community, as well as their own views.“

The report is only a draft at this moment: Members of the public can submit their thoughts and comments on the document now through Dec. 10, Hosn said.

In an email to The Tribune on Thursday, engagement panel member Kara Woodruff encouraged the public to review the report and provide feedback.

“The closing of Diablo Canyon will have significant impact on this community,” she wrote. “It presents challenges as well as opportunity, and now is the time for us to influence the process for the best possible outcome. How can we replace those jobs? How should the 12,000 beautiful acres that surround the plant be managed and made available for public access? What is the best way for the decommissioning to proceed? We can shape the future as a community, and here is our chance.”

Before you submit your comments, here’s a closer look at some of the panel’s findings.

As the Diablo Canyon Power Plant closure looms, take a look at how other communities are coping with nuclear power plant closures.

What will the decommissioning process look like?

Short answer: “lengthy and complicated.”

According to the report, the process will include decisions on big-ticket issues like long-term storage and removal of spent nuclear fuel, and would likely take decades. An example timeline provided in the report lists activity going through 2076.

Because of this, the panel recommends that the decommissioning process being as soon as the plant shuts down, rather than an option known as SAFSTOR (short for SAFe STORage) that would delay the full decontamination of the plant for up to 60 years while it waits for radioactive materials to decay.

Instead, the panel recommended that the spent nuclear fuel be removed from the site “as soon as feasible.”

They also recommended that spent fuel stored on-site be monitored “at all times ... using real-time radiation monitoring” and that the most technologically advanced storage methods be used at all times.

Additionally, the eventual transport of that spent fuel through the surrounding communities should not take place at peak traffic times, they said.

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The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila Beach, California shown on Thursday December 6, 2001. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

How should the shutdown be funded?

PG&E has collected monthly fees from customers’ electric bills to fund the Decommissioning Trust Fund.

That fund currently has about $2.8 billion, according to the report. PG&E is also seeking an additional $1.4 billion through ratepayer assessments, though that plan has not yet been requested.

“Although funding the costs for decommissioning should be guided by the principle of avoiding imposition of undue burdens on ratepayers, the safety of the community, both now and in the future, should never be discounted,” read the report.

To accomplish that, PG&E should research the most cost-effective decommissioning methods and make sure the development of all decommissioning costs is transparent to ratepayers and the community, the panel said.

A developer wants to build a 15,000-home community near the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant at Wild Cherry Canyon, according to an email.

What happens to the lands, like Wild Cherry Canyon?

What would happen to the land surrounding the plant has been one of the biggest public concerns since PG&E announced in 2016 its plans to shut down Diablo Canyon.

In its report, the panel recommended the utility conserve the 12,000 acres surrounding the plant and set it up so that the public could access at least a portion through trails.

“The 12,000 acres of Diablo Canyon Lands surround the DCPP are a precious treasure and a spectacular natural resource that should be preserved, in perpetuity, for the public and for future generations,” the panel wrote.

The group specifically recommended that PG&E transfer the lands to a conservation entity, like State or National Parks, the Wildlands Conservancy, the San Luis Obispo Land Conservancy or a Native American nonprofit, for managed public access.

This would also include the area known as Wild Cherry Canyon — currently under lease to HomeFed — preventing future residential development on that land, such as a previously reported proposal to build a 15,000-home city in that area.

The panel also recommended working with the Native American community to preserve cultural and archaeological sites and continued access to that land.

Take a closer look at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near Avila Beach. California's last operating nuclear power plant will close in 2025, owner Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has announced.

What happens to the buildings?

The plant is home to more than just its two nuclear reactors: On site there are structures like warehouses, office buildings, a fire station, maintenance shops and a marina among others.

So what happens to all of those facilities?

As part of is vision to keep costs low, the panel recommended repurposing most of those buildings in some manner.

One of the potential future uses could be as a research and development facility emphasizing marine sciences, renewable energy technologies, energy storage or other technology innovation.

The facilities could also be used for an “innovative mental health treatment center,” the group said.

“The repurposing of these facilities could create opportunities to minimize the costs of decommissioning by avoiding dismantling and removal, while promoting future uses that involve job creation, economic development and other public benefits consistent with public safety and the environmental quality of the region,” read the report.

The group also said that the on-site desalination plant should be used beyond decommissioning to provide water to any future tenants. Using it for emergency water to local water purveyors should also be considered, they said.

What about the future of the engagement panel?

Additionally, one of the panel members has suggested that the public might need a “more robust and sustainable decommissioning advisory panel” than the existing engagement panel.

Panel member Alex Karlin, an environmental lawyer, submitted an alternative vision attached to the draft study calling for a more independent group to offer insight into the decommissioning process.

“(The engagement panel) lacks independence and resources,” Karlin wrote in the attachment. “Community needs much more robust and sustainable DAP that can vigilant for the long haul (20+ year ) of decommissioning.”

In his vision, Karlin wrote that the new advisory panel members should have more independence from PG&E, and include elected officials and regulatory agencies, as well as representatives for labor, Native American, environmental and technical interest groups.

What’s next?

Once finalized, the plan will be submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission for review as part of PG&E’s regulatory filings.

PG&E spokesperson Hosn said it would likely be months before a plan is finalized by the CPUC.

To submit your comments, email engagementpanel@pge.com or submit them online. You can also view the full document on PG&E’s website.

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant employees have eight years to decide whether they want to stay in SLO County or move to another plant after it was announced that Diablo Canyon would close in 2025.

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