Why wait until 2025 to close Diablo Canyon?

This strip of coast north and more coastal areas north of Diablo Canyon may be opened to the public.
This strip of coast north and more coastal areas north of Diablo Canyon may be opened to the public. The Tribune file

PG&E has reached an agreement (currently being reviewed by the state Public Utilities Commission) with environmental groups not to seek re-licensing for Diablo Canyon, thus ending energy production in 2025.

Some, including the Mothers for Peace in San Lois Obispo, are still working to close Diablo sooner. The administrative law judge in these PUC proceedings has agreed that considering closing the plant earlier than 2025 is a legitimate issue that can be addressed.

Pro nuclear groups have suggested such an early closure would be a blow to our state’s fight against global warming. However, even assuming nuclear power may be needed globally while transitioning from fossil fuels, Diablo itself has no impact on global warming and, as the most dangerously situated nuclear power plant in the U.S., according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the California Energy Commission (CEC), it is not worth the risk to California.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom put the issue in perspective last year when he directed the State Lands Commission to draw up a plan for thorough environmental review of PG&E’s Diablo Canyon power plant. “On the one hand we have Fukushima etched in our memories, and on the other hand we are tackling fossil-fuel-driven climate change,” Newsom said. “This is incredibly complex and of no surprise that decisions have been avoided.”

However, last June when the State Lands Commission voted on the environmental review Newsom requested, he did not vote for it.

In approving the lease to allow continued operation of Diablo past 2018, the Lands Commission claimed Diablo contributes “nearly” 10% of the state’s energy (this approval is currently being litigated by the World Business Academy).

Certainly, if nuclear power reduced our state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent that would be impressive, but this inaccurate figure gives no realistic perspective on our contribution to climate change. Diablo Canyon, according to the California Energy Commissin, and to our state’s Legislative Analysts Office, only contributed 6 percent of the energy actually consumed in California in 2015 (The State Lands Commission inflates this to 9 percent by adding nuclear energy imported from Arizona, then apparently rounds up to 10 percent.)

The real figure goes even lower. In 2015, the state’s hydro power was the lowest this century because of the drought. A lower hydro percentage raises that of nuclear. In an average hydro year Diablo’s energy would only be 5 percent. And these California Energy Commission statistics exclude sources less than one megawatt, excluding all new roof top solar. If these sources are added Diablo’s 5 percent drops to potentially 4 percent or less.

When these facts were noted at a recent California Energy Commission meeting Chairman Robert Weisenmiller added that, in fact, generating electrical energy in California (see transcript pages 54-59) only produces a fraction of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions—12 percent to be exact.

When this is factored in, if Diablo Canyon saves any emissions at all, it is statistically insignificant. This explains why the California Energy Commission has no position on whether the immediate closure of Diablo would have any effect on state greenhouse gas emissions at all.

Furthermore, the state has a minimum 15 percent to 18 percent energy reserve, according to the energy commission, which suggests no new energy sources are needed to replace Diablo Canyon.

Contrast these minimal potential contributions to climate change with the fact that PG&E’s recent NRC required studies (2015) show that nearby faults can subject Diablo to double the ground shaking that occurred at Fukushima, well beyond what Diablo is currently licensed for. The NRC has meetings scheduled this year to consider these new findings.

And there’s more. PUC President Michael Picker in 2015 requested a cost effectiveness study from PG&E detailing “the costs, benefits and safety issues of cycling the Diablo Canyon units to mitigate over-generation problems on the grid.”

According to the energy commission, this means “... if renewable sources and DCPP are running at capacity then there is a risk that the load on the grid may exceed specifications making it necessary to curtail GHG free renewable generation.”

California has an over generation problem in which nuclear power is actually competing with renewables for grid space, making it necessary to curtail renewables when we have too much energy— thus contributing to global warming.

To date, PG&E has not replied to Picker’s information request.

Furthermore, Diablo uses ocean water for cooling, a practice being phased out because it is devastating to ocean life, and Diablo is the largest such plant in the state, larger than all the rest combined.

Thus we have a dangerously situated, minimally insured nuclear power plant killing marine life to contribute a small amount of energy to a state with a large surplus, while competing for grid space with renewables.

The need for accurate, balanced information in considering our energy future is precisely why I support both the Mothers for Peace in calling for an early closure of Diablo Canyon in current PUC proceedings, and the current legal actions of the World Business Academy to require the State Lands Commission to complete an Environmental Impact Report before allowing continued operation of Diablo Canyon.

When the public is presented with balanced environmental/economic information it will be eminently clear that nuclear power is not worth the risks to California.

Anti-nuclear activist Ben Davis Jr. drafted an initiative the led to the eventual closure of Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant in Sacramento County. He also tried unsuccessfully to get an anti-nuclear initiative on the November 2016 ballot, which, if passed, would have resulted in the closure of Diablo Canyon Power Plant.