April 1, 2023

Feds Reject California’s Last Nuclear Power Plant’s Request to Stay Open

Federal regulators Jan. 24 rejected Pacific Gas and Electric’s license renewal application to extend the life of California’s last nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, saying the utility’s application to stay open, originally submitted in 2009, would need to be updated for consideration.

The plant, which is located in San Luis Obispo County midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, has been planned for closure in 2025.

But California lawmakers, along with Gov. Gavin Newsom, agreed in September to spend $1.4 billion to keep it running until 2030, as the state has resorted to rolling blackouts in recent years as its aggressive plan to eliminate fossil fuels and switch to green energy has, at times, failed to deliver enough power to supply resident’s homes and businesses.

The U.S. Energy Department also awarded Diablo Canyon $1.1 billion in November to continue operating.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is asking the utility to submit a new license renewal application, possibly including updated environmental assessments, according to its rejection decision letter sent to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E).

The commission also found the revived application did not meet its principles of “good regulation” which require them to be coherent, logical, and practical and include the highest possible standards of ethical performance and professionalism.

According to PG&E spokeswoman Suzanne Hosn, the utility plans to submit a new application by the end of the year.

“With this decision, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has clarified the regulatory path PG&E will follow regarding the License Renewal Application (LRA) process, while allowing the company to leverage work already reviewed in our 2009 LRA,” PGE Spokeswoman Suzanne Hosn said in an email. “PG&E intends to submit a new application by the end of 2023.”

The utility also submitted an exemption request to the commission to allow it to continue operating Diablo’s twin reactors past their current licenses while the application is under review, Hosn said.

That request is under consideration with a decision expected by March, according to the commission’s letter to PG&E.

The extension would allow PG&E to operate the plant until federal regulators make a decision about the new application.

Diablo was shuttered six years ago by PG&E amid pressure from environmental groups and the local community.

Environmental organizations also protested the company’s latest application, sending a letter to the regulatory commission “putting them on notice that the agency would violate federal law if it accepted PG&E’s proposal,” according to the organization Environmental Working Group based in Washington, D.C.

The group, along with San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Friends of the Earth, and Committee to Bridge the Gap warned that PG&E’s fast-track proposal, after California lawmakers’ turnaround on the issue last fall, ran afoul of the commission’s safety requirements and procedures and would violate a federal regulation that requires applicants to perform environmental reviews, the groups said in a statement last month.

“The company has spent the past six years preparing to mothball the reactors and has saved money by not investing in future operations. They can’t reverse course and revive a license renewal application that was declared dead years ago at their own request,” Mothers of Peace Board President Jane Swanson said.

Nuclear power from Diablo Canyon produced about 9 percent of the state’s energy last year, according to the state’s energy commission.

PG&E said it will continue operating safely providing reliable and clean energy to California as it waits for the application process to continue.

“PG&E remains committed to complying with current legislative policy to ensure the state has the option to keep [Diablo] online to ensure electrical reliability as California continues toward its clean energy future,” Hosn, the PG&E spokesperson, said.

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