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The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant is located in Avila Beach along California's central coast. (Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission/cc/flickr)

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant is located in Avila Beach along California's central coast. (Photo: Nuclear Regulatory Commission/cc/flickr)

Closure of Diablo Nuclear Plant Signals Dawn of Renewable Energy Era

In landmark agreement, California's last remaining nuclear plant will be replaced by greenhouse-gas-free energy sources

Lauren McCauley

A plan to shutter the last remaining nuclear power plant in California and replace it with renewable energy is being heralded widely as "a clear blueprint for fighting climate change," which environmentalists hope will serve as "a model" for the nation.

"The end of an atomic era," is how the San Francisco Chronicle described the announcement, made Tuesday by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which operates the aging Diablo Canyon power plant situated on California's central coast.

The joint proposal (pdf), drafted by the utility company along with a number of labor and environmental groups, states: "PG&E in consultation with the Parties has concluded that the most effective and efficient path forward for achieving California's SB350 policy goal for deep reductions of [greenhouse gas (GHG)] emissions is to retire Diablo Canyon at the close of its current operating license period and replace it with a portfolio of GHG free resources."

The licenses are currently set to expire in 2024 and 2025 and under the deal the utility will replace that power source with renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage. The agreement also contains provisions to protect the plant's workforce, as well as the economy of the local San Luis Obispo community. PG&E further commits to derive 55 percent of the electricity produced across its entire fleet from clean, renewable sources by 2031.

"For years, some have claimed that we can't fight climate change without nuclear power, because shutting down nuclear plants would mean burning more fossil fuels to generate replacement electricity. That’s wrong, of course, and now we have the proof."
—Rhea Suh, NRDC

"This is an historic agreement," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, which helped draft the plan, along with Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees, and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.

Pica continues, "It sets a date for the certain end of nuclear power in California and assures replacement with clean, safe, cost-competitive, renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage. It lays out an effective roadmap for a nuclear phase-out in the world's sixth largest economy, while assuring a green energy replacement plan to make California a global leader in fighting climate change."

Rhea Suh, president of NRDC, said the joint agreement is "a tribute to what can be accomplished when we rally together around a common goal."

"What’s more," Suh added, "this plan is a model that can be replicated around the country, where nearly 100 nuclear reactors will retire in the coming decades, and around the world."

"For years," she continued, "some have claimed that we can't fight climate change without nuclear power, because shutting down nuclear plants would mean burning more fossil fuels to generate replacement electricity. That’s wrong, of course, and now we have the proof."

"Today's agreement is a good example of how we can replace dirty energy with clean when we set our minds to it," agreed Rob Sargent, Energy Program director at Environment America. "It's this kind of commitment that will put us on a path to 100 percent renewable energy."

Tuesday's announcement follows years of public opposition to the plant, which sits in an earthquake red zone near four prominent fault lines—one of which runs just 2,000 feet from the two reactors. As anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman recently noted, "[m]ore protestors have been arrested at Diablo than any other American nuke."

In addition to the risks posed by potential earthquake damage, Wasserman wrote, "Diablo dumps daily some 2.5 billion gallons of super-heated water into the ocean, killing vast quantities of marine life and worsening the global climate crisis. The project’s chemical runoff infamously killed millions of abalone years before it operated."

The detailed phase out proposal will now go to the California Public Utility Commission and on to federal regulators for approval.

According to the Chronicle, the decommissioning process is estimated to cost $3.8 billion, $2.6 million of which PG&E has already collected in an earmarked fund. The utility is reportedly seeking to raise electricity rates by roughly 51 cents per month to make up the shortfall.

Voicing his support for the plan, California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, said: "The idea that the economics— from PG&E’s perspective—work for renewables is a pretty profound moment in energy policy. We've been asserting it for decades. And here you have a major utility acknowledging a low-carbon, green future."


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