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Activists protest Diablo Canyon nuclear facility

Anti-nuclear protestors stage a sit-in on a roadway at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Facility on June 30, 1979 in San Luis Obispo, California. Advocates have called for the plant to be shut down for decades, but Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested Thursday that plans to phase out the facility are being reconsidered. (Photo: Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

Nuclear Critics Cry Foul as Newsom Reconsiders Diablo Canyon Closure

"Diablo Canyon exists without the consent of the community that bears disaster risks and the burden of the nuclear waste that will remain on the seismically risky site for the foreseeable future," said one anti-nuclear group.

Julia Conley

Anti-nuclear campaigners are warning that California Gov. Gavin Newsom's reconsideration of a long-time plan to shutter the state's Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is a misguided attempt to promote clean energy, calling on the governor to instead move forward with plans to transition to solar power and other renewable sources.

Newsom told the Los Angeles Times Thursday that the state is hoping to get some of the $6 billion in federal funding that was set aside by the Civil Nuclear Credit program in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year to rescue nuclear facilities facing closure.

"This multi-billion dollar program should instead be invested in clean, renewable energy, NOT dirty and expensive nuclear reactors."

The plan represents a reversal of a 2016 agreement between labor unions, environmental groups, and nuclear power stakeholders to shut down Diablo Canyon by 2025, with the first of its two reactors expiring in 2024. If the plant stayed open past 2025, the state would have to spend billions of dollars on earthquake safety upgrades to avoid a long-feared earthquake-driven nuclear meltdown.

Newsom is now saying his administration doesn't want to "miss the opportunity to draw down any federal funds... to extend the life of that plant."

"We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option," the governor told the Times, adding that he still believes the facility should eventually be shut down.

The continued life of Diablo Canyon has become a pet cause of some climate scientists including former NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Dr. James Hansen, who wrote to Newsom in February to tell him that "meeting the state's clean energy goals is incompatible with closing" the plant.

Nuclear plants are the country's largest sources of power that don't emit planet-heating fossil fuels, but as Ralph Cavanaugh, co-director of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told the Times, "solar, storage, and other clean energy resources could replace Diablo cheaply and reliably, as envisioned in the 2016 deal."

The Times reported that Newsom has pointed to solar panel tariffs planned by the U.S. Commerce Department as one reason his administration is concerned about being able to ramp up clean energy production.

California is counting on solar power projects "to avoid blackouts the next few summers, as Diablo and several gas-fired power plants shut down," the Times reported.

Newsom's reconsideration of closing Diablo Canyon, said Sacramento Bee assistant opinion editor Yousef Baig on Friday, denotes "a failure by his administration to deliver on energy transition."

Newsom has been denounced by climate campaigners for approving thousands of oil and gas drilling and fracking projects since taking office in 2019.

Despite some pro-nuclear advocates' claims that embracing nuclear power is a key component of California's goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2045, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) argued in a series of tweets Friday, that "nuclear power has never been safe, clean, or democratic."

"Diablo Canyon exists without the consent of the community that bears disaster risks and the burden of the nuclear waste that will remain on the seismically risky site for the foreseeable future," said NIRS.

Anti-nuclear campaigners have protested Diablo Canyon since it opened in the 1970s, arguing that its location near seismic fault lines puts it at risk of a meltdown that could spread radiation across California.

Aside from the radiation risk posed by the plant, Friends of the Earth said in 2018, "Diablo Canyon damages the environment of Central Coastal California each day. The plant draws in an estimated 2.5 billion gallons of water per day for cooling purposes and discharges that water back into the Pacific Ocean about 20 degrees hotter. Diablo Canyon annually draws into its antiquated cooling system more than a billion fish in early life stages; most die."

According to the Times, Newsom's administration is also considering other steps to avoid power outages like the ones the state's electric grid operator has implemented during heat waves in recent years, "such as adding batteries to the grid, paying homes to use less energy, and coordinating electricity supplies more closely with other Western states. Longer-term options include investing in geothermal energy and offshore wind."

"The U.S. Energy Department has never designed or implemented a credit program of this nature, and unscrupulous nuclear interests are eager to get their hands on this money, whether they qualify or not," said NIRS of Newsom's plan to use the Civil Nuclear Credit program. "This multi-billion dollar program should instead be invested in clean, renewable energy, NOT dirty and expensive nuclear reactors."

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