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 has recently suggested that plans to phase out the facility are being reconsidered. (Photo: Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

Green Groups Urge California Gov. Newsom to Close Aging Nuclear Plant on Schedule

"Diablo Canyon is dangerous, dirty, and expensive," a coalition of environmental organizations said in a letter to California's Democratic governor. "It must retire as planned."

The head of a leading green group on Wednesday joined a coalition of environmental organizations in opposing the extended operation of an aging California nuclear power plant slated to shut down by 2025 but given a new lease on life this week by the Biden administration.

Reutersreports the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced Wednesday that it was extending by 47 days a deadline for two nuclear plants--Entergy Corporation's Palisades plant in Covert, Michigan and PG&E's Diablo Canyon plant in San Luis Obispo County, California--to apply for federal funding to keep running.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG):

Two powerful nuclear industry lobby groups sent a letter this week to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm requesting the extension, which she granted two days later... The decision throws a lifeline to the expensive and unsafe facility PG&E owns, which initially had until May 19 to apply for the funds, and now has until July 5.

But the lifeline may violate DOE guidance, which says only nuclear plants in states with deregulated energy can apply for a share of the $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program, a fund designed to help nuclear reactors keep operating. Diablo Canyon is in California, which fully regulates utility power generation, so it shouldn't be eligible.

EWG president Ken Cook said in a statement that "even by PG&E's own history of billion-dollar misguided spending sprees, throwing taxpayers' money away to keep the unsafe Diablo Canyon nuclear plant on life support has to be one of the worst."

"The residents of California have waited long enough to finally see this dangerous, decrepit facility closed for good," he continued. "Letting PG&E continue to run the facility on the backs of taxpayers is a waste of scarce resources and only further delays moving the state and the nation toward a future of safe and abundant renewable electricity."

EWG said it opposes keeping the 37-year-old nuclear plant open because it is expensive--maintenance costs soared by $110 million between 2011 and 2017 alone--it poses a danger to marine life, and is a general safety hazard. In 2014 a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspector urged the plant's closure, as one of its reactors is considered one of the most embrittled units in the nation.

"Any chance PG&E can get to take money away from the people, they will," Cook argued. "Just ask any one of the millions of captive ratepayers the company regularly smacks with increased monthly bills. Grabbing billions in taxpayer dollars to keep Diablo Canyon on the money-making side of the ledger is a no-brainer for PG&E."

Cook's statement comes a day after a coalition of environmental groups sent a letter to Gavin Newsom, California's Democratic governor, urging him not to keep the plant operating beyond its scheduled closing by 2025. Last month, Newsom signaled that he is open to "keeping all options on the table" to ensure California has a reliable electricity grid.

"Your suggestion to extend the operational life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility is an outrage," the groups wrote. "Diablo Canyon is dangerous, dirty, and expensive. It must retire as planned."

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