By Larry Levine –
If California governor Gavin Newsom or any member of the California legislature thinks the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant can be kept alive on life support with a $1.4 billion “forgivable loan” from the state, they are either ignorant of or ignoring the entire history of nuclear power. Massive cost over runs and long delays have been the industry’s hallmark from the very beginning.
They also would have to buy into the false notion that nuclear power is a clean source of energy, a message being touted by the nuclear industry in this time of intense focus on climate change. It’s just the latest of the fabrications the industry has created to justify its existence.
Newsom is attempting to ram through last minute legislation to keep the plant operating beyond its scheduled shutdown in 2025. It can’t be called a bail out because the operating utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), didn’t ask for it. If anyone at the utility is behind this effort, they are so far behind that they aren’t visible.
Michael Hiltzik of the L.A. Times points out in his Aug. 17 column that the utility’s climate strategy report issued this summer assumes Diablo Canyon will “cease operations” by 2025 and talks instead of bringing “more renewable energy online.”
Why Newsom opted for this push is the subject of wide speculation. He presented the legislature with the plan with only three weeks remaining in its session, allowing no time for the kind of intensive public hearings and debate the matter deserves. And under his plan the whole thing would be exempt from state and local environmental review and coastal commission regulations.
The $1.4 billion “forgivable loan” he proposes would go to cover the costs of license renewal at the federal level. There would be additional costs for required seismic upgrades to protect the plant against nearby earthquake faults that the utility certified didn’t exist during the original licensing process 40 years ago. Environmental upgrades also would be required. Once the state is $1.4 billion deep in the operation, it would be no surprise when the utility turns to the state and/or rate payers for more money to cover the rest of the process. Cost over runs in opening the original plant in 1985 are estimated at $5.2 billion. Virtually every other nuclear plant ever built in the U.S. sustained similar over runs.
Nuclear power should have been allowed to die decades ago. It’s dirty, dangerous, and expensive. But the industry has been gasping for life since the mid-1970s, when ballot measures in seven states brought media and legislative scrutiny to the false claims that have been the underpinnings of advocacy.
Now the industry has seized on legitimate concerns about climate change to claim nuclear power generation should be permitted because it emits no greenhouse gases or pollutants.
In announcing an agreement in June 2016 to shut the plant by 2025, PG&E’s CEO said, “I’m sorry to see it (the plant) go because from a national energy policy standpoint we need greenhouse gas-free electricity.”
What is left out is the environmental wreckage of the nuclear fuel cycle. Mining of uranium is a dirty process. Shipping it long distances in fossil fuel driven ships is heavily polluting. Then there’s the diesel driven heavy equipment used to construct plants. And over-arching the whole thing are 1) the still unresolved issue of what to do with the highly radioactive spent fuel rods that are stacking up on-site at nuclear power plants and 2) the question of disposing of the radioactive rubble of a decommissioned plant, some of which must be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years.
S. David Freeman, former general manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, has criticized the continued operation of Diablo Canyon and called nuclear power the “most expensive and dangerous source of energy on Earth.”
The agreement to close Diablo Canyon by 2025 was reached after negotiations between the utility, the state, several environmental groups, and unions representing workers at the plant. PG&E’s application to close Diablo Canyon was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in January 2018 and soon after PG&E withdrew its application before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the operating license.
From uranium mining at the start of the nuclear fuel cycle to disposal of spent fuel rods and the rubble of decommissioned plants, nuclear power is dirty and no solution to climate change. Had the money spent trying to revive or keep the nuclear industry alive the last 50 years gone into research, development and implementation of more benign energy sources, we would be a lot further along in the effort to save the planet. Now is no time to be pouring more resources into the nuclear money pit.
In the years since the agreement to close Diablo Canyon was reached there have been a series of reports and statements from academic and pro-nuclear interests in which they cite the greenhouse gas issue and the potential for rolling black outs if the plant is closed.
But, until Newsom’s recent move, all seemed on track for the plant’s closure as called for in the agreement.
We aren’t going to win the battle against greenhouse gases and climate change by diverting money that should be spent on clean, safe energy and energy efficiency and conservation and using it instead to extend the life of nuclear power plants. PG&E already has committed to replace the power from Diablo Canyon with renewable energy. We should let them do that.