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Lawmakers in California have until 31 August - when the current legislative session ends - to vote on a proposed bill that would extend operations at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The American Nuclear Society has written to state legislators urging quick passage of the bipartisan legislation.

Diablo Canyon (US Nuclear Regulatory Commission/PG&E)

Senate Bill 846 - co-authored by Senator Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham - would invalidate the California Public Utilities Commission's (CPUC) 2018 approval of Pacific Gas and Electric Company's (PG&E) proposal to retire Diablo Canyon unit 1 in 2024 and unit 2 in 2025, to keep open the option of continued operations for up to an additional five years beyond 2025. It also includes a USD1.4 billion loan to PG&E.

Continued operation of Diablo Canyon "may be necessary to improve statewide energy system reliability and to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases while additional renewable energy and zero-carbon resources come online, until those new renewable energy and zero-carbon resources are adequate to meet demand," the proposed bill says. Seeking to extend the plant's operations for a renewed licence term would be prudent, cost effective, and in the best interests of electricity customers, it notes, but anticipates that this "stopgap measure" will not be needed for more than five years beyond the current expiration dates.

Earlier this month, California Governor Gavin Newsom also proposed continued operation of California's only remaining nuclear power plant to help meet energy system reliability and climate goals. Newsom's proposal to extend the plant's operating lifetime by up to ten years also included included a loan of USD1.4 billion.

Quick passage

ANS President Steven Arndt and CEO and Executive Director Craig Piercy have written to members of the California State Legislature to urge a quick passage of the bill, which they say must take place before 31 August if PG&E is to meet the US Department of Energy's 6 September deadline to apply for federal loans towards the costs of relicensing the units.
"The premature shutdown of Diablo Canyon units 1 and 2, slated respectively in November 2024 and August 2025, would inflict grave harm to California's economy, environment, and power grid," they said in their letter, dated 29 August.
"California will need Diablo Canyon and every other clean energy resource it has to meet its electric reliability, environmental, and climate goals. The state cannot afford to limit its decarbonisation strategy to solar, wind, geothermal and battery technologies," they said, adding that a clean, affordable, and reliable grid requires "a strong backbone of always-on and available baseload generation like Diablo Canyon". Continued drought has sustained "dramatic drops" in the productivity of California's hydroelectric power which is 48% below normal, they said: "If the planned closure goes ahead, most of Diablo Canyon’s carbon-free electricity would be replaced by carbon-emitting natural gas- and coal-fired generation from out of state."

The two-unit nuclear power plant represents about 17% of California's greenhouse-gas-free electricity supply and supplies nearly 9% of the state's total electricity, according to the ANS.

PG&E in 2016 announced its plans retire Diablo Canyon, putting forward a joint proposal with labour and leading environmental organisations for the plant's closure which was subsequently approved by the CPUC. Diablo Canyon's two pressurised water reactors have been California's only remaining nuclear capacity in following the premature retirement in 2013 of units 2 and 3 at Southern California Edison's San Onofre plant.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Wednesday, 31 August 2022
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