CPUC Greenlights Risky and Unneeded Extension of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant Operation
In a rash decision, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted to extend the operation of the 2,200 MW Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant (DCPP) well beyond its slated closure dates in 2024 (Unit 1) and 2025 (Unit 2).
The decision drew condemnation from San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (MFP) for effectively jettisoning the State’s successful transition to a renewable energy economy in favor of propping up the two dangerous reactors that have put California at risk for decades.
Linda Seeley, spokesperson for MFP, lamented the CPUC’s about-face, noting that only five years ago, the CPUC approved DCPP’s on-time retirement in favor of a transition to a renewable energy economy.
Since then, the State has witnessed remarkable growth in renewable energy and battery storage. “We are dismayed that suddenly, without justification, the CPUC has abandoned that transition to renewables and thrust us back into the dark ages of dependence on a dirty and dangerous nuclear plant atop a web of earthquake faults,” Seeley said.
In a press conference, MFP presented a briefing paper summarizing their experts’ year-long investigation into whether there could be any justification for continuing to operate DCPP past the reactors’ retirement dates in 2024 and 2025.
Addressing the need for Diablo Canyon, energy expert Rao Konidena underscored that California possesses ample power, including storage, without DCPP’s 2,200 MW, even during extreme heat events.
Citing data from the both the CPUC and the California Energy Commission, Konidena said, “Both agencies have shown that the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) now has more than 8,500 MW of energy storage capacity (with more being added each year), plus up to 5,000 MW of demand response – which is more than sufficient to ensure grid reliability during summer blackouts.”
Konidena added, “It is inexplicable why the CPUC does not acknowledge the significant growth in renewables and the significant quantity of available demand response from the Joint Agencies Fourth Quarterly report. As a result, the CPUC is arbitrarily choosing to rely on smaller estimates to make its decision today.”
Dr. Digby Macdonald, Professor In Residence in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley, expressed grave concern over PG&E’s failure to conduct regular inspections of the Unit 1 pressure vessel, which holds water on the reactor core. Dr. Macdonald said, “If the reactor vessel becomes too embrittled, it can shatter if water is poured into it during a loss of coolant accident.”
The most recent test of the pressure vessel’s condition, performed 20 years ago, indicated that the vessel could become dangerously embrittled by this time.
Further, Dr. Macdonald disputed assertions by PG&E that the data from the original reactor specific surveillance program were unreliable or that further testing could be postponed until 2025. “The decision that should be made now is to close Unit 1 until its safety can be evaluated,” he warned. “Extending the operation of the reactor without such a demonstration is irresponsible.”
Professor Macdonald explains, “Should there be a major accident with a radioactive release at Diablo Canyon, it would not only cause grievous damage to public health and the environment, but hundreds of thousands of people may face catastrophic losses due to plunging property and other asset values.”
Sabrina Venskus and Diane Curran, attorneys for MFP, said that MFP had presented the CPUC with an array of expert analyses showing that extended operation is unnecessary, too costly, and too risky given the plant’s aging condition and its proximity to a web of earthquake faults. “The CPUC ignored our compelling evidence that continued operation of DCPP is unjustified and unsafe,” said attorney Venskus.
Attorney Curran noted that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is similarly ignoring the safety risks posed by continued operation of DCPP. “The CPUC and the NRC have thrown back on California citizens the responsibility to protect themselves from unreasonable costs, safety risks and environmental threats,” she said.