On July 26, 2022, Mothers for Peace notified Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) by letter of its legal jeopardy if it reneges on the 2016 agreement it forged with environmental organizations, labor, and surrounding communities (as well as approved by the state Legislature and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)) to retire the polluting and dangerously earthquake-vulnerable Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant by 2025.
California Governor Newsom’s fear that power outages will stain his reputation and damage his political aspirations cannot be assuaged by reviving the Diablo Canyon reactors. They will be available until 2024 and 2025 regardless. After that, their replacement will, as the state recognized in approving the settlement, improve both reliability and California’s emission challenges when compared to continued operation.
Despite having provided no proof that Diablo Canyon is the safest or the most cost-efficient route to a reliable and clean electricity future, the Governor has persuaded a gullible U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to revise the rules allowing PG&E to qualify for a portion of $6 billion through the Civil Nuclear Credit program – part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The money was limited to plants in deregulated markets and shutting down due to economic factors. PG&E is neither. Newsom then persuaded California lawmakers to pass Assembly Bill 205, which will provide millions more California taxpayer dollars to subsidize the plant to keep operating past its license termination date.
Linda Seeley, a spokesperson for Mothers for Peace, said, “Governor Newsom would, in essence, bribe PG&E with billions of dollars from federal and state taxpayers to break its agreement so he can burnish his reputation as the Governor who prevented power outages. Unfortunately, he is trading short-term headlines for a post-2025 future in which California electricity is less secure, less safe, less clean, and more expensive.”
Seeley continued, “Not only is this a false narrative – Diablo has never prevented power outages – but a dangerous one. Of the 92 reactors in the U.S., Diablo, which sits atop multiple earthquake faults, is at the top of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s list as the most likely to experience an earthquake larger than it is designed to withstand, potentially unleashing 3 million pounds of highly radioactive nuclear waste. A few billion dollars won’t be enough to complete the seismic or other upgrades needed to keep Californians safe. We believe PG&E is morally, ethically, and legally obligated to uphold its agreement to shut Diablo down.”
In the letter, MFP warns PG&E that if it breaks the agreement, it will not only put the company on legally thin ice, it will undermine the great work it and the settling parties have done to protect the residents of California and the environment. Closing the plant will:
- greatly reduce the potential for a radiological disaster caused by an earthquake in the faults near the reactors;
- resolve significant environmental concerns about the impacts of Diablo Canyon’s once-through cooling system on the marine environment;
- achieve even greater GHG emissions reductions at a far lower cost than would be achieved by continuing to run Diablo Canyon.
The letter states: “These achievements would be upended at great cost to customers and/or taxpayers if PG&E walked away from the retirement agreement.” Further, the letter asserts that keeping the plant open would draw government resources from renewables and efficiency and discourage private investment in renewables and efficiency.
The letter also warns that should PG&E attempt to revive Diablo Canyon by submitting a new license renewal application to the NRC, MFP will insist that PG&E and the NRC fully comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements to evaluate the costs and benefits of the many alternatives to continued operation of Diablo Canyon.
The letter outlines some critical issues likely to arise in the license renewal proceedings, including seismic studies, continued impact on marine life, cost and benefits of energy alternatives, management of aging equipment, issues with pressure vessel embrittlement, and decommissioning costs.
Diane Curran, Counsel to MFP, said, “In 2016, by deciding to retire the two Diablo Canyon units at their license expiration dates, PG&E resolved the extremely significant earthquake and environmental risks that would have been posed by continued operation of the reactors; and at the same time, it took major steps to ensure a renewable energy future and reduce electric rates to customers. If PG&E now re-submits the license renewal application, it will resurrect those serious safety and environmental issues and even add more problems that have accumulated in the six years since PG&E decided against license renewal. Those issues will have to be addressed before PG&E can be allowed to continue operating. The legal hurdles will be high.”
Curran added, “Plunging California energy supply and policy back into the decades of poisonous stalemate engendered by Diablo Canyon and by past PG&E-inspired controversies is the last thing that the state and PG&E need as they seize the opportunity to move into a safe and less expensive electricity future based on energy efficiency and renewable energy. To abandon the settlement agreement’s achievements would be environmental and economic folly – not just for PG&E, but for California citizens, taxpayers, ratepayers, and for the environment.”
PG&E’s response to Mothers for Peace letter, August 8, 2022