The nuclear power industry suffered another setback in California on Tuesday when PG&E announced that it will close the Diablo Canyon power plant in San Luis Obispo County. It is the second such closure in California in the last three years.
The Diablo Canyon closure was announced as part of a joint proposal between PG&E and a number of stakeholders that include the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 1245, the Coalition of California Utility Employees, Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.
The proposal calls for PG&E to phase out the use of the Diablo Canyon facility in about eight or nine years. The utility will operate the two units on-site to the end of their current Nuclear Regulatory Commission operating licenses, which expire on Nov. 2, 2024 (Unit 1), and Aug. 26, 2025 (Unit 2). It will not seek re-licensing of either unit.
The announcement is a reversal of fortunes for the nuclear industry, which many expected to experience a renaissance of sorts amid the renewable energy boom. In describing the country’s options for generating electricity only a few years ago, President Barack Obama famously stated that all options are on the table. The remark was intended to cast a wide net, encompassing nuclear power and various other technologies along with the growing arsenal of renewable generation.
Despite the president’s optimistic approach to nuclear power, the industry has faced steep challenges. Fears rose after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011. Two years later, the San Onofre plant in San Diego County was closed. Lingering concerns about a fault line that had been discovered under Diablo Canyon may have sealed its fate long ago.
In announcing the closure, PG&E put its decision in positive and realistic terms. The company said that “underpinning the agreement is the recognition that California's new energy policies will significantly reduce the need for Diablo Canyon's electricity output.”
The utility’s Chairman, CEO and President Tony Earley added that the energy landscape of California “is changing dramatically” as energy efficiency, renewables and storage assume a more central role. He added that nuclear power is essential to making the transition to this new energy landscape, but ultimately, “full generation from Diablo Canyon will no longer be required.”