PG&E files extension to keep Diablo Canyon operational
Pacific Gas & Electric has officially filed its relicensing application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend operation at the Diablo Canyon power plant for another 20 years.
The multi-year process will not hinder the utility company’s ability to operate the power plant beyond its original decommission date of 2025 as, under federal law, Diablo Canyon will stay open until the NRC has taken final action on PG&E’s application.
Filed on Nov. 7, PG&E submitted the application a year after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 846 into law, which called for the extension of the nuclear power plant through 2030.
PG&E originally planned to shut down the plant’s two reactors in 2024 and 2025, but with the extension, it would begin that process in 2029 and 2030.
“PG&E is committed to answering the state’s call to ensure the continued operation of the facility and safely deliver affordable, reliable and clean energy for California,” PG&E CEO Patti Poppe said in a press release.
“Diablo Canyon is a treasure and tremendous resource for the state, as well as one of the safest operated nuclear power plants in the nation. We are pleased policymakers see the value of DCPP.”
The bill, co-authored by State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, called for the extension of Diablo Canyon’s operations after concerns were raised that the state failed to invest in enough clean electricity to replace the nuclear power plant before its close.
Diablo Canyon, which provides about 9% of the state’s electricity supply, is the state’s largest power plant and producer of clean energy, generating enough carbon-free electricity to meet the needs of three million people, according to PG&E.
Over the next two months, the NRC will first review whether or not PG&E’s application has sufficient information to begin the license renewal process.
A typical NRC license renewal review takes 20-24 months, Brian Harris, the senior safety project manager in the NRC’s division of new and renewed licenses, said in a May meeting regarding the delayed decommissioning of Diablo Canyon.
During that time, there will be “ample opportunities for public feedback and involvement,” PG&E said in a press release.
“Diablo Canyon Power Plant is safely generating clean electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, rain or shine. We have a dedicated workforce that is committed to operating DCPP with integrity and safety at the forefront. We’re all excited for the opportunity to continue serving the state and help power California’s clean energy future,” Diablo Canyon Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Paula Gerfen said in a press release.
Suzanne Hozn, a spokesperson for PG&E, told the Business Times via email that the NRC’s standard process for a license renewal — which includes safety and environmental reviews — contemplates a 20-year renewed license term.
That does not mean the state will keep the power plant open another 20 years, as current legislation only calls to keep Diablo Canyon operational through 2030.
If the state feels it will still need Diablo Canyon past 2030, however, then PG&E would not have to go through the license renewal process again at that time.
But, the state would again need to pass legislation that would allow the plant to stay operational.
As it stands, outlined in SB 846, the power plant would need to comply with California’s water laws if it wanted to stay open past 2030, which mainly focus on the plant’s cooling system operations.
PG&E’s submission also comes after the NRC, in January, denied the utility company’s request to resume the consideration of its application that it first began back in 2009 to keep Diablo operational.
PG&E abandoned that application in 2018 after state lawmakers had decided that it would be shutting down Diablo Canyon by the end of 2025.
In a letter, the NRC denied the request stating that it would “not be effective or efficient” to start the licensing review without up-to-date information on the plant’s condition — a concern shared by many in the community.
Sherry Lewis, a member of anti-nuclear San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, said in a May meeting regarding the plant that the status of Diablo Canyon has been “inadequate.”
“It is not safe now and will be even more unsafe in years to come,” she said.
San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peach, as well as other anti-nuclear organizations, have filed various petitions over the past couple of years with the NRC expressing concerns that the plant should be shut down due to the risk of damaging earthquakes and the possibility of cracking equipment.
PG&E has maintained that it has been in compliance with the NRC’s regulations and is still capable of operating beyond its initial decommissioning date.