The Department of Energy has extended a $1.1 billion lifeline to California’s beleaguered Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Diablo Canyon has become a major flashpoint on what types of energy are considered “clean” and the risks policymakers are willing to take to meet their climate goals.
The $1.1 billion in funding announced yesterday comes from a $6 billion civilian nuclear credit program made possible by the bipartisan Infrastructure Law Congress passed last year. Diablo Canyon is the first plant to receive credits from the program, which aims to extend the life of reactors threatened with closure.
Diablo Canyon is the first award-winning power plant
Diablo Canyon’s two nuclear reactors were to be decommissioned one by one in 2024 and 2025, when their operating licenses expire. They would have joined the 13 commercial reactors that shut down in the United States over the past decade or so as nuclear power struggled to compete with cheap solar, wind and gas prices. PG&E, the utility that operates Diablo Canyon, reached an agreement in 2016 with environmental groups to shut down the plant in favor of developing more renewable energy.
But Diablo Canyon still supplies California with about 15% of its energy without carbon dioxide pollution. Nuclear energy accounts for 50% of the carbon-free electricity in the United States. And as the state and country accelerate plans to run the grid with 100% clean energy, President Joe Biden and California Governor Gavin Newsom are reluctant to drop nuclear power plants. The Biden administration, in particular, has made nuclear power an important part of its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
The $1.1 billion DOE grant to Diablo Canyon comes on top of a $1.4 billion loan PG&E secured from the state when Newsom signed a bill in September allowing the plant to remain open until 2030. Newsom signed the bill due to a severe heat wave. down on the state, stressing the grid enough to almost trigger blackouts. The threat has helped make the case for the plant’s supporters, who see nuclear power as a crucial energy source that can help the United States meet its climate goals by replacing renewables when bad weather stifles climate change. solar and wind power generation.
As the state and country accelerate plans to run the grid with 100% clean energy, President Joe Biden and California Governor Gavin Newsom are reluctant to drop nuclear power plants.
Nevertheless, Diablo Canyon faces opposition. The United States still hasn’t found where it can safely and permanently store its nuclear waste, despite the Biden administration’s efforts to bolster the nation’s nuclear infrastructure. Some residents are concerned about the plant’s safety during earthquakes, given its location near seismic fault lines.
The yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini tribe also demanded that the state return the land where the nuclear power plant is currently located. The tribe wants these lands back no matter what happens to the power plant.
To stay online, Diablo Canyon still needs to renew its licenses with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The DOE grant is conditional; funding would be phased in over several years based on the actual costs incurred by the plant.
Since Diablo Canyon has become the poster child for the larger debate around nuclear power, whatever happens, there could be a sign of what’s to come for other aging nuclear power plants across the country. The DOE is already preparing for its next round of funding for reactors at risk of shutting down.