Fate of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Site In Play

The Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel (DCDEP) on Jan. 8 released its recommendations for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and surrounding lands after the plant ceases operations in 2025.

The panel—created to foster open and transparent dialogue between members of the local community and the plant’s owner Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E)—suggested a goal of completing radiological decommissioning and decontamination within 10 years, avoiding the Nuclear Regulatory Commission-approved method known as SAFSTOR, which allows up to a 60-year delay in decontamination. It also said “the health and safety of the community and the environmental quality of the area should be the primary consideration when evaluating cost-effective methods of decommissioning in order to save ratepayers money.”

PG&E announced on June 21, 2016, that it would retire the Diablo Canyon plant by 2025 and replace power produced by the facility’s two units—which together have an installed capacity of 2.3 GW—with renewables, energy efficiency, and energy storage. Last January, the California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to accept PG&E’s request to decommission the two reactors at the plant near Avila Beach when operating licenses for the units expire in November 2024 and August 2025, respectively. On Sept. 19, 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1090 to protect the environment, workers, and local communities during the closure of Diablo Canyon—California’s last nuclear plant. The law mandates full funding of a $350 million employee retention program and an $85 million community impact mitigation program.

PG&E has been under scrutiny recently due to revelations that a faulty transmission tower may have sparked the Camp Fire wildfire, which killed 86 people—more than any other in state history. The company’s stock has plummeted on the news, from a high of more than $71/share in September 2017 to less than $16/share recently. Patrick Hogan, PG&E’s top executive overseeing the utility’s electric division, announced on January 8 that he would retire by the end of the month amid the mounting turmoil.

Nonetheless, no changes have been announced in the company’s plan to decommission the Diablo Canyon plant. The facility includes about 12,000 acres of prime real estate along the California coast, of which about 12 acres form the power-producing portion of the plant. The DCDEP noted that the land is “a spectacular natural resource” and needs to be “conserved in perpetuity while allowing for managed public access and use.”

The panel suggested “repurposing of facilities should be explored as a way to both reduce the amount of demolition materials created and create opportunities for new local jobs and economic development while considering public safety, traffic concerns and the environmental quality of the region.”

PG&E, for its part, has committed to continue supporting the DCDEP throughout the decommissioning process in order to share information with the public and understand the public’s concerns and preferences. Public meetings are scheduled on March 13, 2019, to discuss spent fuel storage; June 12, 2019, to review the panel’s role, function, and structure; Sept. 18, 2019, to discuss economic impacts of decommissioning; and Nov. 3, 2019, to examine transportation. Meetings are held at the San Luis Obispo County Government Center, 1055 Monterey Street, San Luis Obispo, California, with a poster session starting at 6 p.m. local time and the public meeting running from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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