The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California can continue operating while Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) seeks a license renewal for the 2,300-MW facility that would extend its lifecycle. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on March 2 approved PG&E’s request for an exemption to keep Diablo Canyon open past 2025.
Thursday’s move is a reversal of sorts for the NRC, which in January had denied a request from the utility to renew a review of the operating licenses for the plant’s two reactors.
PG&E has said it will submit a license renewal application by the end of this year. The current NRC operating licenses for the plant’s two units expire in 2024 and 2025, respectively. State officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have called for Diablo Canyon to remain open to help California avoid energy shortages while more renewable energy power generation facilities are built.
The NRC’s decision comes six months after California lawmakers approved legislation aimed at keeping Diablo Canyon running to the end of this decade, or five years past its current scheduled shutdown date. The legislature approved Newsom’s call to lend PG&E as much as $1.4 billion to keep Diablo Canyon operating.
PG&E in 2016 said it would close the nuclear plant in 2025, when the current operating license expires, in part because of concerns about what could happen if an earthquake impacted the site along the coast in San Luis Obispo County. Environmental groups also said Diablo Canyon should be shuttered as part of California’s move to transition its power sector to more renewable resources.
“We are pleased the NRC approved our exemption request,” said Paula Gerfen, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer for PG&E, in a statement. “Aligned with Senate Bill 846, PG&E will continue on the path to extend our operations beyond 2025 to improve statewide electric system reliability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as additional renewable energy and carbon-free resources come online. We are committed to California’s clean energy future, and we are proud of the role DCPP [Diablo Canyon Power Plant] plays as the state’s largest clean energy producer, providing reliable, affordable, carbon-free energy to the people of California.”
Newsom and other state officials, in calling for Diablo Canyon to remain open, cited rolling blackouts in California during heat waves in recent years that have strained the state’s power grid. The nuclear plant is the state’s single-largest power source, generating about 6% of California’s electricity as recently as 2021.
The California Energy Commission earlier this week unanimously voted to adopt a report finding that extending operations at DCPP to at least 2030 would be a responsible move. The analysis was developed in consultation with the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the state’s power grid, and the California Public Utilities Commission. The report, available here, said state electricity forecasts for the years 2024-2030 show “reliability deficiencies” are possible if operations at DCPP—the state’s only operating nuclear power plant—are not extended.
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).