A 2021 report out of Stanford and MIT argues that in order for California to meets its 100% carbon-free by 2045 goals, the state should reverse course and delay closing Diablo Canyon for another decade or two. Pro-nuclear energy interests have been increasingly vocal in the past several months suggesting that the planned 2024 wind-down of Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear power plant ought to be reconsidered, and this study has become a central plank in their argument.
As followers, friends and supporters of the World Business Academy might guess, we think this is a terrible idea.
Our basic position on this debate can be surmised quite well by re-reading the Academy’s 2014 position paper, Nuclear Power: Totally Unqualified to Combat Climate Change, but for a very thorough and up to date summary of why keeping Diablo Canyon running beyond its currently planned closure is misguided and fails to adequately address California’s need to rapidly transition to a post-carbon energy economy, we’d like to endorse the position taken by the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board in its December 14, 2021 article, Editorial: No, California shouldn’t extend the life of its last nuclear plant. There are better ways to fight climate change.
The well argued and thorough response to the Stanford/MIT report and its various promoters on the pro-nuclear lobby is well worth reading in full. However, if you’re in a hurry, here are the main takeaways:
- Pacific Gas and Electric, which operates Diablo Canyon, decided not to pursue a renewed operators license in 2016 largely because closing the plant and replacing the power it generates with renewables and storage would be far cheaper than keeping it running.
- Those arguing to keep the plant open seem to ignore or discount how impractical and even risky this would be. Seismic risks, ecological damage due to seawater use for cooling, and what to do with spent fuel are all big problems that remain unsolved in this latest report.
- Seismic retrofitting and other upgrades needed to continue operations would cost an excess of $1 Billion – money that would be better spent on rapid additions of renewable resources and storage, or upgrading aging transmission lines to curb fire dangers.
As the LA Times editorial points out, the Stanford/MIT authors are correct that the Diablo Canyon closure may open the door to increasing carbon emissions in the short-term if the state’s energy regulators are not aggressive enough in adding new carbon-free resources, and again fall back on natural gas plants to pick up the slack.
The answer, however is NOT to re-invest in Diablo Canyon, but to rapidly build more of the far less expensive, far more flexible, scalable, and eminently safer carbon free technologies like solar farms, rooftop solar, wind power, and batteries (and green hydrogen) for storage that are abundantly available and will truly create the grid of the 21st century.