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Can California Resurrect Its Lone Nuclear Power Plant Because Of Climate Change?


November 10., 2021

by Ken Silverstein

Diablo Canyon Power Plant is an electricity-generating nuclear power plant at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, California. The plant has two pressurized-water nuclear reactors operated by Pacific Gas & Electric. The plant was started in 1968 and completed in 1973 The facility is located on about 750 acres (300 ha) in Avila Beach, California. Together, the twin 1,100 MW reactors produce about 18,000 GW of electricity annually, supplying the electrical needs of more than 2.2 million people. Diablo Canyon is designed to withstand a 7.5 magnitude earthquake from four faults, including the nearby San Andreas and Hosgri faults. Equipped with advanced seismic monitoring and safety systems, the plant is designed to shut down promptly in the event of significant ground motion. (Photo by Gerald L French/Corbis via Getty Images)

Some Californians and powerful scholars are trying to resurrect nuclear energy in the state from the dead. They want PG&E Corp. to keep its Diablo Canyon plant in operation past its planned closure for 2025. The reason: California cannot meet its climate change obligations without it.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University have raised new questions. In their just-released study [performed with LucidCatalyst], they conclude that extending Diablo Canyon through 2045 would save $21 billion — a number that would be compounded if the plant could be also used to produce hydrogen and desalinated water. If the plant stayed operational from 2025 to 2035, they say that CO2 levels would drop by 10% a year and displace natural gas use, saving customers $2.6 billion.

“We are seeing that current nuclear plants are under threat because of business models,” says Arjun Majumdar, with Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy and a former under-secretary at the Department of Energy during President Obama’s tenure, at a news conference. “It is difficult to sustain nuclear. But in the broader business context, it can be used to produce hydrogen at $2 a kilogram and to address fresh-water needs. The sunk costs are already there.”


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Justin Aborn, a Senior Consultant at LucidCatalyst, LLC, performed the analysis in and wrote Chapters 3 and 4 of the report.

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