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Opinion: Closing California’s last nuclear power plant would be a mistake

Washington Post

By Editorial Board

November 16, 2021

The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant stands in Avila Beach, Calif. on March 30. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

In 2018, California’s leaders decided to close the state’s last nuclear power plant, at Diablo Canyon, by 2025. Several months later, they approved a bill obligating the state to be carbon-neutral by 2045. These acts of feel-good environmentalism were, in fact, contradictory. If the state is serious about achieving carbon neutrality over the next few decades — and it should be — it cannot start by shutting down a source of emissions-free energy that accounts for nearly 10 percent of its in-state electricity production.

A new report from experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University [and LucidCatalyst] has made that point clearly: Closing down Diablo Canyon would be the definition of climate incoherence. With only a few years left on the plant’s license, California should reverse course. Indeed, political leaders across the country should be trying to keep existing nuclear plants open for as long as possible, not closing them prematurely.

The MIT and Stanford analysts point out that, as renewables play an increasingly large role feeding the electricity grid, “always on” sources of electricity will become more valuable. For the moment, the only viable “baseload” options are natural gas, a fossil fuel from which California already derives nearly half the electricity it generates, or nuclear, which is carbon-free. The report finds that without Diablo Canyon, the state’s electricity shortage would have been three times as severe during last year’s massive blackouts.

The experts project that keeping Diablo Canyon open just one more decade would cut California’s power-sector emissions by more than 10 percent, because it would burn far less gas, and save the state $2.6 billion in power system costs. Extending the life to 2045 would save up to $21 billion and drastically cut the amount of land the state would need to produce electricity.


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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