California · Energy

In last-minute push, Coastal lawmakers seek to save Diablo Canyon, nuclear power

A bill that would keep California’s last nuclear plant open as the state transitions from fossil fuels was finally introduced late Sunday in Sacramento and now faces a difficult path to passage, as Governor Gavin Newsom tries to rally support before the current legislative session ends on Aug. 31. 

The bill, tendered by Asm. Jordan Cunningham (R–San Luis Obispo) and Bill Dodd (D-Napa), would extend the plant’s operations by at least five years – to 2030 – delay Diablo Canyon’s compliance with some environmental regulations and give PG&E a $1.4 billion loan to help run it, a payout the state could later forgive.

Newsom, a Democrat and widely believed to be considering a presidential run, has talked since April about keeping PG&E Corp.’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant running past its planned closure in 2025. Its steady output, he argued, will be needed to prevent blackouts as more gas-burning power plants close and renewable facilities are built to replace them. 

But Newsom waited until the legislative session’s final days to put his proposal in writing, angering Democrats who were already reluctant to grant Diablo Canyon a reprieve.

PG&E struck an agreement in 2016 with the state, labor unions and environmental groups to retire the reactors at Diablo Canyon when their federal operating licenses expire. The decision came in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan that was triggered by an earthquake and tsunami, raising new concerns about the safety of nuclear power. 

A number of environmental groups have called for the state to stick to its decision to retire the plant. Critics say extending the life of Diablo Canyon wouldn’t be safe without expensive seismic and environmental upgrades. At the same time, a group of scientists and energy officials — including two former secretaries of the US Department of Energy — advocated to keep the plant open. 

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Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.