California's Last Nuclear Plant Might Remain Online
California’s last remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, sits at the edge of the Pacific Ocean near San Luis Obispo. Scheduled to shut down in 2025, the plant’s closure date now seems less certain than when it was approved in 2018. Diablo Canyon is the state's largest single source of electricity, providing about 9% of California’s energy -- enough to supply more than 3 million people. California is behind its target with the goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045. If Diablo Canyon goes offline, the carbon-free power source would likely be swapped out for gas. An analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that shutting down the plant would cause the state to emit an additional 15.5m metric tons of greenhouse gasses over the next decade.
News Channel 3-12: Local leaders react to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s comments on Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, April 29, 2022.
Stanford ENERGY: Study of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant for zero-carbon electricity, desalination & hydrogen production, November 30, 2021.
Why This Matters
Nuclear power has been cited as a necessity to hit net-zero emissions targets by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which included it in all four of its plans to reduce emissions. The energy source has its drawbacks, including imperfect solutions for nuclear waste disposal. At Diablo Canyon specifically, the plant pumps hot water into the ocean, causing disastrous impacts on marine life.
But for generating zero-carbon energy, the plant remains important. Former US Secretaries of Energy Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that frames Diablo Canyon as a complementary part of California’s growing renewable energy sector. It is part of a system that includes wind and solar, not an either/or situation.”
CNBC: Why Nuclear Energy Is On The Verge Of A Renaissance, June 7, 2022.
Third Way: Why We Need To Save Our Nuclear Power Plants, February 3, 2022.
Energy Live News: COP26 Live |Nuclear power has a role to play in all net zero scenarios, IEA finds, November 8, 2021.
Nuclear In Europe
Two of the EU’s biggest economies are taking different approaches to nuclear energy. Germany may be deferring its long-planned phase-out of nuclear plants after all, but while it plans to keep building out renewables like wind and solar, it's burning more coal now. Meanwhile, France generates about 70% of its power from nuclear energy and has made it a cornerstone of the country’s climate policy. But recent shutdowns because of stress corrosion and increasingly hot days with temperatures too high to cool the reactors have presented challenges.
"If you have power plants that are operating well below capacity, we will either have to go to blackouts or revert to carbon-emitting energy, which is coal or natural gas,” said Thierry Bros, an energy expert and professor at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, to the New York Times.
DW: Is nuclear energy a viable option against climate change?, January 21, 2022.
Tomorrow’s Build: These Mini Nuclear Reactors Can be Built Anywhere, April 26, 2022.
DW: Atom, mon amour - France's faith in nuclear energy, October 19, 2019.
Vox: Why nuclear power plants are shutting down, October 1, 2021.