Nuclear power has a powerful advocate: James Hansen, the grandfather of the climate change movement. His latest move is to step on behalf of Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon, which is set to retire in 2025. He is asking California’s governor to have the public utility commission delay its decision to close the power plant until the state legislature can weigh in.
“There are serious questions about whether this proposal is good for ratepayers, the environment and the climate,” Hansen and other prominent scientists have written to Governor Jerry Brown.
California’s aim of cutting carbon emissions by 80 percent by mid Century won’t be reached if the 17,600 gigawatt hours that the plant cranks are retired. That’s 9 percent of the state’s electric generation and 21 percent of its low-carbon generation. “If Diablo closes it will be replaced mainly by natural gas, and California’s carbon dioxide emissions will rise,” the letter states.
They point to the closure of Southern California Edison’s San Onofre nuclear plant, which was replaced mainly by gas-fired generation. As a result, the scientists say that greenhouse emissions and electricity rates increased. “California’s share of gas-fired generation immediately rose from 45 percent to 61 percent,” which is now destined to increased to 70 percent, they maintain.
“Given the serious harm to the environment, the economy and ratepayer interests that will flow from Diablo’s closure, we are deeply troubled by the lack of democratic process surrounding the Joint Proposal,” the letter states.
The process whereby Diablo Canyon is set to close has been, well, closed, the say. The scientists are complaining that those with the closest ties to the renewable sector — and the most to gain — have had the most influence. That’s why the California Public Utilities Commission needs to hold off before it would give its approval to this idea. These questions thus need an open and transparent discussion involving the people and their elected representatives, the letter says.
Under the agreement that PG&E reached with Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Diablo Canyon plant will shut down by 2025 and the energy will be replaced with renewables and efficiency measures.
In 2009, the utility had applied to extend its 40-year operational license but then took it off the table after the 2011 nuclear accident in Japan. The thinking had been that PG&E would have its application ready for both state and federal review in 2017, long before the scheduled 2025 expiration — one that would give 20 more years of it life to Diablo Canyon.
The environmental groups pushing for closure say that Diablo Canyon sits on a cliff and near an earthquake fault. At the same time, some state regulators there have said that the plant may need to modify its cooling system at a cost of up to $12 billion — to a newer one that would do less damage to the fish population.
“All wind energy in California only produced 12 billion kWhs in 2015, much less than Diablo Canyon,” writes Jim Conca, at Forbes. “The two Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors would produce almost 18 billion kWhs every year for the next 25 years if not prematurely closed for political reasons.
“California would have little hope of achieving its emissions goals by 2030,” he adds. Those goals are 40 percent less carbon by 2030 from 1990 levels.