Calfornia's last nuclear power plant standing could get a new lease on life. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he's looking to score some federal cash that the Biden administration set aside last month to keep the country's aging nuclear fleet up and running. That would help keep the carbon-free electricity flowing.
The Biden administration is trying to maintain nuclear reactors at risk of shutting down by offering $6 billion in funding approved last year as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law. Diablo Canyon Power Plant is a prime candidate, and Newsom told the Los Angeles Times editorial board last week that he's looking for a piece of that $6 billion pie to keep it open.
Right now, owner Pacific Gas & Electric is aiming to close it around 2025. The nuclear plant generated nearly 9% of all electricity in the state in 2020. Though its share of electricity generated is smaller than hydropower, wind and solar — all carbon-free forms of energy — the plant still has import in an era where every ton of carbon not dumped in the atmosphere matters.
Newsom said he has a May 19 deadline to draw funds for the plant. "We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option," he said.
Nuclear reactors are great for generating clean electricity, but many are approaching the end of their shelf life. They're also expensive to operate compared to natural gas and renewables. Many utilities across the country have started to close reactors. That's caused carbon emissions in some states to rise as a result. It happened most recently New York, which shuttered its last nuclear plant in 2021.
If Diablo Canyon closes, the plan could be to replace it with coal-fired power imported from Wyoming, which is even worse for the climate than gas. California has stringent climate goals, including reducing greenhouse emissions 40% below 1990 levels by the end of this decade. Keeping Diablo Canyon up and running could help keep that goal within reach.
Newsom said he's been wanting to preserve Diablo since the summer of 2020, when a heat wave forced the state's electric grid to implement blackouts. “Some would say it’s the righteous and right climate decision,” Newsom told the editorial board.
But while preserving existing nuclear power is an important climate buffer, we can only throw money at aging reactors for so long. California — and the world — also needs to double down on wind and solar to avert the worst impacts of climate change.