An Assessment of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant

A team of remarkable energy experts from MIT and Stanford University, using no fossil fuel funding, conducted an assessment of Diablo Canyon to look at the question of whether or not Diablo could benefit California’s efforts to decarbonize 100% by 2045.

Diablo Canyon currently provides 8% of California’s in-state electricity production and 15% of its carbon-free electricity production. In January 2018, however, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a multiparty settlement to fully and permanently shut down the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant when the current federal license period for the plant’s second unit expires in 2025.

The study’s key findings are:

  •  Delaying the retirement of Diablo Canyon to 2035 would reduce California power sector carbon emissions by more than 10% from 2017 levels and reduce reliance on gas, save $2.6 Billion in power system costs, and bolster system reliability to mitigate brownouts; if operated to 2045 and beyond, Diablo Canyon could save up to $21 Billion in power system costs and spare 90,000 acres of land from use for energy production, while meeting coastal protection requirements.

  • Using Diablo Canyon as a power source for desalination could substantially augment fresh water supplies to the state as a whole and to critically overdrafted basins regions such as the Central Valley, producing fresh water volumes equal to or substantially exceeding those of the proposed Delta Conveyance Project—but at significantly lower investment cost.

  • A hydrogen plant connected to Diablo Canyon could produce clean hydrogen to meet growing demand for zero-carbon fuels, at a cost up to 50% less than hydrogen produced from solar and wind power, with a much smaller land footprint.

  • Operating Diablo Canyon as a polygeneration facility—with coordinated and varying production of electricity, desalinated water, and clean hydrogen—could provide multiple services to California, including grid reliability as needed, and further increase the value of the Diablo Canyon electricity plant by nearly 50% (and more, if water prices were to substantially increase under conditions of worsening drought).

On November 8th, the research team held an hour-long webinar to discuss their findings, together with former Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu and Arun Majumdar, founder of the DOE’s ARPA-e program and a Professor at Stanford University. You can access a recording of that session (once it is available) from Stanford Energy here. Similarly, the event was also hosted on MIT’s Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems (CANES) website here. Additionally, MIT News published a Q&A that it conducted with several of the research authors, which conversation can be found here.

Click here to download the report from the Stanford University website, Assessment of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant for Zero-Carbon Electricity, Desalination, and Hydrogen Production, by Justin Aborn, Ejeong Baik, Sally Benson, Andrew Bouma, Jacopo Buongiorno, John Lienhard, John Parsons, and Quantum Wei, publicly released November 8, 2021.