The costs of closing nuclear plants during a climate battle

Following the release on Nov. 8, 2021 by Stanford University and MIT experts of an independently funded  assessment of the costs to California of the 2018 decision to prematurely close Diablo Canyon—which was followed only a few months later by the passage of SB 100, “The 100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2018” obligating the state to use “eligible renewable energy resources and zero-carbon resources” to supply 100% of retail sales of electricity in California by 2045—there has been a renewed effort to get the state to reconsider this ill-conceived, wasteful and expensive plan. The following are a listing of some of the published responses that we’ve seen emerge from experts weighing in about this matter.

(Click to see the Report.)

NOV. 10

The Economist: Will the climate crisis force America to reconsider nuclear power? Reaching net-zero targets will be much harder without it.

“The Golden State’s only remaining nuclear plant provides nearly 9% of its electricity generation, and accounts for 15% of its clean-electricity production. Yet despite California’s aggressive climate goals and a national push to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, Diablo Canyon is set to close down by 2025. A new report from researchers at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reveals just how detrimental that would be.

NOV. 11

CalMatters Guest Commentary by Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R) and Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg (D): Keep Diablo Canyon open to help meet emissions reduction goals.

“What if everything California and the nation is doing to slow climate change just isn’t enough?

To reach our zero-carbon goals while maintaining system reliability and avoiding debilitating blackouts, we need a mix of clean energy sources – renewables like solar and wind power. We need aggressive investment in energy storage projects. And we need to revisit whether Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant should continue to operate another 10 years past its scheduled 2025 decommissioning.”

“There is a serious risk that we will not be able meet our emission reduction targets while maintaining grid reliability without Diablo Canyon. Merely replacing the clean power we lose from the plant will require 90,000 acres of development of renewable resources, even as the siting of new renewable energy plants and associated transmission have proven slow to develop and face substantial opposition. Keeping Diablo Canyon online would guard against these risks, and, if additional renewables are brought online, dramatically accelerate carbon reductions.”

NOV. 16

Washington Post Editorial Board Opinion: Closing California’s last nuclear power plant would be a mistake.

“If the state is serious about achieving carbon neutrality over the next few decades — and it should be — it cannot start by shutting down a source of emissions-free energy that accounts for nearly 10 percent of its in-state electricity production.”

NOV. 16

San Luis Obispo Tribune, by Kaytlyn Leslie: There’s a new push to keep Diablo Canyon open. Here are 5 things you need to know.

“According to the study, the benefits of keeping Diablo Canyon open even just 10 years past its closure date in 2025 include:

    • A 10% annual reduction of California’s power sector carbon emission;
    • A reduction in the state’s reliance on natural gas;
    • The potential for new clean energy sources such as hydrogen fuel production;
    • A source of desalinated water in a time of drought, and
    • Helping the state avoid more rolling power outages such as the ones that hit in 2020.
    • Additionally, the power plant would save ratepayers a total of $2.6 billion if kept open another 10 years, and an estimated $21 billion if kept open 20 additional years, researchers said.

NOV. 18

Engineering News-Record, by Mary B. Powers: Delay Close of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant, MIT-Stanford Study Says.

“Scientists and engineers from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claim in a new report that delaying retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., by a decade until 2035 would reduce carbon emissions from state utilities by more than 10% and save $2.6 billion in power costs.

With accelerating effects of climate change, issues facing California “compel a reassessment” of the closure plan, researchers say. The 2,240-MW two-unit plant, which began operating in the mid 1980s, can remain economic for the foreseeable future, they said.

Using it for desalination also could also increase fresh water in the state for a significantly lower cost than other methods, the academics said. Extending the plant operating license to 2045 would reduce the need for 18 GW of solar power to meet state requirements and spare 90,000 acres of land needed for its production, the researchers said. Approval to build desalination and hydrogen production plants would be needed. “

NOV. 21

Los Angeles Times OpEd by Drs. Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz: California needs to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open to meet its climate goals.

“Researchers at MIT and Stanford University . . . found that an inclusive strategy that preserves the clean electricity from Diablo Canyon will augment new energy generation from renewables and other sources of clean power. We need to increase renewables at a massive scale, but that will take decades, so any zero-carbon source we retire today will set us back years on the zero-carbon journey.

Carbon-free power is also essential for system reliability and resilience because, beyond the short-term variability, there are weeks and months when wind and solar power are low and storage technologies are of inadequate duration. This is not an either/or situation: California needs both Diablo Canyon and renewables to significantly reduce emissions over the next two decades.

Revisiting the decision to close Diablo Canyon will involve many stakeholders, including federal regulators needed to permit restart of the license extension process. But that dialogue needs to happen because the stakes are so high.

Reimagining Diablo Canyon’s role in California’s energy future is an opportunity we cannot afford to ignore.”