California Legislators Vote To Save Diablo Canyon

California’s legislature, by nearly unanimous votes in both the Assembly and the Senate, agreed with Governor Gavin Newsom, to extend the operating life of Diablo Canyon. This was the result of multiple converging factors, the most important of which was that the closure would have worsened the already fragile state of the California energy grid, maing black-outs far more likely. But, behind this looming awareness were many other factors influencing public opinion and political pressure, which include pronuclear advocacy, scientific concerns about climate change, shifting political winds in the face of Russia’s invastion of Ukraine and leadership from the Biden Administration. There will be many efforts to understand what tipped the political weights in favor of saving Diablo Canyon, and not all will be correct, but the good news for is that rationality prevailed in California, despite concerted anti-nuclear pressures.

Climate change and Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine are looming backdrops to this stunning victory. Yet, most directly, the basis of the success comes down to the fact that Governor Newsom himself became convinced that delaying the closure of Diablo Canyon was both the right thing to do and was politically feasible. It isn’t clear exactly how he arrived at this conclusion but it is certain that his political weight made it happen. What caused the politics to shift? Possibly, Newsom found sufficient political cover and acceptable polling data from the fact that Illinois Governor Pritzker and Michigan Governor Whitmer, both Democrats, took action to protect their nuclear power.

Nevertheless, coming out in favor of extending the life of Diablo Canyon, was enormously risky and difficult for Governor Newsom, as it involved making a 180 degree shift from his prior position of working to ensure that Diablo got closed. Yet, with state policy experts warning that the closure would cause blackouts and likely deaths as a result, Governor Newsom bit the bullet and did the right thing. 

There were a multitude of pronuclear individuals and groups providing support and political cover for this decision. As far back as 2015, Michael Shellenberger and his organizations, The Breakthrough Institute and  Environmental Progress, argued on behalf of nuclear power. Shellenberger split out of TBI, a think tank, in order to engage in more active pronuclear advocacy. He and a group of younger activists organized and held the first pronuclear rally, a three day protest and parade against the closure of Diablo Canyon. From there, numerous groups were formed which contributed advocacy towards the support of nuclear power: Californians for Green Nuclear Power, Generation Atomic, Mothers for Nuclear, Climate Coalition, Rethink Nuclear, Nuclear New York, Protect Nuclear NOW and many others.

Meanwhile, filmmakers Robert Stone and Dave Schumacher produced luscious documentaries that challenged the status quo attitudes about nuclear power. Their films, Pandora’s Promise and The New Fire respectively brought new insights into our understanding of both the facts about nuclear power and the reality about the concerted and often nefarious efforts to besmirch nuclear’s reputation. These films had surprising reach and helped soften widespread knee-jerk antinuclear reactions. Then, the academics from Stanford and MIT played their parts  and issued a report providing evidence that closing Diablo Canyon would cost the state $21 billion.

While, no single person or group can take sole credit for this victory, there was little discernable action until the joining of Isabelle Boemeke to the campaign. Representing the younger generation and signing up to support Diablo Canyon as the first “nuclear influencer,” Isabelle served as the spark to ignite public attention to the support that Diablo Canyon had as our largest source of clean energy, and helped turn the tide in favor of saving it. Under the handle “Isodope,” she adroitly leverage social media tech platforms, including Instagram, TicTok and Twitter, to send highly stylized, informative and compellingly snarky videos to a broad spectrum of followers. She also acted on the momentum garnered by the Stanford/MIT report to organize an in-person rally in San Luis Obispo, complete with support from local politicians and residents. That turned to be very successful and she then parlayed that success to corral scientific experts to weigh in with a direct letter appeal to Governor Newsom.

Finally, with the introduction of the Biden Administration’s Civil Nuclear Credit program and its offer of up to $6 billion in support of saving aging plants, Governor Newsom could no longer afford to ignore the reality that saving Diablo Canyon could help him avoid energy embarrassment and liability from the rash of civil lawsuits that would have followed black-out related deaths.

There are now many articles coming out with their assessments of the factors that enabled this success. None capture the whole picture, which spans much more engagement, work and adroit advocacy in California, across the US and even internationally, that contributed to making ignoring reality of nuclear impossible for Gov. Newsom.

Read the Forbes article, In Big Win For Nuclear, California Legislators Vote To Save Diablo Canyon, by Robert Bryce, September 1, 2022 here.  There are many other articles reporting on this significant achievement but we can’t list them all here.