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Biden gives PG&E $1 billion to keep Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open

The case for nuclear energy as a local weather answer obtained an enormous increase Monday when the Biden administration introduced it’s giving Pacific Gas & Electric Co. a $1.1-billion grant to assist the company keep working California’s final nuclear plant.

The Diablo Canyon plant is at the moment scheduled to shut down in two phases, with the primary reactor going offline in 2024 and the second in 2025. But Gov. Gavin Newsom has led a spirited push to keep the reactors buzzing one other 5 years, saying they’re badly wanted to assist the Golden State grapple with energy shortages and worsening warmth waves.

The federal money doesn’t assure Diablo Canyon will keep open longer. But it’s wanting more and more doubtless California will depend on the plant for a minimum of a couple of extra years — regardless of a long time of antinuclear activism and continued public issues about what would occur if an earthquake erupts alongside one of many seismic fault strains close to the power.

PG&E Chief Executive Patti Poppe famous that Diablo Canyon equipped greater than 8% of California’s electrical energy final year — and 17% of the state’s climate-friendly, carbon-free electrical energy. She additionally mentioned the plant has a strong safety record.

“It is a good choice for the state of California — and for frankly the planet — that a well-performing plant like Diablo Canyon could continue to serve,” Poppe mentioned in an interview.

The $1.1 billion in federal money comes from the infrastructure legislation handed by Congress and signed by President Biden final year. It ought to permit PG&E to pay again many of the $1.4-billion mortgage for Diablo that state lawmakers authorized at Newsom’s urging.

That state money is slated to assist PG&E cover the prices of relicensing on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in addition to upkeep, gas purchases and extra on-site storage for radioactive waste wanted to keep the plant operating previous 2025.

Final phrases of the federal grant nonetheless want to be negotiated with PG&E. Officials on the U.S. Department of Energy say the money can be distributed over 4 years, from 2023 via 2026. It’s designed to cover PG&E’s projected losses from conserving Diablo Canyon open longer, so if the company’s working prices are available in decrease than anticipated — or its power-sales revenues are larger than anticipated — it gained’t get fairly as a lot federal money.

If the plant fails to safe its federal license renewal — or any of the state permits it wants to keep working — the funding spigot can be shut off.

“This is a critical step toward ensuring that our domestic nuclear fleet will continue providing reliable and affordable power to Americans as the nation’s largest source of clean electricity,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm mentioned in a written assertion.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks on the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant in San Diego County, flanked by Edison International CEO Pedro Pizarro, left, and Rep. Mike Levin.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The way forward for nuclear energy has turn into one in every of America’s most contentious vitality debates because the local weather disaster worsens.

Nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island stoked deep public fears about meltdowns and radioactive fallout, with the 2011 disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant hardening these sentiments for a lot of.

But worsening wildfires, warmth waves, droughts and different local weather extremes linked to the burning of fossil fuels — and rising consciousness that nuclear vegetation at the moment produce half the nation’s carbon-free electrical energy — have led some to reevaluate the deserves of amenities like Diablo.

A latest UC Berkeley ballot co-sponsored by The Times discovered that 44% of California voters assist constructing extra nuclear reactors within the state, with 37% opposed and 19% undecided — a major change from sentiment within the Eighties and Nineties.

The ballot additionally discovered that 39% of voters oppose shutting down Diablo Canyon, 33% assist closure and 28% are not sure.

“I’m just happy that the tides have shifted,” Poppe mentioned.

The governor capitalized on these shifting tides, cajoling state lawmakers into approving a $1.4-billion mortgage designed to keep Diablo operating via 2030. The vote got here throughout an intense warmth wave, which noticed state officers beg Californians to use much less energy through the sizzling night hours — when photo voltaic panels and wind generators cease producing — for a file 10 straight days.

The state managed to keep away from rolling blackouts. But it was much less fortunate two years earlier when a couple of hundred thousand houses and companies lost energy briefly over two evenings throughout a brutal warmth wave. There was one other shut name in 2021, when a wildfire quickly knocked out a number of key energy strains that convey hydropower from the Pacific Northwest to California.

Continuing to function Diablo Canyon is essential for conserving the lights on whereas combating local weather change, supporters say.

“Some would say it’s the righteous and right climate decision,” Newsom informed The Times’ editorial board earlier this year.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signs an executive order on the hood of an electric vehicle.

Gov. Gavin Newsom indicators an govt order — on the hood of an electrical car — requiring all new passenger automobiles offered in California to be zero-emission by 2035.

(Associated Press)

The U.S. had 93 operating nuclear reactors final year, which generated practically one-fifth of the nation’s electrical energy. Those vegetation might go a good distance towards meeting President Biden’s objective of 100% climate-friendly electrical energy by 2035.

But 13 reactors have shut down since 2013, usually due to competitors from lower-cost vitality sources corresponding to photo voltaic, wind and pure gasoline. In some circumstances, nuclear closures have led to extra business for gas-fired energy vegetation, inflicting local weather air pollution to rise.

Atomic vitality supporters say it’s essential to assist energy vegetation that may generate clear electrical energy across the clock — therefore the $6 billion put aside by Congress to rescue economically distressed amenities corresponding to Diablo Canyon.

PG&E was the one company to obtain nuclear rescue {dollars} Monday. At least one company was denied funding. But extra money might stream to ailing nuclear vegetation throughout a second spherical of funding deliberate by the Department of Energy.

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Critics say throwing money at dying nuclear vegetation is silly.

As Newsom lobbied the Legislature to approve the $1.4-billion mortgage to save Diablo, Ralph Cavanagh — a high official on the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council and a key architect of the 2016 deal to shut down the nuclear plant — slammed the governor for supporting what he described as “sweeping exemptions” to bedrock environmental legal guidelines and for failing to research whether or not there have been higher, cheaper methods for the state to keep electrical energy flowing reliably.

Rapid progress in lithium-ion batteries, as an illustration, performed a key role in avoiding one other spherical of rolling blackouts this summer season. Greater funding for batteries, vitality effectivity and “demand response” — paying folks to use much less electrical energy when the ability grid is most careworn — might negate the necessity for continued reliance on nuclear energy, some consultants and activists say.

“When a state is looking for resources to ensure system reliability under extreme conditions that arise only during a small fraction of the total hours in a year, the last thing it wants is a power plant designed to operate continuously year-round, without any built-in capacity to shift much or all of its generation up or down in a matter of minutes,” Cavanagh wrote.

Other consultants and activists disagree. Dozens of scientists and lecturers urged Newsom to keep the Diablo reactors spinning, as did former U.S. Energy secretaries Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz, each of whom served below President Obama.

The potential for catastrophic meltdowns — nevertheless distant — isn’t the one concern animating antinuclear activists. The federal authorities has failed to build a everlasting storage facility for spent nuclear gas, that means radioactive waste canisters are piling up at energy vegetation throughout the nation — together with the shuttered San Onofre plant in San Diego County.

How do the dangers and harms of nuclear energy evaluate with fossil fuels? To Poppe, the answer is evident.

“Given the significant impacts of climate change right here in California that we experience with the extreme weather, of course we would want to be able to provide the cleanest energy that is most reliable for the people of California,” she mentioned.

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