Twin reactors along California’s Central Coast were nearing completion, and thousands gathered to protest. It was 1979, just a few months after a partial nuclear meltdown in Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, and a young Jerry Brown, who completed his first term as California Governor, declared a “standing ovation” not on Diablo Canyon. Earned.
Four decades later, Pacific Gas & Electric is finally preparing to shut down the nuclear power plant. It sits near many seismic fault lines and has long led to fears that an earthquake-driven meltdown could spread lethal radiation across the state.
But if Diablo Canyon is a devil, then Californians know what happens when the devil they do not know is closed.
The plant is California’s largest power source, generating about 6% of the state’s electricity in 2019. This energy is emission-free, meaning that it does not produce planet-warming greenhouse gases or lung-stained air pollutants.
And unlike solar panels and wind turbines, the Diablo Canyon can make twenty-four hours of electricity regardless of the weather – a key feature for a state that suffered a brief rolling blackout last summer.
But with only three years until the plant begins to close, California has no plans to directly replace it.
This is despite a state law, heavily approved by the Legislature and signed by Brown, ordering regulators to “avoid any increase in greenhouse gases emissions” as a result of Diablo’s closure. .
Pollution boom after nuclear shutdown is common as fossil fuel power plants tend to fire more often.
California’s planet-warming emissions increased 2% after the San Onofre generating station malfunction in San Diego County, eventually leading to its permanent closure. This was not the only reason for increasing emissions, but it was almost certainly a factor.
Similarly, New York State’s share of electricity coming from natural gas, a fossil fuel, rose 4 percentage points last year after the closure of one of the two reactors at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant. The second reactor produced its last electrons last month.
It does not have to be that way, and Diablo Canyon was considered a model for how to retire a nuclear plant without worsening the climate crisis. But critics say Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Public Utilities Commission is failing in that mission.
Energy analyst Mark Specht of the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “Diablo’s retirement will increase greenhouse gas emissions. And his plan is doing nothing to stop it.” “We should have figured it out by now.”
The future of nuclear power is an important question not only for California, but nationally. There are 94 nuclear reactors in 28 US states. They generate one-fifth of the country’s electricity – as are all other climate-friendly power sources combined.
It would be much easier to meet President Biden’s ambitious 100% clean energy goal by 2035, a decade ahead of California’s current goal if those plants continue to operate. But many may be forced to close in the coming years, as their operators struggle to compete with increasingly cheaper electricity from natural gas plants as well as solar and wind farms.
Should the government jumpstart an economic lifeline for those nuclear reactors? Both sides of the debate have enthusiastic supporters.
One of the most well-known pro-nuclear figures is Michael Schellenberger, who ran for California governor in 2018 and recently cried “climate alarmism” and appeared on Fox News.
Other nuclear proponents include eminent climate scientist James Hansen, who warned Congress in 1988 that the “greenhouse effect is here,” as well as Bill Gates, who has invested in the hope of next-generation nuclear technologies.
On the other hand there are old-school environmentalists of the size of the Chernobyl disaster and the cancer causing the spread of it, as well as young activists who remember the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown and another dangerous fuel to throw uranium onto a pile of scrap. I see Coal, Oil and Gas.
The Sierra Club says it “clearly opposes nuclear power.” Food and Water Watch called nuclear a “false solution” that is not necessary for the transition away from fossil fuels.
Groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council have come a middle way, opposing the construction of new reactors, while sometimes supporting policies that promote existing plants, at least in places with relatively low safety risks. In.
The Biden administration also wants to see existing plants operating. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told Congress this month that the administration is “eager” to work with MPs on subsidies for economically struggling reactors.