“We are not in a position in the near-term future to go to 100% renewable energy,” said Chu, who was not one of the report’s authors. “We will need some power that we can turn on and dispatch at will, and that leaves two choices: fossil fuel or nuclear.”
PG&E Corp. reached an agreement with environmental groups in 2016 to shutter the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant when its operating licenses expire, saying the plant’s energy would no longer be needed as cheap renewable power flooded onto the state’s grid. Since then, however, California’s energy supply has grown strained, with the state veering close to blackouts during heat waves.
Researchers from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in the study released Monday that keeping Diablo Canyon open through 2035 would cut greenhouse-gas emissions from California’s power sector 10% each year, by reducing the amount of electricity needed from natural-gas plants. It would also save $2.6 billion for utility ratepayers. Keep Diablo Canyon open until 2045, and the savings would grow to $21 billion, they said. The report’s authors also examined using the coastal power plant’s electricity to produce hydrogen or desalinate sea water.
Keeping Diablo open would require a license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well as the approval of California regulators — not to mention a change of heart from PG&E. A company representative noted the plan to close the plant had already been approved by California officials.
“The state has made clear its position on nuclear energy,” PG&E spokeswoman Suzanne Hosn said in an email. “Our focus therefore remains on safely and reliably operating the plant until the end of its NRC licenses.”
Chu called PG&E’s decision to close the plant “distressing.” The plant, which is nearly surrounded by fault lines discovered after construction began, faced decades of opposition, which swelled again after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. But Diablo Canyon also won the support of some environmentalists convinced it was needed to fight global warming.
“Nuclear power is something we should reconsider, and we should ask PG&E to reconsider,” Chu said.