With the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station out of commission (though a debate over who will pay for the plant's decommissioning still rages), environmentalists have set their sights on the state's last remaining active nuclear reactors, located at the Diablo Canyon plant on California's central coast.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth filed a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday, September 30, arguing that the plant would prove too costly to be effective beyond the twin generators' current licensing, set to expire in 2024 and 2025. As with San Onofre during restart talks, concern was raised over new laws calling for the end of "once-through cooling" that could add billions in retrofit costs.
The cost of such upgrades, as in the case of San Onofre, would be shouldered by utility ratepayers rather than shareholders. And studies have shown that those expenses are often higher than the numbers touted by industry.
Originally estimated to cost less than $400 million, by the time the plant went online in 1985 the true costs had soared to over $5.5 billion.
The group also argued that now is the time for the regions served by Diablo Canyon to begin planning for a post-nuclear future, pointing to scrambles in securing alternative energy throughout Southern California following the emergency shutdown of San Onofre. The aftermath of the generators' sudden failure included measures such as re-activating a mothballed natural-gas plant in Huntington Beach that had been scheduled for decommissioning.
Pacific Gas & Electric, the operator of Diablo Canyon, has been pushing since 2009 for licensing extensions allowing them to operate the plant for another 20 years beyond what's currently permitted.
Regardless of the licensing outcome, the issue of long-term nuclear-waste storage along the coast will remain an issue. As with San Onofre and another coastal plant in Humboldt that's been shuttered since 1976, no plan is in place to move spent fuel rods off of nuclear sites, and current plans call for it to remain in place for up to 600 years.
Update: 10/2/14, 10 a.m.
Blair Jones from PG&E had this to say in response:
“Diablo Canyon Power Plant is a safe, reliable and vital energy resource for California. The plant provides low-cost electricity, free of greenhouse gas emissions, for more than three million people and plays a key role in allowing PG&E to deliver some of the cleanest energy in the nation to its customers. Due to its ability to generate zero-emissions electricity 24/7, the plant will continue to play an important role in helping the state to cost-effectively meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals under the Global Warming Solutions Act – AB 32.
“What’s more, PG&E’s nuclear generation has historically been very cost effective as compared to purchased power. Even in recent years, as gas prices have dipped to lower levels, Diablo Canyon has proven to be a very good deal for our customers. In fact, in PG&E’s general rate case decision issued August 2014 (14-08-032) the CPUC found Diablo Canyon’s costs to be just and reasonable and as such authorized ongoing rate recovery for its operations.”