California’s only nuclear power plant will possibly remain open until the end of the decade after state lawmakers voted in favor of extending its life late on Thursday.
A $1.4bn government loan has been approved for the Diablo Canyon plant near Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo County between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The state had previously decided to shutter the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Corp-operated facility by 2025 but this decision was revisited amid questions of California’s grid reliability.
The new bill, supported by California Governor Gavin Newsom, will extend the plant’s lifespan to 2030. The governor has warned the state faces rolling blackouts if the nuclear plant was taken offline too soon.
Newsom has put California in the spotlight with ambitious clean energy targets and a goal of cutting carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 (below 1990 levels).
2021 was a record-breaking year for clean energy installation in California but administration officials say reliability remains in question as temperatures rise amid the worsening climate impacts.
“I’m not a proponent of the Diablo Canyon power plant. But I am a proponent of keeping the lights on,” said Democratic Assemblymember Chris Holden, reported AP.
Without the plant, nine million Californians are at risk of having their power grid fail, warned Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson.
“If we don’t do this, we’re going to have to explain to our constituents why our foolish decisions have created circumstances in which they are compelled to live in a state in which they can’t use their air conditioner,” he said.
Environmental opponents to Diablo Canyon said that a nuclear plant is not a solution to fill occasional gaps in supplies, such as when solar power dips after the sun sets.
There is also concern about the aging plant’s safety. Diablo Canyon was built in the 1960s and critics say potential shaking from nearby earthquake faults not recognized when the design was first approved — one nearby fault was not discovered until 2008 — could damage equipment and release radiation.
The California senate has voted 31-1 in favor of the bill related to the plant, titled SB846.
The vote would allow PG&E to seek to extend the plant’s life but whether it stays open is not yet guaranteed.
A recent shift in attitudes to nuclear power has emerged in a number of countries as the war in Ukraine continues to limit energy supplies and the reliability of power grids are tested by climate-induced extreme weather, including intense heatwaves.
A dangerous heatwave is building in California with potentially record-breaking temperatures expected over Labor Day weekend.
The grid operator has warned that there is a risk of blackouts as energy use increases, largely for air conditioning. Californians were being asked to conserve power by setting thermostats to 78 degrees, avoiding the use of large appliances, including charging electric vehicles, and turning off unnecessary lights.
Additional reporting AP