GOP representatives demand special treatment for California nuclear plant

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Environmental activists have long warned Diablo Canyon is on seismic fault lines.

Rep. Devin Nunes and the other 10 House Republicans from California have filed a bill aiming to force their state to keep open a controversial nuclear power plant.

The bill — dubbed the Clean Energy Protection Act and filed Friday — would require California and the federal government to issue permits to keep the state's only remaining nuclear power plant in operation.

"In short, the bill will stop California from shutting down a crucial source of reliable, clean baseload energy," Nunes said in his press release.

Such a move would undermine the state's rules for nuclear energy cooling, which protect marine life killed by the process.

"Diablo Canyon’s twin four-loop pressurized-water nuclear reactors have operated since 1985 without incident, capable of withstanding strong earthquakes," Nunes added in a Thursday op-ed. "Nevertheless, California agencies blocked a license extension application by PG&E, Diablo Canyon’s owner and operator, forcing the firm to phase out Diablo Canyon by 2025."

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, that's not quite true.

"Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) decided to shut down Diablo Canyon mainly for economic reasons," explained the group's senior energy analyst Mark Specht in a February blog post.

"The nuclear plant uses ocean water to cool its reactors, and the cooling technology is so destructive to ocean ecosystem that the technology is being completely phased out of power plants in California," he noted. "PG&E was faced with a choice: spend a massive amount of money to upgrade the cooling technology at Diablo Canyon or shut down the plant entirely. In the end, PG&E determined the upgrades wouldn’t be worth it, and they decided to shutter the plant."

He also cited a 2013 report by his organization warning that, given its proximity to multiple earthquake fault lines, the facility was "literally and figuratively on shaky ground."

"Questions about the plant's ability to withstand earthquakes have been around since the reactors began operating in the 1980s," that report said, but in 2008 "a new fault line was discovered 2,000 feet from the reactors—and only 985 feet from the plant's intake structure."

Friends of the Earth reported in 2018 that a state law, signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, would implement their deal with PG&E to phase out the plant. The company agreed in 2016 "to shut down the two Diablo Canyon reactors and replace them with renewable energy, efficiency and energy storage."

The group noted in its announcement release, "The tremendous and unnecessary risk these reactors pose to public health and the environment necessitates that they be shut down."

Though the company agreed to replace the plant with clean energy, the Union of Concerned Scientists' warned earlier this year that not enough is being done in the state to offset the plant's closure.

"State law requires the replacement of Diablo Canyon without increasing global warming emissions; however, to date, no action has been taken specifically to replace the zero-emissions energy from the power plant," the group said in a February report.

Still, Specht wrote, that that is "absolutely not" a reason to keep Diablo Canyon online past 2025.

A PG&E spokesperson said in an email that the company is aware of the proposed bill.

"As a regulated utility, PG&E is required to follow the energy policies of the state. California has clearly indicated its position on the future of nuclear power in the state through the California Public Utility Commission’s approval of the Joint Proposal regarding Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the passage of Senate Bill 1090 by the state legislature, and legislation like the California Renewable Energy Act," the spokesperson wrote. "Our focus therefore remains on safely and reliably operating Diablo Canyon Power Plant until the end of its current operating licenses and planning for a successful decommissioning."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Nunes has received thousands of dollars from the nuclear power industry — including significant funding from PG&E's corporate PAC.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.