Utility And Greens Agree To Shut Down California’s Last Nuclear Reactor

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Officials at California’s last nuclear power plant announced Tuesday the facility will close due to a deal made between a utility and environmental groups, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which owns the state’s last nuclear plant in Diablo Canyon, agreed to shut it down in 2025. The agreement says that PG&E will renounce plans to seek renewed operating licenses for Diablo Canyon’s two reactors and allow them to go offline in 2024 and 2025 respectively. The utility says it will replace the electricity from the reactors with green energy, but this will likely prove to be an enormous technical challenge.

“This is an historic agreement,” Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said in a press statement emailed to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It sets a date for the certain end of nuclear power in California and assures replacement with clean, safe, cost-competitive, renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage. It lays out an effective roadmap for a nuclear phase-out in the world’s sixth largest economy, while assuring a green energy replacement plan to make California a global leader in fighting climate change.”

Not all environmentalists agree with the decision to shut down the plant. Some greens even fought to keep Diablo Canyon’s two reactors online, as they produced 1,100 megawatts of electricity without generating any carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

America currently operates 99 nuclear reactors across 61 commercially operated nuclear power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The average nuclear plant employs between 400 and 700 highly-skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. The Diablo Canyon reactors employ 1,400 people.

Of the 59 new nuclear reactors under construction worldwide, only four of them are being built in the U.S., just enough to compensate for shutting down older reactors. The average American nuclear reactor is 35-years-old, nearly obsolete by modern design standards and near the end of its operating license. Within the past two years, six states have shut down nuclear plants and many other reactors are risking premature retirement.

Instead of building more modern reactors, the government is planning to simply extend the operating licenses against the advice of its own technical staff. The country’s youngest nuclear plant, Tennessee’s Watts Bar 1, entered service in 1996. America’s oldest operating reactors — Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Nine Mile Point in upstate New York — entered service in 1969.

Nuclear energy provides 19 percent of the nation’s electricity, but struggles to compete against heavily subsidized solar and wind power or cheap natural gas.

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