Can Gavin Newsom close California’s last nuclear plant?
Gavin Newsom has a prediction about California’s last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon: It won’t stay open another 10 years.
And due to a quirk of Diablo’s complicated history, he could have a hand in closing it.
Diablo sits on a coastal bluff near San Luis Obispo and uses seawater for coolant. The chutes that suck in water from the Pacific and return it to the ocean — 2.5 billion gallons per day — lie on tidelands owned by the state and leased by the plant’s owner, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Those leases expire in 2018 and 2019. Without the cooling system, the plant can’t run.
So PG&E this year asked the State Lands Commission, chaired by Lt. Gov. Newsom, for a new lease, casting the move as a simple administrative step.
Newsom predicts closure
Instead, Newsom wants to subject the request to a full environmental impact review, a process that can take more than a year. It could also rekindle arguments about Diablo’s safety, since the plant sits within a web of earthquake fault lines discovered after construction began.
“I don’t think that PG&E, in its quiet moments, would disagree that this may not have been the ideal site for a plant,” Newsom said at the commission’s Dec. 18 meeting.
Already running for governor in 2018, Newsom often touts his support for green causes. At the same Lands Commission meeting, he even predicted that Diablo Canyon could close when its federal operating licenses expire in 2024 and 2025 — something many California environmentalists desperately want. PG&E has not yet decided whether it wants to renew the federal licenses.
“I just don’t see that this plant is going to survive beyond 2024, 2025,” Newsom said. “I just don’t see that. Now, I absolutely may be wrong, but that’s my punditry. And there is a compelling argument as to why it shouldn’t.”
And yet, Newsom has not slammed the door on PG&E’s request.
He has urged the commission to think about how Diablo fits into California’s future energy mix as the state tries to halt global warming. Unlike conventional power plants burning fossil fuels, Diablo pumps no greenhouse gases into the sky. It also supplies 8 percent of the electricity generated within the state. Closing it now, the plant’s supporters argue, would undermine California’s climate fight.
The commission may vote in February on whether a new tidelands lease will require an environmental report, under the California Environmental Quality Act. PG&E argues that it shouldn’t.
“PG&E has been consistent in our point of view that a CEQA review is not required as the structures are currently operating under approved leases, and we have proposed no new operational or design changes,” said utility spokesman Tom Cuddy.