Nuclear Power

California Legislators Vote To Keep Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant Running

Wonderful news for California's economy and consumers!


In the face of impending power blackouts, the California State Assembly and Senate did abrupt turns toward sanity and voted to extend the operating life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. "This is a victory of pro-civilization values, including love of humanity and reason, over the forces of pro-scarcity nihilism," tweeted Michael Shellenberger, founder of the pro-nuclear power activist group Environmental Progress.

Due to pressure from anti-nuclear activists, California's Public Utility Commission voted 5-0 in 2018 to shut down both of the Diablo Canyon reactors by 2025. The new legislation reverses this ill-advised decision and extends their operating life by at least another five years. The Diablo Canyon reactors generate enough electricity to supply power for 3 million of the Golden State's 13 million households.

Growing dependence on unreliable wind and solar power generation led not only to rolling blackouts in California in 2020 but also increased the price of electricity for California's consumers. Shutting down Diablo Canyon's reactors is counterproductive for those people who are concerned about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change. A point made, according to the New York Times, by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a letter sent to California state legislators: "The alternative to the closure of the reactors at Diablo Canyon will most likely be additional natural gas generation, which would reverse progress on emissions reductions and worsen air quality," she wrote.

This consideration was apparently lost on numerous other politicians who supported the closure of nuclear power plants in their states. These include New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Indian Point 2021), Massachusetts' former Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey (Pilgrim 2019), and Vermont's Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin (Vermont Yankee 2014). The closure of these nuclear power plants has not surprisingly resulted in an increase in greenhouse emissions in those states.

More broadly, subsidized wind and solar power along with the advent of cheap fracked natural gas have made it hard for the ridiculously overregulated nuclear power industry to compete. Recognizing that both nuclear and renewable generation does not emit greenhouse gases, some states have adopted zero emissions credits to subsidize nuclear power generation as a way to level the playing field by countering the renewable energy credits their wind and solar power competitors receive. But as I argued back in 2016:

If man-made global warming is a problem, it is self-defeatingly idiotic for environmentalists to oppose nuclear power, a safe and reliable source of climate-friendly electricity. I just wish the nuke boosters would aim to roll back restrictions rather than adding yet more subsidies to the marketplace.

Shellenberger also makes the obvious point that if most electricity is generated using safe, reliable, climate-friendly nuclear power, there is no reason for a massive build-out of renewable power generation. As he savors the Diablo Canyon victory, Shellenberger observes, "We still have a lot of nuclear plants to save, and we have many, many more to build. This is the work of many lifetimes."