A great win for the planet in California


Even before the tragedy in Fukushima, it’s been clear that America’s aging nuclear power plants are an accident waiting to happen — and desperately need to be taken off line. That’s happened far too slowly, nor has safety been the only issue. When policy makers did decommission some of the nation’s most dangerous plants, such as California’s oceanfront San Onofre facility that was far too close for comfort to the San Andreas fault, the lost energy was typically replaced by burning a fossil fuel such as natural gas. In other words, a big win for radiation safety meant a net loss when it came to climate change, thanks to an increase in greenhouse gas pollution.

In California, activists have been crusading for years to close the state’s one remaining nuclear plant at Diablo Canyon. Protesters sought desperately — and failed — to prevent Diablo Canyon from opening in 1985, in a part of the world where frequent earthquakes make atomic energy an especially bad idea. In recent years, the state’s leaders have reached an admirable consensus that Diablo Canyon’s days should be numbered — and also that the Golden State should be a pacesetter for acting on global warming, since our national politicians remain hopelessly gridlocked.

This week’s headline from California is very good news for both that state and for the rest of the planet:

Under a proposal announced on Tuesday, Pacific Gas and Electric would shutter the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the state’s last operating nuclear facility, and would compensate for the lost output with technologies that do not emit greenhouse gases, including renewable energy.

The proposal, part of an agreement with environmental and labor groups, is intended to help meet California’s aggressive clean energy goals, which have already transformed the power mix with a large and growing renewable energy fleet at a time of slowing electric demand. It also comes after years of public pressure to close the plant, near San Luis Obispo, because of safety concerns over its location, near several fault lines, and its use of ocean water for cooling.

“California’s energy landscape is changing dramatically, with energy efficiency, renewables and storage being central to the state’s energy policy,” Tony Earley, PG&E’s chief executive, said in a prepared statement. “Diablo Canyon’s full output will no longer be required.”

Under the proposal, which would require the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission, the plant’s two reactors would be shut down in 2024 and 2025, when their operating licenses expire, as long as the State Lands Commission extends a permit set to expire in 2018 that grants access to the ocean for the cooling operation.

Environmentalists are generally hailing the announcement:

“This is an historic agreement,” Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said. “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.”

robust technical and economic report commissioned by Friends of the Earth served as a critical underpinning for the negotiations. The report, known as Plan B, provided a detailed analysis of how power from the Diablo Canyon reactors could be replaced with renewable, efficiency and energy storage resources which would be both less expensive and greenhouse gas free.

To me, a perfect plan would involve closing Diablo Canyon immediately. The Fukushima  catastrophe in 2011 was a grim reminder that disaster can strike at any time — especially for nuclear facilities that are poorly located, as is the case with Diablo Canyon. But California is moving in the right direction — and it’s about time. Over the last few years, environmentalists here in the United States have watched with envy as European nations have closed their nuclear plants and moved aggressively into wind, solar, and other forms of alternative power. Now, one state is leading the way here — can the rest of the nation follow?

For more about yesterday’s landmark decision on Diablo Canyon, please read: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/22/business/californias-diablo-canyon-nuclear-power-plant.html

For more reaction from environmentalists, check out: http://ecowatch.com/2016/06/21/diablo-canyon-nuclear-plant-shut-down/

Learn the story about how I fought Big Oil on its radioactive pollution in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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