This week, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the operators of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California, agreed to a breakthrough deal which established the terms necessary to shut down the last two operating commercial nuclear reactors in the state by 2024 and 2025 and replace their power generation with renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. The deal, included an agreement from PG&E to not seek a license renewal which would allow the reactors to operate for an additional 20 years.
The nuclear power plant was constructed on a seaside cliff 85 feet above the Pacific Ocean in an active seismic zone on the coast of California; near the San Andreas fault, the San Luis Bay Fault, less than a mile from the Shoreline fault line, and less than three miles from the Hosgri fault. After the earthquake in tsunami in Japan, more critical attention was paid to the ability of the facility to withstand damage from earthquakes in the area, and the utility was forced to conduct additional seismic studies. The plant was also being forced to reassess its use of ocean water for cooling, many residents and officials in the state wanted the utility to construct cooling towers instead of using ocean water.
Despite the fact that nuclear energy has always been touted as “too cheap to meter”, economic hurdles have been plaguing the nuclear industry since its conception, forcing it by necessity to be reliant on enormous subsidies by the federal government. As the fleet of nuclear reactors in the United States continues to age, the cost of upkeep and operation continues to grow – in contrast the prices of renewable energies have been falling with no signs of changing in the future. By accepting this agreement, PG&E has admitted that nuclear energy cannot compete against the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency in modern markets.
The safer and more reliable energy grid America needs in the future will not rely on centralized power stations – it will feature and benefit from community-based distributed power generation that will make it not only more robust and cost-effective for the consumer. Such a grid will be able to better handle the demands of supplying power to hundreds of millions of residents, will be able to better mitigate the effects of damage and power loads, and the innovations being made in the field of energy storage will revolutionize the way that people view and use energy. The State of California has already realized this, and established goals to obtain over 50% of its energy from renewables and non-fossil fuel sources (including energy efficiency and energy storage) within the next 15 years. In California, the people who will benefit the most from the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plants and the increased focus on energy efficiency and distributed power generation are the very residents who purchase their power from PG&E.