California’s last nuclear plant will close in 2025, taking with it 600 IBEW jobs and robbing the state of its only source of zero-emission baseload power.
The announcement came June 21 from the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant’s owner, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., who reached an agreement with Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 and environmental stakeholders that provides nearly 10 years of lead time to prepare for the closure along with generous retention and severance programs for employees.
“We’re obviously very disappointed with this outcome,” said IBEW Utility Department Director Jim Hunter, adding that Diablo Canyon is the latest in a series of recent nuclear plant closure announcements around the U.S. “We’ve got real concerns about the stability of the American power grid, and we continue to argue that shutting down clean, reliable baseload power sources is a wrongheaded approach.”
Despite that, said Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell, Diablo Canyon’s future faced some significant regulatory hurdles, and negotiations leading up to PG&E’s announcement secured the best deal the plant’s employees could have hoped for.
At issue was a planned environmental impact study exploring the effects of the plant’s cooling water intake and output on local marine life in nearby tidelands. Environmentalists were gearing up for a fight that could have closed the plant when its land lease was up in 2018, but the new agreement likely puts that issue to rest.
While it still requires approval from California’s Public Utility Commission, the plan to close Diablo Canyon Unit 1 in 2024 and Unit 2 in 2025, adds at least six years of life to the plant and gives PG&E and the state time to develop alternate clean energy plans to replace the generation capacity that accounts for six percent of California’s current output.
When the zero-emission San Onofre nuclear plant in Southern California closed in 2013, it was partially replaced by cheaper natural gas, which added carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The plan to close Diablo Canyon involves investments in energy efficiency, solar, wind and storage to avoid a similar fate.
“This really was the best outcome from a terrible situation,” Dalzell said, noting the seven year retention agreement that will keep his local’s members employed and well-paid for years to come. “Combined with the severance package and the potential for decommissioning work after the closure, the impact of this shouldn’t be felt for a long time.”
Still, the closure of California’s last nuclear plant is yet another knock on an industry that has been on the decline in recent years. When 2025 comes, Diablo Canyon’s two reactors will be the 13th and 14th nuclear reactors in the U.S. to close since 2013. In that same period, only a handful of new reactors will have come online, including Watts Barr Unit 2 in Tennessee, which became the first new nuclear reactor in the U.S. in two decades when it opened in June. Only two more plants, one in Georgia and one in South Carolina, are slated to open in that same timeframe.
“It’s a trend that really worries us,” Hunter said. “Not only are our members losing these jobs, but there’s a lot of uncertainty out there with oil and natural gas prices and the ability to generate the kind of baseload power the grid requires to function properly. Solar and wind can supplement that, but they’re not a one-for-one replacement. Once these nuclear plants are gone, you can’t just set up another one whenever you need it.”
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user bikracer.