PG&E asks federal regulators to extend life of aging, dangerous Diablo Canyon nuclear plant

Citing safety concerns, Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspector urged closure of unneeded facility in 2014

SAN FRANCISCO – Pacific Gas & Electric is formally asking the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the life of California’s only remaining nuclear power plant – the dangerous, aging and costly Diablo Canyon – until 2030.

The NRC will now review the misguided petition seeking the extension. An NRC inspector previously urged the plant’s closure because of its vulnerability to earthquake damage. That’s just one of many reasons for taking the dilapidated facility offline.

Six years ago, California, supported by then-Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom, reached a deal with environmentalists, workers, and local governments near the plant for its closure by 2025. Critics sought the closure because of the facility’s high costs and risks.

But in September, now-Gov. Newsom successfully urged the state Legislature to approve a bill keeping the dilapidated facility operating for another five years. The legislation signed into law by Gov. Newsom provides PG&E with a $1.4 billion taxpayer-funded, forgivable loan to keep the plant operating during that time period.

“The Eisenhower-era energy policies that brought us nuclear power and all the dangerous and costly baggage that came with it should be left to the history books,” said EWG President and California resident Ken Cook. “And that should include Diablo Canyon, where even one of the NRC’s own inspectors said the plant is too risky to keep open.”

In addition to urging the NRC to reject PG&E’s application, Cook also noted the utility is asking the state to approve a separate plan to decimate California’s popular rooftop solar program – because the clean, affordable energy source is PG&E’s only competition.

“It is ironic that, as rooftop solar and energy storage have come under attack by PG&E and other monopoly utilities, with support from the California Public Utilities Commission, the state seems poised to turn away from a wildly popular and cost-effective source of electricity to an aging, outdated nuclear plant with growing maintenance issues and costs that make it a less than reliable resource to keep the lights on,” said Cook.

EWG’s concerns about extending Diablo Canyon’s life

It will be costly:

  • From 2011 to 2017, maintenance costs increased $110 million dollars.
  • The plant’s discharges of hot water directly into the Pacific Ocean harm aquatic life. Upgrading the cooling system to address these concerns could cost billions of dollars.
  • Five more years of lethal, high-level nuclear waste will accumulate at the Diablo Canyon site with no clear plan to store and guard it for the thousands of years during which it will remain dangerous.

The plant is an extreme safety hazard:

  • In 2014, an NRC inspector urged the commission to shut the plant down due to earthquake hazards.
  • Unit 1 at the facility is considered one of the most embrittled units in the country – meaning if the plant were forced to suddenly shut down, cold water would be sent to the core, where the highly radioactive fuel resides, causing the containment vessel to shatter, resulting in a catastrophic accident.


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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