Letter To California Governor Urges Open Debate On Diablo Canyon

[UPDATE] Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Company announced its joint filing of the proposal designed to transition California to a post-Fukushima energy future by closing the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, but a group of climate experts, earth scientists and prominent academics have written to Gov. Edmund Brown urging him to put a stop to the proposal that would, they say, derail the state's carbon-emissions goals.

Diablo Canyon NPPPG&E announced they had filed the proposal with the California Public Utilities Commission together with labor and environmental groups, namely the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 1245, the Coalition of California Utility Employees, Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.

Broad terms of the proposal have been public since June 21. The basic agreement calls for ensuring the Diablo Canyon NPP can remain profitable through its current federal operating licensing period, which ends in 2025. Through that period, PG&E will cease any efforts geared towards renewing the license, sacrificing a potential 20 more years (or more) of plant operating life.

Instead of investing in the nuclear power plant's longevity, PG&E and the signed groups will do what they can to support the transition to renewable power sources.

The plan calls for shutting down Diablo Canyon's Unit 1 pressurized water reactor when its Nuclear Regulatory Commission operating licenses expire on Nov. 2, 2024. In turn, Unit 2 at the plant will be shut down for decommissioning on Aug. 26, 2025.

However, a letter refuting the simple design of the Diablo Canyon proposal has been sent to the state's governor. “We request that you ask the California Public Utilities Commission to delay consideration of that and any other proposal to close Diablo until the legislature and the public … can openly debate how California can most quickly and cost effectively top the damage to the climate from our electrical systems emissions,” the letter states.

The letter, signed by Climate scientists James Hansen (of Columbia University), Pushker Kharecha (of Columbia), Kerry Emanuel (of Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and about 60 other earth science experts and prominent environmental and business leaders, counters the claims that the state can confront climate change by closing down a carbon-free source of power that is currently responsible for 9 percent of the state's electricity generation.

The basic complaint is that closing Diablo Canyon, the scientists say, will mean replacing a carbon-free source of electricity, nuclear power, with a carbon-generating source, natural gas.

Despite environmentalists' hopes, San Onofre (which closed in 2012) was replaced mainly by gas-fired generation,” the letter says. “Greenhouse emissions and electricity rates increased. California's share of gas-fired generation immediately rose from 45 percent to 61 percent. The loss of San Onofre, thus, increased the state's dependency on natural gas.”

Closing Diablo Canyon, the group says, will bump the state's dependency on natural gas from 61 percent to 70 percent. At that point, the state will be vulnerable to the natural gas industry's ebbs and flows. Moreover, the move “undermines California's reputation as a leader on climate policy.” The letter says the move “makes a mockery of California's decarbonization efforts.”

Essentially, the joint proposal mandates replacing Diablo Canyon's 17,600 gigawatt-hours of electricity with only 4,000 gigawatt-houses per year of energy efficiency. The plan also figures on a demand correction among PG&E customers, but that does not represent an emissions gain, as many of those customers will simply be signing up with a new utility, the scientists say.

The group says they are “deeply troubled by the lack of democratic process surrounding the joint proposal.” The proposal was “decided in secret negotiations between PG&E and unaccountable anti-nuclear groups,” the letter says, “some with financial ties to the renewable sector.”

Over 60 prominent academics and business leaders signed the letter, including Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Barry Brook, Professor and Chair Environmental Sustainability, University of Tasmania, James Conca, Earth and Environmental Scientist, Chris Dickman, Conservation Scientist, University of Sidney, Erle Ellis, Ph.D. Professor of Geography & Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Joseph Fargione, Ph.D. ecologist, James Hansen, Climate Scientist, Columbia University, and academics associated with the University of California, Santa Clara University, Berkeley, Illinois Institute of Technology, The University of Queensland, Stanford, Harvard, American University, Northwest University, the University of Central Florida and the University of Oxford. 

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  • Anonymous

    It defies logic that something both clean burning and cost effective per mgw/hour such as NPP should be mothballed out of the fear tactics imposed on the public by other power interests. the media, and ill informed environmentalists.  Natural gas, coal fired or oil fired generation will be implemented to replace the power generated by NPP.  Only by a combination of NPP and alternative energy sources will the demand be met.  NPP is incredibly safe and highly regulated and monitored.  No one talks about the radioactivity produced by 'fracking' for natural gas and oil, or the radioactive emissions into the atmosphere from coal fired plants.   Mothballed nuclear power plants continue to cost money to the utility customers.  Maintenance is mandatory indefinitely and yet the NPP such as San Onofre is not generating any income to sustain it.  The whole concept of eliminating NPP is not grounded in good science or finance.

  • Did anyone proof-read this article??

  • Anonymous


    Hi I am Bob Hopkins a Casper Wyoming City Councilman and a retired Mine Manager for a company that produced over 25,000,000 pounds of U3O8 which produced little CO2.  Using the uranium fuel cycle produces almost 1,000,000 times more energy per unit of energy input than ANY chemical reaction

    (Yep--- that number is million Times).

    Your car would go from 25 miles per gallon to 25 million miles per gallon-- How does that grab you??

    That 25 million pounds of U308 is equal to about 25,000 train loads of coal and about 50,000 train loads of natural gas producing carbon dioxide generating fuels. The truth is that the universe we live in is Nuclear Powered and I am reasonably confident that as man discovered the mysterys of chemical reactions, electricity, and the related sciences that we will ultimately figure out that Nucs-R-Green because that is how we got here!!!