The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

Trevor Hyman
December 11, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016

General Background

Fig. 1: An image of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is the last operational nuclear power plant operating in the state of California as of June 2016, an image of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is shown in Fig. 1. Located in San Luis Obispo County, and operated and owned by the natural gas and electric utility provider, Pacific Gas and Electric, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is a 750-acre site. It is staffed by over 1,000 employees, and it cost 11.5 billion dollars to build. Its two reactors are four-loop pressurized water reactors cooled using water drawn from the Pacific Ocean. The first unit began operation on May 7th, 1985, and the license to operate expires November 2nd, 2024. The second unit began operation began on March 13th, 1986, and its license to operate expires on August 20th, 2025. [1] With the closing of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, California will no longer have operational nuclear power plants.

Initial Controversy

The 1970s embodied a time period of increased interest in nuclear energy and nuclear power. As California began to expand and grow, the need for more electric power became more and more prevalent. However, due to the accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl, the public has increased its scrutiny on Nuclear Power plants in general, and the risk they present to the nearby public and landscape. [2] A 1986 survey at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo found that 61% of students felt that the Chernobyl accident affected their beliefs about the probability of an accident at a nuclear power plant. [3] Most importantly, a fault off the shore of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in the Pacific Ocean was found which resulted in a conflict between the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). This delayed the production of the facility, exponentially raised costs, and increased suspicion surrounding the safety of the power plant's pre-engineering estimate and total amount spent [has] increased by a factor of almost sixteen. [4]

Closing the Power Plant

The conversation between low-carbon emission energy proponents and nuclear energy proponents has heightened in recent memory. Ultimately, the Diablo Canyon represents two opposing sides of an argument surrounding the idea that there can exist a state of clean, efficient energy development of having a clean environment paired with unlimited urban and social growth, whilst maintaining a spectacular wilderness. The general stigma surrounding the use of nuclear energy in California is dominated by those that want to perpetuate California's identity of a clean, green state, however, at the root of this identity lies the need to take necessary precautions against the possibility of natural disasters that could threaten surrounding areas. [5] However, proponents for the Power Plant argue for those that would potentially lose their jobs from the closing of the plant. Currently, the plant contributes 10,372 jobs to the California work force. Additionally, there are a multitude of economic sectors, in California, affected by the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. [5]

© Trevor Hyman. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "State Nuclear Profiles 2010," U.S. Energy Information Administration, April 2012.

[2] L. W. Davis, "Prospects for Nuclear Power," The J. Econ. Perspect. 26, 49 (2012).

[3] D. J. Levi and E. E. Holder. "Psychological Factors in the Nuclear Power Controversy," Polit. Psychol. 9, no. 3 , 445 (1988).

[4] D. L. George and P. L. Southwell, "Opinion on the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant: The Effects of Situation and Socialization," Soc. Sci. Quart. 67, 722 (1986).

[5] P. Mayeda and K. Riener, "Economic Benefits of Diablo Canyon Power Plant," Pacific Gas and Electric, June 2013.