The Future of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant

Darian Orozco
March 13, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016

California's Energy Background

Fig. 1: Diablo Canyon Power Plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is now the last remaining nuclear power plant in California. The systematic closing of nuclear power plants in California has seemed to oppose its progressive stance of combating climate change and promoting clean energy. California governor Jerry Brown has outlined plans to increase its Renewable Portfolio Standard(RPS) to 33% by the end of 2020; more recently even expanding this goal to the more ambitions target of 50% of electricity generation coming from renewables by the end of 2030. [1] However, the closure of California's San Onofre nuclear plant has decreased nuclear capacity, and there is a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants within the state until the federal government has approved a solution for the permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste. Nuclear holds the potential to provide near carbon free base load electricity, yet California seems to be attempting to decrease its carbon footprint using other electricity sources such as wind and solar.

Diablo Canyon

Following the closure of the San Onofre plant, California nuclear electricity generation dropped 49.5% between 2011 and 2012. [2] With Diablo Canyon now being the sole nuclear contributor, it accounts for 8.5% of the state electricity generation. [3] Yet despite being an integral part of California's electricity sector, questions surrounding its closer have been raised. With federal licenses expiring in less than ten years, it is unclear whether PG&E, the operator, will pursue extensions. An economic impact report found that the total output impact of Diablo Canyon to the national economy was $1.969 billion. [4] Through a combination of expenditures, jobs, tax revenues, economic impact, labor income, and contributions to the local economy the plant is a valuable economic resource. Yet despite being an economically beneficial plant, many still want to see the plant closed. Concerns of a Fukushima type incident have grown as new faults have been discovered near Diablo Canyon (Fig. 2). Despite assurances that the reactors can withstand earthquakes a NIMBY mindset has still taken hold. With an antinuclear mindset, the constant and cheap base load energy Diablo Canyon provides can prove to be an obstacle to renewables trying to compete in the market despite providing near carbon free energy to the grid.

Fig. 2: Faults Near Diablo Canyon Power Plant. (Courtesy of the California Department of Conservation)

The Future

After the deadly explosion of a PG&E gas pipeline in San Bruno in combination with the meltdown of Fukushima the Diablo Canyon renewal has been an issue PG&E has yet to tackle. This along with a clear trend in decreasing nuclear power in California makes it seem unlikely Diablo Canyon will continue to be operational when its license expires. Yet the positive economic impact along with continual new seismic studies demonstrating the safety of the plant would lead to the belief that renewal and continued operation of the plant is in the best interest of California. Only time will tell the fate of Diablo Canyon and nuclear power in California.

© Darian Orozco. 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] J, Cart, Gov. Brown's Renewable Energy Plan Could Boost Solar, Wind Industries," Los Angeles Times, 7 Jan 15.

[2] "Electric Power Annual 2012," U.S. Energy Information Administration, December 2013.

[3] "Electric Power Annual 2014," U.S. Energy Information Administration, February 2016.

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