Bid to keep California reactors running faces time limit – KGET 17

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A late-night effort to extend the life of California’s last nuclear power plant has run into a problem that will be difficult to solve: a lack of time.

A state analysis on Monday predicted it would take until late 2026 for federal regulators to act on a request to extend operations at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The problem is that the plant is scheduled to be permanently closed by mid-2025.

The future of the state’s remaining reactors could hinge on operator Pacific Gas & Electric’s request to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an unusual exemption that would allow the decades-old reactors to continue generating electricity while the NRC considers a request — not yet filed — to extend its permit to even two decades.

One reactor is scheduled to shut down in November 2024, and its twin in August 2025. The facility is located on a coastal bluff, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

On Monday, anti-nuclear activists and national environmental groups urged the federal agency to deny the request, saying in a petition that the exemption would be a dangerous and unprecedented shortcut that would expose the public to safety risks from reactors that began operating in the mid-1980s.

“There is absolutely no precedent for the exemption sought by PG&E. “The NRC has never allowed a reactor to operate beyond the expiration of the permit without a thorough assessment of the safety and environmental risks,” said Diane Curran, a lawyer for the anti-nuclear group Mothers for Peace.

The dispute over the potential exemption is the latest battle in a long-running battle over reactor safety. Construction on the Diablo Canyon plant began in the 1960s, and critics say potential shaking from nearby earthquake faults, which was not recognized when the design was first approved, could damage equipment and release radiation. One nearby fault was not discovered until 2008. PG&E has long said the plant is seismically safe; federal regulators agreed.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom — who once supported closing the plant — made a U-turn last year and argued that it was necessary to go ahead with the planned shutdown to prevent possible blackouts as the state transitions to solar and other renewables. At his urging, the Legislature scrapped a complex 2016 agreement between environmentalists, the plant’s labor union and the utility to shut down the plant by 2025, clearing the way for it to operate longer. The utility said it changed direction in light of the energy policy adopted by the state.

PG&E officials said they were eager for certainty about the plant’s future because of the difficulties in turning around the plant, which was headed for permanent retirement but now needs to prepare for a potentially longer life.

In October, the company asked the NRC to resume review of an application originally filed in 2009 to extend the plant’s life, which was later withdrawn after PG&E announced in 2016 plans to shut down the reactor when the permits expire.

But the idea of ​​going back in time to continue reviewing the previous application was rejected by the agency, leaving PG&E with the lengthy task of submitting a new application that it expects to submit by the end of the year.

Processing of applications for extended licenses usually takes two years or more. Without extended permits, that means one reactor, or both, may have to shut down while the NRC reviews the applications.

That led to a separate request: PG&E wants the NRC to allow the plant to continue operating beyond the current, approved deadline while the federal agency considers a license extension. That decision is not expected until next month.

Normally, if a nuclear power plant applies for a license extension at least five years before the current permit expires, the existing license remains in effect until the NRC’s review of the application is complete, even if it technically passes the expiration date. But PG&E would not meet the usual five-year standard.

In documents submitted to the NRC, the company said the change it is seeking “will not pose an unreasonable risk to public health and safety.”

Without the waiver, the NRC would have less than a year to conduct a license renewal review—far less time than usual—before the current license would expire and the plant would have to shut down.

Environmental groups said conducting a shortened review in just a few months would be “difficult if not impossible” and increase safety risks for a plant that until recently was on the verge of closure.

Completion of the NRC review, before longer operation is permitted, is needed “to ensure that continued operation of the reactor will be safe,” they wrote.

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