RadWaste Monitor Vol. 16 No. 8
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RadWaste Monitor
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February 24, 2023

Diablo Canyon license extension perfectly legal, PG&E tells NRC

By Benjamin Weiss

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission can allow California’s last nuclear power reactor to operate with an expired license, the plant’s owner wrote in a recent regulatory filing 

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was rebuffing claims by a coalition of anti-nuclear groups who told the NRC the utility was asking the government to break the law in order to keep Diablo Canyon Power Plant online beyond 2025, when its license expires.

PG&E took on the enviros’ claims in a Jan. 10 filing published by NRC on Wednesday. The company wrote that its proposal to keep the Avila Beach, Calif., plant on its current license while the commission weighs a longer-term extension application is “plainly within the NRC’s discretion,” because federal law allows the agency to do so if such an application is filed in a “timely and sufficient” manner.

In their own January filing with NRC, the anti-nukers said such a license extension violated the Atomic Energy Act and National Environmental Policy Act — claims that PG&E, in the filing made public Wednesday, said are “extreme” and “not supported by any fact or law.”

PG&E is seeking an exemption to NRC’s license renewal guidelines as part of its plan to keep Diablo Canyon online through 2030. If approved, NRC would allow the facility to keep running on its current license while a renewal is under review, so long as PG&E applies for the renewal by Dec. 31 of this year.

The anti-nuclear coalition claims that allowing Diablo Canyon to run on an expired license would violate the Atomic Energy Act, which they say requires nuclear plants to operate for a maximum of 40 years. PG&E argued that “long-standing federal timely renewal doctrine” in the Administrative Procedure Act allows for such an exemption.

Diablo Canyon has received a substantial state and federal bailout as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) climate agenda and President Joe Biden’s (D) civil nuclear credits program. In all, the plant stands to rake in around $2.5 billion, though it still has to deal with an expiring NRC license.

As of Friday, NRC had yet to decide whether to grant PG&E’s exemption request. During an interview with RadWaste Monitor Feb. 7, Commissioner Bradley Crowell declined to say which way the agency would rule, but said that there is regulatory precedent that “could be applicable.”

The commission on Jan. 24 nixed PG&E’s first attempt to shortcut the license renewal process, ruling that the agency could not pick up where it left off on a license extension PG&E filed for in 2009 but withdrew in 2018 after the California Public Utilities Commission decided the plant should be shuttered. 

Instead, NRC ruled, the utility must submit a brand new extension application, even though the state now has reversed close.

According to the utility, it made a “timely and sufficient” application for a Diablo Canyon license renewal, so the plant’s existing license could be considered as in effect while NRC reviews an extension. 

Given that, PG&E reasoned that an exemption for Diablo Canyon is “plainly within the NRC’s discretion,” and that such action is “warranted here given important energy supply, reliability, and state policy matters.”

Without the requested exemption, NRC may not be able to extend Diablo Canyon’s license before the plant’s license lapses, PG&E has said.

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