SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California land officials dropped their longstanding environmental objections to the state's last nuclear power plant and signed off Tuesday on a deal to close the Central Coast facility nearly 20 years ahead of its previously planned termination.
The State Lands Commission approved a lease allowing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to continue operating the Diablo Canyon twin-reactor plant through August 2025, a date the company and environmental groups agreed to last week. Members turned down a proposed environmental impact assessment, which can take years, in part to meet the earlier termination date.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said keeping the plant open for nine years allows PG&E to avoid the mistakes of Edison International, which quickly terminated a nuclear generator and hundreds of workers in San Onofre in 2012 and 2013.
"Let's not fail the plant," Newsom said. "Let's have the conversation now about what that means to the workforce, what that means to the community, what that means to our efforts to provide alternative energy sources at a competitive price."
Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica, whose organization helped negotiate the termination date, said the agreement is fair to workers while eliminating two decades of seismic risks.
"This is the way you do it," Pica said. "You have time, you can bring on the right resources and you can treat people right."
Not all conservationists back the plan, though. Dozens of activists, including some who have been fighting nuclear energy for 40 years, argued Tuesday against the plant's continued operation near major earthquake-causing fault lines.
John Geesman of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility said the state should have conducted one of its strict environmental reviews before approving the lease, however short.
The commission's vote is the first of multiple regulatory hurdles facing the agreement to shut down the 31-year-old plant.
Diablo Canyon's twin reactors hug a Pacific Ocean bluff midway on the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, in San Luis Obispo County.
Fears about the seismic faults running through the area have dogged the project since its conception in the 1960s, and fostered opposition nationally to nuclear power within the country's then-fledgling environmental movement.
PG&E maintains the plant could withstand the strongest likely earthquakes, but growing scientific knowledge about the seismology has heightened worries.
The state's largest utility and environmental groups agree that California no longer needs the electricity from Diablo Canyon, given increased energy efficiency in the state and the growing availability and affordability of solar and wind power and other renewable energy.
Nationally, the nuclear-power industry is caught in a debate between those who call nuclear power an essential alternative to climate changing fossil fuels, and those who question the growing costs of maintaining the country's decades-old nuclear plants.