What Are California’s Reactors Worth?

If people like me trust fear over information, nuclear plants will be replaced by fossil fuels.

Starting on June 24th, pro-nuclear climate campaigners in California will March for Environmental Hope.

One of their issues is proud support for the Diablo Canyon power plant, the last nuclear plant on the US west coast. A decision by regulators and operators to renew Diablo Canyon for a further two decades of operation will ensure it won’t be closed and replaced by fossil fuel combustion, as happened with Vermont Yankee and other plants.


Vermont Yankee was replaced by natural gas combustion, with a commensurate rise in greenhouse gas emissions. Other similar examples include Rancho Seco, Crystal River, Kewaunee and San Onofre.

In Australia such power plants are prohibited, so emissions-free electricity is only supplied by renewable energy. Fortunately, quite a lot of wind and solar capacity has been added since early last decade to Australia’s legacy hydroelectricity. Our 3,183 megawatts (MW) of wind can generate 8.09 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. The 5,122 MW of solar on our roofs could add 6.73 billion kWh. This 14.82 billion kWh is something like 6% of annual electricity.

whale diablo

A whale breaches, with Diablo Canyon in the background.

In 2015, Diablo Canyon Unit 1 produced 7.83 billion kWh, while Unit 2 did even better at 8.76 – a total of 16.59 billion kilowatt hours.


A whale breaches, with an Australian wind turbine in the background.

The climate is global, the effects of it changing are global. If these reactors were shut down, it would be the same as all of Australia’s wind and solar being permanently disconnected. Actually, it would be even worse.

Diablo Canyon produces mainly two things: emissions-free electricity – which we need now more than ever – and an impregnable dry cask-worth of used fuel, every year or two, which is stored on-site.

Nuclear plants make these instead of greenhouse gasses and pollution.

Nuclear plants make these instead of greenhouse gasses and pollution.

Until fossil fueled power stations can similarly pack their by-products away, they shouldn’t be replacing nuclear plants.

prf_IMG_20160615_101900Naturally, the casks and the reactors are maintained safely and securely. Diablo Canyon won’t ever “go Fukushima”.

The plant can – must – run for many more decades. Losing it would be too much to lose.