Situated Context

The United States currently equips 99 nuclear reactors that power about 20% of the nation and provide 60% of its carbon-free power (New York Times 2016; Cardwell 2016). However, lowering power prices are making it difficult for the nation’s nuclear reactors to compete in today’s energy market. As a result, many plants have already shut down before their licenses could expire and several others face the same threat (Cardwell 2016). California’s last nuclear plant, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E)’s two-unit reactor at Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) (Figure 1), applied to the state’s Public Utilities Commission in August 2016 to close down both of its reactors upon their license expiration in 2024 for Unit A and 2025 for Unit B. This application was approved on January 11, 2018 with a decided $241.2 million rate recovery for the plant’s retirement (Pacific Gas and Electric Company 2018). A timeline (Figure 2) of these events is displayed below.

The plant’s two reactors were built on the central California coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco and near San Luis Obispo and have been operating since 1985 and 1986, a decade after they were intended to be built (Pacific Gas and Electric Company 2018; Earth Island Journal 2016; George and Southwell 1986). This delay was due to the discovery of the Hosgri fault zone in 1973. The plant originally could not withstand an earthquake from this fault zone and was therefore reevaluated and bolstered for any possible event (George and Southwell 1986; Pacific Gas and Electric Company 1991). Despite providing Central and Northern California 160 megawatts of electricity, the plant has been criticized for killing large amounts of marine life via its cooling system which requires large flows of seawater both in and out of the facility (Earth Island Journal 2016; New York Times 2016). Many organizations supported the first application for closing DCPP, but protests were filed by an even longer list of interest groups (California Public Utilities Commission 2018). Some of these nuclear advocates were skeptical of the utility’s ability to not revert to the use of fossil fuels. But PG&E plans to replace DCPP with more cost-effective renewables in line with California’s newer policies which require utilities to make 50% of their energy generation come from renewable resources by 2030 (Earth Island Journal 2016; New York Times 2016; Cardwell 2016). Figure 3 displays how the above actors are connected.