The Week in Energy: News on New Nukes, and Old

Every day brings a torrent of interesting energy data and news items to my in-box, and the sheer volume of it usually means I don’t end up bringing much of it to Power Line. Here’s a solution: a new weekly feature of the best or most significant energy stories of the moment.

I already mentioned this week’s big story yesterday: the Biden Administration’s approval of the ConocoPhillips Willow site in Alaska, much to the consternation of the climatistas. But there was a big story two weeks ago that we skipped over: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to allow California last nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon to keep operating for the next several years while it goes through the long and laborious NRC review process to stay open for another 20 years or more.

When California and utility PG&E announced back in 2016 that it would close down Diablo Canyon in 2025 at the end of its original licensing period, I knew that this decision would be reversed. PG&E’s claim that it could replace Diablo Canyon’s output, which accounts for nearly 10 percent of California’s total electricity on a 24/7 basis, with wind and solar power and other baubles was simply a lie, but I’ve come to expect this from the corporate socialists who run our regulated utilities. As the deadline approached and reality set in, even Gov. Newsom recognized that California had to reverse course on closing Diablo Canyon. Aside from grid stability and basic supply, closing Diablo Canyon would doom California’s ambitious climate goals, and we can’t have that!

The problem is that PG&E had abandoned its re-licensing application with the NRC back in 2016, and the review period usually takes about five years, so there isn’t time for a proper permit review before the original license expires and the reactors would by need to be shut down. The NRC staff ruled last year that PG&E couldn’t use the license renewal application it had started in 2009, but would have to start over from scratch. The recent decision grants an exception to the usual rules. About time. (More on the Diablo Canyon story from our friends at The Breakthrough Institute here.)

Separately, the first new large commercial nuclear reactor in the United States in nearly 40 years—the Vogtle 3 in Georgia—started up for the first time last week, and has reached “criticality,” as it is known in the trade. This 1,000MW reactor is up to 18 percent capacity as of today. (You can see the status of our entire reactor fleet on a daily basis here.) The Vogtle 3 and its twin still under construction, the Vogtle 4, both cost far more than projected, which indicates we have a long way to go if we’re going to have a serious renewal of nuclear power.

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