Friends of Earth Sues DOE Over $1.1 Billion Diablo Canyon Plant Extension Funding

by Evan Symon at

The environmental group Friends of Earth sued the United States Department of Energy on Wednesday over the $1.1 billion the Department gave the state to keep the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant open until at least 2030, citing that they had used a faulty safety assessment when awarding the funds.

The debate over extending the life of the Diablo Canyon Plant has been ongoing since 2018, when concerns over earthquakes, nuclear waste pollution, and other factors convinced CPUC to close the plant by 2025. Proponents of the plant quickly moved to try and extend the life of the plant, with concerns over state energy production quickly bringing more and more support in their favor. Many were attracted to the fact that keeping the plant open for a decade or two more would save the state $21 billion in systems costs, while others, concerned about large gaps in California’s energy production while transitioning into the 100% renewable energy power by 2045 goal, signaled support as a power source to help bridge the gap. The fact that Diablo Canyon provides 9% of California’s total energy production, and is a clean source of energy, has also convinced many people of keeping the plant open.

846, was finally passed by both houses in the state legislature last year. At the same time, Governor Gavin Newsom put out a proposal to keep the plant running for another 5-10 years, outlining how state and federal support would be needed. Despite signing the bill into law, over $1 billion in funding was still needed to make the extension feasible, as well as final approvals from multiple state and federal agencies, such as approval of a new license by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

In November of 2022, the Department of Energy awarded $1.1 billion to extend the life of the plant, signaling federal support for the plant for both clean energy and to help avert a power crisis in California in the next decade while green energy production gradually replaces fossil fuel energy. This led to the NRC deciding in March 2023 to keep the plant open while license renewal is being considered. With the clock temporarily suspended, final extensions to at least 2030 now came down to license renewal from both CPUC and the NRC.

Diablo Canyon extension

Environmental groups continued to challenge the plant and PG&E to close it by 2025. However, despite numerous lawsuits, all of their attempts failed. This included a state court rejecting a lawsuit by an environmental group to close the plant in August of last year and the NRC rejecting a request from several environmental groups to shut down one of the reactors in October 2023. Subsequently, CPUC voted to keep the plant running through 2030 in November and the Biden administration finalized the $1.1 billion in January.

Despite it being virtually a done deal, Friends of Earth gave a final challenge on Wednesday. According to their lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the environmental assessment covered by the DOE is decades out of date, with environmental risks such as earthquakes not being properly integrated in.