010919 DCPP_Aerial

Pictured is an aerial photograph of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. In 2016, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced plans to shutter Diablo Canyon at the expiration of its Nuclear Regulatory Commission operating licenses in 2024 and 2025. PG&E is focused on continuing safe and reliable operations at Diablo Canyon, while also preparing decommissioning plans that consider community input. 

After nearly a year of public meetings seeking input on the future of Diablo Canyon Power Plant, its 14 miles of coastline and 12,000 acres of land, a decommissioning panel released its strategic vision Tuesday for the reuse of the resources after the facility ceases operations in 2024 and 2025.

The document outlines five recommendations developed from seven public meetings and four full-day workshops held to help panel members understand the decommissioning process and solicit public input.

The Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel also received and reviewed more than 950 individual public comments before developing the vision plan.

The recommendations include starting the nuclear decontamination process immediately after the plant shuts down, and to repurpose plant facilities to create new jobs and economic development and to reduce the volume of demolition debris.

Panel members also recommended that the 12,000 acres surrounding the plant be preserved in perpetuity with managed public access and use, and the community’s health and safety and area’s environmental quality should be the primary considerations when evaluating cost-effective methods of decommissioning to save ratepayers’ money.

Strategic Vision recommendations will be submitted to Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which owns and operates the plant, and to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The document is available for review at pge.com/engagementpanel.

Meetings have been scheduled throughout 2019 on topics regarding infrastructure, transportation and nuclear spent fuel storage.

The panel received an overwhelming number of comments on many important issues associated with the decommissioning process, said panel member Kara Woodruff, whose term concludes in May 2020.

"There's a lot of issues surrounding decommissioning that are important to the Central Coast," Woodruff said. "First there's going to be a loss of jobs, and second, there are present and future concerns over public safety: How is the plant closed in a way that ensures the health and well-being of those residents who live near the plant like (in) Morro Bay and Avila Beach?"

PG&E has up to 60 years to decommission the plant after shutdown, according to engagement panel facilitator Chuck Anders.

As part of the decommissioning process, PG&E is also required to remove all buildings and associated infrastructure that may have any radiological impact and nuclear-related materials, Anders said.

However, "they will on interim basis continue to store nuclear spent fuel at the facility" until the plant is provided a facility where the material can be transferred, Anders added.

The recommendation that decontamination begin immediately after closure is aimed at avoiding that 60-year delay.

While agreeing that preserving the land in perpetuity is a great idea, one problem that could arise is the fact that "those 12,000 acres of land is a very valuable asset for PG&E who has a lot of financial problems and can't just (afford) to give the land away for free," said panel member Alex Karlin, whose term concludes in May 2021.

Stakeholders in the past have approached the panel asking for the land to be preserved for various uses and urged PG&E to donate the land for free, which Karlin said isn't realistic.

"We'll need some funding mechanisms (for other potential entities) to either acquire some parts or all of the land, but it'll take decades," Karlin said.

He pointed out the decommissioning process itself will take between 20 and 60 years, not to mention "billions of dollars, public concerns from surrounding cities and a lot of state, federal and local regulations."

Karlin pointed out that PG&E asked for $4.8 billion for decommissioning costs in December — including paying for costs to maintain the engagement panel — which will be discussed with the California Public Utilities Commission for the next few years.

There is an existing trust fund where PG&E collected money from its customers on their utility bills to fund decommissioning, and the total now accumulated is about $3.2 billion, Woodruff said.

"However, according to PG&E in their December 2018 Trienniel Report, they need about $4.8 billion to do the job,” Woodruff said. “That means they're about $1.6 billion short, and they're asking the California Public Utilities Commission for permission to charge customers to make up the difference."

Karlin added that he alone recommended for his very own engagement panel to be replaced with a "more robust, sustainable and independent Decommissioning Advisory Panel that will serve the public interest during the long, difficult and crucial decommissioning process that lies ahead."

While extending his gratitude towards his fellow members for all of their hard work and effort, Karlin cited the lack of resources to take on the decades-long decommissioning process.

"I think we should be replaced by an independent group that has resources" and is subject to rules regarding conflicts of interests like any government agency, said Karlin.

"The panel was created by PG&E for PG&E," said Karlin. "We need something created by the state and community for the state and community independent from PG&E."

The panel of 11 members was established by the utility giant to foster open and transparent dialogue between members of the local community and PG&E on topics regarding the future decommissioning process of the plant north of Avila Beach.

Meetings, workshops, tours and other outreach for public input have been facilitated by both PG&E and the engagement panel since the June 2016 announcement of the power plant's closure as part of an agreement reached between PG&E and several environmental groups that were calling for the plant’s closure long before its construction was completed.

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Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210