Diablo Canyon Power Plant

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Diablo Canyon Power Plant
Diablo Canyon Power Plant
Diablo Canyon Power Plant
CountryUnited States
Location San Luis Obispo County, California
Coordinates 35°12′39″N 120°51′22″W / 35.21083°N 120.85611°W / 35.21083; -120.85611
Latitude and Longitude:

35°12′39″N 120°51′22″W / 35.21083°N 120.85611°W / 35.21083; -120.85611
Construction beganUnit 1: April 23, 1968
Unit 2: December 9, 1970
Commission dateUnit 1: May 7, 1985
(36 years ago)
Unit 2: March 13, 1986
(35 years ago)
Decommission date2025 (planned)
Construction cost$11.556 billion (2007 USD) [1]
($14 billion in 2019 dollars [2])
Owner(s) PG&E Corporation
Operator(s) Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Nuclear power station
Reactor type PWR
Reactor supplier Westinghouse
Cooling source Pacific Ocean
Thermal capacity2 × 3411 MWth
Power generation
Units operational1 × 1138 MW
1 × 1118 MW
Make and model WH 4-loop (DRYAMB)
Nameplate capacity2256 MW
Capacity factor90.93% (2017)
87.25% (lifetime)
Annual net output16,165 GWh (2019) [3]
External links
Website Diablo Canyon Power Plant
Commons Related media on Commons
Diablo Canyon Power Plant, 2008. The light beige domes are the containment structures for Unit 1 and 2 reactors. The reddish-brown building is the turbine building where electricity is generated and sent to the grid. To the left is the Administration Building (black and white stripes).

The Diablo Canyon Power Plant is an electricity-generating nuclear power plant near Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, California. Since the permanent shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 2013, Diablo Canyon is the only operational nuclear plant left in the state. The plant has two Westinghouse-designed 4-loop pressurized-water nuclear reactors operated by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).

The facility was the subject of controversy and protests, both during its construction and operations, including nearly two thousand civil disobedience arrests in a two-week period in 1981.

Diablo Canyon Power Plant is on approximately 900 acres (360 ha) of land located just west of Avila Beach, California. The power-producing portion of the plant occupies around 12 acres (4.9 ha). Together, the twin 1100 MWe reactors produce about 18,000  GW·h of electricity annually (8.6% of total California generation and 23% of carbon-free generation), supplying the electrical needs of more than 3 million people. [4] Though it was built less than a mile from the Shoreline fault line, which was not known to exist at the time of construction, and is located less than three miles from the Hosgri fault, a 2016 NRC probabilistic risk assessment of the plant, taking into account seismic risk, estimated the frequency of core damage at one instance per 7.6 million reactor years. [5]

The plant is located in Nuclear Regulatory Commission Region IV. In November 2009, PG&E applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for 20-year license renewals for both reactors. [6] In June 2016, PG&E announced that it plans to close the two Diablo Canyon reactors in 2024 and 2025. [7] Full decommissioning of the plant is estimated to take decades and cost nearly 4 billion dollars. [8]


Unit One

Unit One is a 1138 MWe pressurized water reactor supplied by Westinghouse. It went online on May 7, 1985, and is licensed to operate through November 2, 2024. [9] In 2006, Unit One generated 9,944,983 MW·h of electricity, at a nominal capacity factor of 101.2 percent.

Unit Two

Unit Two is a 1118 MWe pressurized water reactor supplied by Westinghouse. It went online on March 3, 1986, and is licensed to operate through August 20, 2025. [9] In 2006, Unit Two generated 8,520,000 MW·h of electricity, at a capacity factor of 88.2 percent.


The plant's once-through cooling system (OTC) draws water from the Pacific Ocean to condense steam driving its turbines. Unlike evaporative cooling systems used at other plants, Diablo Canyon's OTC is designed so all water can be recycled, and to assure minimal impact on ocean ecosystems. Reactors can be throttled back during heavy storm surges to prevent an excess of kelp from entering the cooling water intake, and power is limited during operation so that water returned to the ocean is no more than 20 °F (11 °C) warmer than ambient temperature.

All thermal power stations in California using OTC systems for cooling employ various filtering capabilities to prevent larvae and other aquatic objects from being drawn into impacts with the grids on the intake tubes, known as entrainment. [10] The Diablo Canyon facility was ranked 13th in estimated power station bio-fouling and egg larvae damage in the state of California in 2013; the less productive fossil gas power units 6 & 7 at Moss Landing Power Plant were ranked as having a far higher impact on fish larvae. [11] In 2014, the California Water Board released a white paper detailing the costs to convert Diablo Canyon to utilize cooling towers instead of the once-through cooling cycle. [12] These upgrade cost estimates have been the subject of controversy and debate, with some arguing instead for construction of an artificial reef to better offset the environmental impact of diminished larvae spawning. [10]

Electricity production

Generation ( MW-h) of Diablo Canyon Power Plant [13]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total (Annual)
2001 1,525,244 1,485,080 1,641,948 1,521,122 849,893 1,551,157 1,641,614 1,640,733 1,562,472 1,583,472 1,457,320 1,617,658 18,077,713
2002 1,571,813 1,400,306 1,640,898 1,506,506 837,835 1,436,401 1,602,027 1,545,177 1,558,103 1,296,739 687,427 1,220,974 16,304,206
2003 1,631,359 793,221 841,539 1,187,258 1,644,785 1,530,373 1,639,201 1,643,064 1,585,538 1,638,662 1,583,856 1,566,183 17,285,039
2004 1,603,460 1,440,359 1,277,888 783,061 796,125 1,212,488 1,547,670 1,624,119 1,552,821 1,436,340 792,634 1,163,472 15,230,437
2005 1,613,306 1,405,477 1,634,241 1,579,485 1,631,023 1,563,650 1,635,820 1,632,265 1,446,022 1,358,644 776,329 1,479,040 17,755,302
2006 1,648,808 1,497,112 1,658,752 1,229,920 932,000 1,637,676 1,695,432 1,686,784 1,635,172 1,685,593 1,575,764 1,507,982 18,390,995
2007 1,693,248 1,525,089 1,690,619 1,554,389 852,197 1,627,930 1,688,585 1,454,699 1,631,781 1,683,859 1,614,813 1,571,281 18,588,490
2008 1,656,514 829,903 840,213 1,261,141 1,638,605 1,632,295 1,682,212 1,259,242 1,449,057 1,552,863 1,616,118 1,672,364 17,090,527
2009 1,488,879 751,745 950,830 1,634,919 1,614,195 1,621,198 1,608,408 1,336,564 1,365,692 888,647 1,315,998 1,687,783 16,264,858
2010 1,559,639 1,467,335 1,696,220 1,642,753 1,699,737 1,645,987 1,696,146 1,696,174 1,636,026 847,393 1,180,980 1,661,535 18,429,925
2011 1,692,964 1,528,441 1,542,395 1,609,954 844,430 1,456,556 1,690,001 1,682,731 1,525,243 1,671,988 1,634,559 1,686,812 18,566,074
2012 1,688,081 1,515,618 1,695,061 1,204,192 841,181 1,115,654 1,693,320 1,692,593 1,621,859 1,545,477 1,557,988 1,541,444 17,712,468
2013 1,690,733 810,923 1,014,766 1,641,779 1,692,223 1,498,929 1,485,846 1,688,180 1,634,281 1,581,357 1,595,494 1,677,928 18,012,439
2014 1,597,319 799,061 960,097 1,644,750 1,679,904 1,627,661 1,663,326 1,508,498 1,611,914 940,932 1,422,921 1,529,595 16,985,978
2015 1,563,700 1,526,210 1,694,001 1,645,487 1,696,424 1,639,554 1,681,722 1,666,228 1,533,642 904,616 1,370,238 1,583,563 18,505,385
2016 1,690,198 1,582,510 1,694,947 1,635,303 846,524 1,526,133 1,695,468 1,685,863 1,630,606 1,604,631 1,622,046 1,693,349 18,907,578
2017 1,645,132 1,526,365 1,569,141 1,412,868 840,135 959,831 1,648,012 1,682,881 1,623,061 1,683,557 1,628,939 1,681,157 17,901,079
2018 1,666,162 982,658 1,046,927 1,546,437 1,682,785 1,637,307 1,686,430 1,620,869 1,614,534 1,667,833 1,573,910 1,487,667 18,213,519
2019 1,681,619 987,002 1,132,805 1,551,843 1,692,739 1,632,855 1,687,150 1,677,931 1,369,770 839,895 800,964 1,110,811 16,165,384
2020 1,689,545 1,486,059 1,671,026 1,630,645 6,477,275


Pacific Gas & Electric Company went through six years of hearings, referenda and litigation to have the Diablo Canyon plant approved. A principal concern about the plant is whether it can be sufficiently earthquake-proof; the site was deemed safe when construction began in 1968, but a seismic fault (the Hosgri fault) had been discovered several miles offshore by the time the plant was completed in 1973. [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] This fault experienced a 7.1 magnitude quake 10 miles offshore on November 4, 1927, and thus is capable of generating forces equivalent to approximately 116 of those felt in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. [19]

The company updated its plans and added structural supports designed to reinforce stability in case of earthquake. In September 1981, PG&E discovered that a single set of blueprints was used for these structural supports; workers were supposed to have reversed the plans when switching to the second reactor, but did not. [20] Nonetheless, on March 19, 1982, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided not to review its 1978 decision approving the plant's safety, despite these and other design errors. [21]

In response to concern that ground acceleration, or shaking, could cause spillage of submerged fuel rod assemblies which could ignite upon exposure to air, PG&E and NRC regulators insist that the foregoing scenario is anticipated and controlled for, and that there is no basis to anticipate spillage. [22] The launch of additional seismic studies did not delay re-issuance of the operating licenses for the two onsite units. [23]

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's estimate of the risk each year of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to the reactor at Diablo Canyon was 1 in 23,810, according to an NRC study published in August 2010. [24] [25] In April 2011, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan, PG&E asked the NRC not to issue license renewals until PG&E could complete new seismic studies, which were expected to take at least three years. [26] [27]

On June 24, 2013, at 9:20 PM PDT, Diablo Canyon experienced a loss of offsite power to the startup transformers of both units due to a failure on the 230 kV transmission system. At the time, none of the startup transformers were loaded as both units were online and their electrical systems were at the time being powered by the plant's turbine generators. However, the emergency diesel generators were started with no load during the outage as a precaution in case either unit tripped offline while offsite power was unavailable. The electrical output of the plant via the 500 kV transmission system was not interrupted, allowing both units to remain online during the outage.

Public participation and protest

Diablo Canyon was built and entered service despite legal challenges and civil disobedience from the anti-nuclear protesters of the Abalone Alliance. [28] Over a two-week period in 1981, 1,900 activists were arrested and sent to jail for protesting at Diablo Canyon Power Plant, including musician/activist Jackson Browne. It was the largest arrest total in the history of the U.S. anti-nuclear movement. [28]

In spring of 2011, State Senator Sam Blakeslee and US Representative Lois Capps both expressed concern for a renewed safety review. [29] [30] Speaking before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Representative Capps stated that she believed the "Nuclear Regulatory Commission should stay the license renewal process until the completion of independent, peer reviewed, advanced seismic studies of all faults in the area." The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility began circulating a petition to similar effect, [31] going further and calling for an outright halt to relicensing. An array of San Luis Obispo-based anti-nuclear groups including Mothers for Peace also called for closure of the plant. [32]

The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility also works at the level of the California Public Utilities Commission and initiated a letter writing campaign to Governor Jerry Brown requesting he "instruct the CPUC to rescind the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for ... Diablo Canyon ... and allow them to operate conditionally only under the agreement by the utilities to immediately begin to fully comply with completion of the state-directed AB 1632 [seismic] studies." [33]

Post-Fukushima developments

Due to international reactions to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, concerns have continued over the ongoing operations of Diablo Canyon which, like the reactors at Fukushima, is in an area prone to earthquakes and tsunami. The elevation of the Fukushima site is approximately 20 feet above sea level, while Diablo Canyon sits on a bluff 85 feet above sea level. According to Victor Dricks, senior public affairs officer for NRC Region IV, the Commission conducted a nationwide review of nuclear power plants for their capacity to respond to earthquakes, power outages and other catastrophic events, and Diablo was found to have "a high level of preparedness and strong capability in terms of equipment and procedures to respond to severe events." [34]

On June 2, 2011, the NRC announced that it would delay the environmental part of the re-licensing application but that it had completed the safety portion. [35] A few days later, the Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) indicated that it would defer adjustment of the adjudicatory schedule of the four contentions brought by San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace (SLOMFP), a community-based organization, accordingly. The ASLB made no findings regarding the merits of the contentions; both PG&E and SLOMFP claimed these developments as victories. [36] [37]

S. David Freeman, a former general manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District for four years, criticized the continued operation of Diablo Canyon, calling nuclear power the "most expensive and dangerous source of energy on Earth." According to Freeman, Diablo Canyon and the since-closed San Onofre nuclear plant are both "disasters waiting to happen: aging, unreliable reactors sitting near fault zones on the fragile Pacific Coast, with millions or hundreds of thousands of Californians living nearby." [38]

Save Diablo Canyon campaign

In January 2016, several authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto (including Robert Stone, David Keith, Stewart Brand, Michael Shellenberger, Mark Lynas) signed an open letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, Tony Earley, CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric, and California state officials, urging that the plant not be closed. [39] [40] [41] They argued that Diablo is an asset for California in achieving global warming goals since it does not emit greenhouse gases like a natural gas power plant, which are a major contributor to global warming. [42]

Closure in 2024–2025

On June 21, 2016, PG&E announced a Joint Proposal with Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees, and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility to increase investment in energy efficiency, renewables and storage, while phasing out nuclear power. [43] Critics objected to the proposal, pointing out PG&E had selected parties to the proposal without any public notice or input.

Specifically, the operating licenses for Diablo Canyon Units 1 and 2 would not be renewed when they expire on November 2, 2024 and August 26, 2025, respectively. PG&E's application to close Diablo Canyon, including the Joint Proposal, was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in January 2018. In February, PG&E withdrew its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a licensing extension. [44]


Overall, there are approximately 1,200 employees of Pacific Gas & Electric and 200 employees of subcontractors at the Diablo Canyon site. [45] Several unions represent the workforce at Diablo, among them the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the International Association of Machinists. Control technicians and electricians who work for Crane Nuclear, one of many subcontractors, are represented by the IBEW Local 1245. [46] Local 1245 also represents PG&E meter readers, clerical workers, etc. [47] Other workers are represented by the Plumbers and Pipefitters. [48]

The routine outages for maintenance and the complex process of refueling create more than 1,000 temporary jobs, according to PG&E. [49]


Earthquake protection

Diablo Canyon was originally designed to withstand a 6.75 magnitude earthquake from four faults, including the nearby San Andreas and Hosgri faults, [50] but was later upgraded to withstand a 7.5 magnitude quake. [51] It has redundant seismic monitoring and a safety system designed to shut it down promptly in the event of significant ground motion.

Independent Safety Committee

The Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee (DCISC) was established as a part of a settlement agreement entered into in June 1988 between the Division of Ratepayer Advocates of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the Attorney General for the State of California, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). It consists of three members, one each appointed by the Governor, the Attorney General and the Chairperson of the California Energy Commission. They serve staggered three-year terms. The committee has no authority to direct PG&E personnel.

Emergency planning

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission defines two emergency planning zones around nuclear power plants: a plume exposure pathway zone with a radius of 10 miles (16 km), concerned primarily with exposure to, and inhalation of, airborne radioactive contamination, and an ingestion pathway zone of about 50 miles (80 km), concerned primarily with ingestion of food and liquid contaminated by radioactivity. [52]

The 2010 U.S. population within 10 miles (16 km) of Diablo Canyon was 26,123, an increase of 50.2% in a decade, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data for msnbc.com. The 2010 U.S. population within 50 miles (80 km) was 465,521, an increase of 22.4% since 2000. Cities within 50 miles include San Luis Obispo (12 miles to city center) and Paso Robles (31 miles to city center). [53]

Emergency sirens were installed when the plant initially went operational. Federal law requires an early warning system that radiates out 10 miles from any nuclear facility. The county siren coverage goes farther, extending from Cayucos in the north to upper Nipomo to the south. All businesses are required to have a siren information sticker in their business generally located within the restrooms. Schools, government offices, and any other public building will have a PAZ card (Protective Action Zone). These cards show the 12 zones of evacuation with zone one being the plant itself. The cards also show the direction of evacuation on the highways.

See also

  • Anti-nuclear movement in California
  • Conservation Fallout: Nuclear Protest at Diablo Canyon ISBN  978-0-87417-680-3
  • Critical Masses: Opposition to Nuclear Power in California, 1958–1978 ISBN  0299158543
  • Dark Circle (film)
  • International reactions to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster
  • John Gofman
  • List of articles associated with nuclear issues in California
  • Nuclear policy in the United States
  • San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station
  • Largest nuclear power plants in the United States


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Further reading

External links