Q&A: Options for the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant

Researchers from MIT's Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research and Stanford's Precourt Energy Institute with energy analysis firm LucidCatalyst LLC, have assessed the possible benefits of keeping the California-based Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in operation past its scheduled closure date in 2025 to 2030 or 2045. John Lienhard, director, J-WAFS and Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Water and Food, MIT; and Jacopo Buongiorno, TEPCO professor of science and engineering, MIT, co-authored a report about the analysis, which studied the plant's potential benefits for stabilising the state's electric grid and providing desalinated water and carbon-free hydrogen fuel.

John explains the plant's potential for low cost, zero-carbon baseload power, saying, "the cost of desalinated water produced at Diablo Canyon would be lower than for a stand-alone plant because the cost of electricity would be significantly lower and you could take advantage of the existing infrastructure for the intake of seawater and the outfall of brine," later adding, "most of the desalination scenarios that we considered did not consume the full electrical output of that plant, meaning that under most scenarios you would continue to make electricity and do something with it, beyond just desalination. I think it’s also important to remember that this power plant produces 15 percent of California’s carbon-free electricity today and is responsible for 8 percent of the state’s total electrical production. In other words, Diablo Canyon is a very large factor in California’s decarbonisation."

Although the California utility has decided to shut the plant down, John hopes the report will result in a reversal of the decision. He notes, "we believe that this report gives the relevant stakeholders and policymakers a lot of information about options and value associated with keeping the plant running, and about how California could benefit from clean water and clean power generated at Diablo Canyon. It’s not up to us to make the decision, of course — that is a decision that must be made by the people of California. All we can do is provide information."

MIT News