Diablo Canyon Closure Decision Missing Critical Elements
By Peter Miller
The historic proposal to retire and replace California's last remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, was mostly rejected Thursday in a final decision unanimously adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which removed critical elements protecting the climate, plant workers and surrounding communities. The commission voted to approve this decision, setting the wheels in motion to close the plant by 2025, but without these protections.
While disappointing, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will continue to advocate forcefully to ensure that the CPUC authorizes increased investment in zero-carbon resources to replace the huge plant's electricity generation—including energy efficiency, wind and solar—and avoid any increase in carbon pollution. We also will explore alternative options to ensure that the urgent needs of the plant workers and surrounding communities are addressed.
Diablo Canyon is owned by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), one of the nation's largest combination natural gas and electric utilities, which serves 16 million people in northern and central California. The plant, located 250 miles south of San Francisco near San Luis Obispo, accounts for about 9 percent of California's in-state power generation, 6 percent of the state's total electricity mix, and about 20 percent of the electricity for the service territory of PG&E.
NRDC, Friends of the Earth and PG&E—together with local environment groups and labor unions—in June 2016 hammered out a landmark agreement last year to close Diablo Canyon by August 2025 and replace its output with lower-cost, emissions-free energy. The agreement also recommended significant transition support to communities and workers affected by the shutdown. NRDC estimated that PG&E customers will save at least $1 billion from the implementation of the agreement compared to keeping the facility's two reactors running. NRDC believes the Joint Proposal also is an inspiring model for other states and countries to follow when faced with the need to close aging and uneconomic nuclear plants.
However, a California administrative law judge who oversaw the proceeding and prepared a draft decision recommended that the commission largely disregard our groundbreaking proposal. In doing so, he dismissed the joint efforts of the multiple and diverse stakeholders represented in the proposal, and largely ignored testimony from the proposal's supporters submitted in numerous briefs and hearings over the past 14 months. The judge's recommendation was adopted by the commission Thursday with some modest changes.
Under Thursday's decision, PG&E can proceed with its plan to retire the two reactors near San Luis Obispo, 250 miles south of San Francisco. The CPUC said it would use a separate proceeding to determine how to replace the plant's output. While noting "it is the intent of the Commission to avoid any increase in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the closure of Diablo Canyon," the CPUC missed a golden opportunity to begin a transition to zero-carbon replacement in rejecting the proposed 53 percent increase in how much energy PG&E should help its customers save through energy efficiency programs, a prominent feature of the Joint Proposal.
The CPUC decision also:
- Makes no explicit provision for replacing any part of Diablo Canyon's output with zero-carbon resources; and
- Disallows more than half of the Joint Proposal's recommended transition support to plant workers and their communities (cutting $226 million out of a seven-year total of $448 million), which is crucial to ensuring the plant's safe and reliable operation.
Worker retention is a major concern for plant safety, as well as for the small communities who rely on the plant for tax revenue. The Joint Proposal included $448 million over seven years for worker retention, retraining and development programs, as well as community funds to maintain critical community services in the remaining years of operation. However, the commission instead authorized less than half that for workers, jeopardizing the ability for the plant to retain its skilled, cohesive workforce and refused to authorize any transition aid for essential services in the small, remote communities where they live.
Ensuring that the plant's nuclear power will be replaced with lower cost, pollution-free resources is also a critical point. A precipitous shutdown could prompt a shift toward more polluting sources of power, such as natural gas, which could derail California's climate goals. The final decision included a commitment to avoiding a spike in greenhouse-gas-free emissions, but failed to authorize even a modest initial investment in energy efficiency to start to replace the output of the huge plant. We will work to ensure the separate regulatory proceeding corrects those omissions.
With this decision, the CPUC failed to take a promising step for California electricity customers and climate. Instead, the commission punted on critical support needed to ensure an orderly transition and avoid a spike in carbon pollution.
Given the lack of action on replacement resources and the disregard for the needs of plant workers and host communities, it is possible the California Legislature will take action to address these issues. And NRDC will continue to advocate forcefully before the commission in support of increased investment in the clean energy options like energy efficiency, solar and wind, to offset the loss of generation from Diablo Canyon's retirement.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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