A new scientific landmark was achieved in California that brings the country one step closer toward achieving a net-zero carbon economy.

In December, the U.S. The Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration announced that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory conducted an experiment that achieved fusion ignition, also known as scientific energy breakeven, meaning it generated more energy than that which was used to drive it.

What You Need To Know

  • National Ignition Facility in California achieves fusion ignition for the first time ever

  • Diablo Canyon Power Plant was scheduled to close by 2025, but Gov. Newsom signed legislation to extend operations beyond that date

  • Sen. Laird said that without Diablo Canyon, California’s grid would have trouble at peak times of usage

  • Sen. Laird believes the nation should move away from nuclear power, but has to first increase its alternative options

This first-of-its-kind accomplishment will help in making advances in the field of clean energy and for our national defense. 

But, the city of Livermore isn’t the only one helping to produce clean energy. In San Luis Obispo, the Diablo Canyon Power Plant is helping the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, or PG&E, generate and deliver some of the nation’s cleanest electricity.

In 1968, when the plant was first constructed, many people labeled the development as dangerous. As incidents like Fukushima occurred, people became even more concerned. Adding to that concern was also the fear of earthquakes.

In 2015, PG&E said it conducted research that found Diablo Canyon to be “seismically safe… and able to withstand the largest potential earthquakes in the region.” Still, only a year later, the electric company said it was planning to shut down the plant within the next ten years. 

Fast forward to this fall, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on legislation to extend the nuclear power plant’s operations beyond 2025. California State Sen. John Laird, who represents the region where Diablo Canyon lives, joined “Inside the Issues” host Alex Cohen to explain what happened.

“It was all about the fact that on warm days in September, we might not have enough baseline electricity to sustain the grid in California,” the senator recalled about the decision to extend Diablo Canyon’s operations. He’s referring to the increase in air conditioning use on days when heat waves stretch across the state. It’s during those times residents are asked to conserve energy so as to not disrupt the grid. A grid refers to the network from which electricity is delivered from producers to consumers. Laird said the strongest argument for keeping Diablo Canyon up and running is that it contributes significantly to the state’s overall power. It’s nearly 10% of the state’s energy portfolio and 20% of the power that PG&E provides in its service area. Without the plant, “We would have trouble at times of peak usage,” Laird said.

The California senator said he understands concerns of having a plant like Diablo Canyon. Laird served on the Santa Cruz City Council when the power plant first opened. He recalled serving on the council with members who were arrested at the gates of Diablo Canyon, in protest of its opening.

“I’ve had a historic awareness of the different arguments of pro and con,” Laird said.

He added that overtime he believes there should be a shift away from nuclear power. At the same time, the senator said, “We can’t have the grid crash.”

All the concerns about the power plant lead to one place, a call to create more renewable energy, renewable electricity, Laird said.

And while, at times, residents have been able to reduce their energy intake when asked to do so… it’s not as sustainable as creating more efficient products in categories like lights, dishwashers, televisions that can lower the demand over longer periods of time and not just in one instance. 

Let “Inside the Issues” know your thoughts and watch Monday through Friday at 8 and 11 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly characterized how residents at the time viewed the plant. The Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters had not happened yet. The errors have been corrected. (Jan. 3, 2022)