Can Small Modular Nuclear Power Plants Play a Role in California’s Decarbonization Efforts?

In 1976, the California Public Resource Code (PRC) was amended to add sections 25524.1, 25524.2 and 25524.3, which mandated that certain requirements be met before any new nuclear power plants could be licensed and built in California. In particular, PRC section 25524.2 prohibited the California Energy Commission from granting a license to build a nuclear power plant until the Federal government “approved a technology for disposal of high-level nuclear wastes.”

Although challenged on Federal preemption grounds, which were initially successful, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately dismissed such claims in 461 U.S. 190 (1983). As a result, no new nuclear plants have been built in California since the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant was completed in the mid-1980s.

Now, however, California may be reconsidering the need for and benefits of nuclear power. If adopted, Assembly Bill 65 (AB 65), which, notably, is co-authored by a Democrat, would revise the three PRC sections to exempt “small modular reactors,” defined as nuclear reactors with an electrical generating capacity of up to 300 MW per unit, from the specified requirements. AB 65 also would direct the California Public Utilities Commission, by January 1, 2026, to “adopt a plan to increase the procurement of electricity generated from nuclear facilities and to phase out the procurement of electricity generated from natural gas facilities.” AB 65 is currently going through the California Assembly Committee review process.

Contact: Ron Liebert