Is Diablo Canyon safe during fire season?

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Diablo Canyon relies on PG&E’s electrical power grid in order to operate safely. Photo credit: Marya (CC BY 2.0)

Following the deadly Thomas and Paradise fires, which were triggered by high winds sparking electrical lines, PG&E and SoCal Edison are now taking pre-emptive measures. They plan to shut off parts of their grid during high wind events for safety.

Meanwhile, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power station outside San Luis Obispo still relies on the grid to power its own nuclear reactors. What does that mean if a sudden blackout happens?

“Power plants are kind of binary,” said Greg Jaczko, former Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “They are either all on, or pretty much all off, and they don’t really operate in the middle.”

Frequent shutdowns and startups put these nuclear power plants at risk.

Diablo Canyon has a backup system that would allow the nuclear power plant to operate safely for a brief period. But if PG&E’s electric grid is down for a longer period, then Diablo Canyon would also need to shut down for safety purposes.