In a 4-0 vote, the California Public Utilities Commission approved Pacific Gas & Electric's application to replace the steam generators at Diablo Canyon's two nuclear reactors in 2008 and 2009. The anti-nuclear group Mothers for Peace may sue to try and overturn the decision. In its November 18 ruling, the CPUC affirmed an environmental impact report on the project, echoing a February vote. Both decisions deemed the estimated $700 million proposed investment more cost-effective than replacing the plant with gas-fired generation. "We're pleased that the PUC found that replacing the steam generators is in the best interest of our customers," said Jeff Lewis, PG&E spokesperson. He added the replacement will allow the 2,200 MW plant to continue generating until its Nuclear Regulatory Commission permits expire in 2024 for unit 1 and 2025 for unit 2. The vote clears the way for the plant to spend a maximum $815 million in ratepayer funds to replace the steam generators. The large devices transfer heat out of nuclear fission-heated water to turn a separate stream of water into steam that turns the plant's turbines. As small pipes within the steam generators degrade, workers physically plug them. The vote was met with dismay by Mothers for Peace, a San Luis Obispo anti-nuclear organization. In the course of the CPUC's two-year proceedings, the activists have maintained that this project should not be considered routine maintenance, but a lease on the life of the power plant. They wanted the commission to conduct an environmental impact analysis comparing the impact of a plant shutdown in 2014 without the steam unit replacements with its likely continued use to 2025-or 2045 with a license extension from the NRC. Most state-permitted projects do not get re-analyzed until they are re-permitted. But the anti-nuke group says such an analysis would be appropriate for Diablo Canyon because the plant was never subjected to an overall environmental review. It was first certified for public benefit before the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act took effect, making environmental impact reports the law of the land. Commissioner Geoffrey Brown said the cost to ratepayers for new steam generator investments is reasonable-but that stops short of paving the way to a 20-year relicense. "I have no idea," he said, "If this will occur or if it should occur. In any case the economics of approving this project do not assume relicensing." He noted that is was nuclear plants are "expensive." But added that "repairing and running an existing plant can cost less than replacing the 2,200 MW of capacity that has a 91 percent capacity factor. Furthermore, there are no realistic plans at this time to replace Diablo Canyon by 2013 with anything else." Mothers for Peace has not yet decided on its next step, said Clyde Murley, an independent consultant working with the group. He held open the possibility of suing the CPUC for "segmenting" the gradual overhaul of the Diablo Canyon plant into smaller portions. Once 15 percent of the over 3,000 steam tubes are plugged, the reactor cannot operate - a situation PG&E predicted would have arrived as soon as 2013 and 2014 without the replacement project. One percent of the steam generators' leaks were recently plugged, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Circuit, Nov. 18, 2005) The state attorney general's office said it is also looking at regulators' vote (Circuit, Oct. 22, 2005). At Diablo Canyon, Lewis agreed that there are a number of separate projects taking place, including the current replacement of low-pressure turbines, the upcoming steam generator replacement, and a $150-million project to develop an interim dry storage facility for high-level nuclear waste. The reactor vessel heads must also soon be replaced, he said, though that will be a much smaller-budget project than the first three. Considered as a group, the projects will cost about $1 billion over the next decade. Even considered together, he said, that $1 billion tag is considered cost-effective under both PG&E's methodology and the CPUC's more conservative calculations. In addition, recent increases in gas prices make the nuclear plant even more cost-effective when compared to gas generation, he added. Neither PG&E's, nor the CPUC's calculations, he said, assume that the federal government will take over long-term storage of high-level waste. That expense, according to Mothers for Peace, could affect whether it is cost-effective to keep running the plant.