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  • PG&E to Re-Apply for Diablo Canyon Life Extension // NASA and DARPA's Nuke Engines for Mars Missions // Japan and South Korea Re-Up Russian LNG Deals

PG&E to Re-Apply for Diablo Canyon Life Extension // NASA and DARPA's Nuke Engines for Mars Missions // Japan and South Korea Re-Up Russian LNG Deals

PG&E to Re-Apply for Diablo Canyon Life Extension

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected Pacific Gas & Electric's request to extend the operating life of two reactors at California's last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon. 

"PG&E in October of last year had asked the NRC to resume consideration of an application, first submitted in 2009, to keep Diablo Canyon in operation. PG&E later withdrew that application after the utility in 2016 said it planned to close the nuclear plant," reports Power Mag.

In September of last year, Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers in California cancelled the utility's 2016 agreement to shut down the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, in response to the state's energy crisis and rolling blackouts. PG&E then asked the regulator to support keeping Diablo open, as it supplies around 9% of the state's electricity. But the NRC said that it would not consider the previous license extension plan without updated information about the plant's operations. PG&E now must submit a new application by the end of the year to renew the nuclear plant's license for 20 years.

"The U.S. Department of Energy in November of last year said it would allocate $1.1 billion to support PG&E’s efforts to keep the nuclear plant in operation," reports Power Mag. The regulator is willing to work with PG&E on re-licensing, as the new application process was to be expected.

Diablo Canyon has been a hotly contested piece of energy infrastructure. In 1969, David Brower split off from the Sierra Club and formed Friends of the Earth to fight nuclear power in general and Diablo Canyon in particular. America's major environmental organizations have continued to try to close the plant since its reactors came online in 1985 and 1986.

NASA and DARPA's Nuke Engines for Mars Missions

Nuclear energy might take us to Mars. NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have announced a collaboration to demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine in space.

“NASA has a long history of collaborating with DARPA on projects that enable our respective missions, such as in-space servicing,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy in a statement. “Expanding our partnership to nuclear propulsion will help drive forward NASA's goal to send humans to Mars.”

The Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program aims to accelerate development and finish the project by 2027. It will use nuclear thermal rockets, which are three or more times more efficient than traditional chemical propulsion, to decrease travel time and risk for astronaut missions to Mars.

“DARPA and NASA have a long history of fruitful collaboration in advancing technologies for our respective goals, from the Saturn V rocket that took humans to the Moon for the first time to robotic servicing and refueling of satellites,” said Dr. Stefanie Tompkins, director, DARPA. “The space domain is critical to modern commerce, scientific discovery, and national security. The ability to accomplish leap-ahead advances in space technology through the DRACO nuclear thermal rocket program will be essential for more efficiently and quickly transporting material to the Moon and eventually, people to Mars.”

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate will take on technical development of the nuclear thermal engine, while DARPA will guide the overall program, including rocket systems integration and procurement.

Japan and South Korea Re-Up Russian LNG Deals

Russia's Sakhalin-2 LNG project could make bank this year compared to last. 

"Most long-term LNG buyers of the Sakhalin-2 project, including from Japan and South Korea, have continued to buy gas from the venture, even though Western majors quit en masse operations in Russia after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, including Shell, which said it would leave the project," reports Oilprice.com.

But Japanese and South Korean utilities have continued to buy from Sakhalin due to energy security concerns. And many have renewed their long-terms deals. In 2021, the project booked revenues of $5.7 billion. The increase in LNG prices and the continued demand from Asian buyers could double revenues this year.

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Conversation Starters

  1. France had one of the biggest and best nuclear power buildouts in human history. So why is its nuclear fleet failing so badly today? Madi Hilly, the president of Campaign for a Green Nuclear Deal, has just launched her new Substack by investigating what's gone wrong with French nuclear. Check it out here.

  2. Uganda is getting into the oil game. "Uganda has commenced drilling operations on its first commercially viable oil operation, a Uganda Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development spokesperson said on Tuesday. The East African country said it had commissioned the first of four planned rigs in the discovery, and started drilling the country’s very first commercial well in hopes of reaching first production by 2025," reports Oilprice.com. "The Kingfisher oilfield in the Kikuube district is a CNOOC-operated field, but co-owned with TotalEnergies and Uganda’s state run oil company, UNOC. The project has suffered numerous delays after Uganda discovered the reserves almost 20 years ago. But a lack of pipeline infrastructure in the country has, until now, proved to be an insurmountable hurdle."

  3. American crude oil production is set to increase this year and next according to the Energy Information Administration. "[W]e forecast that crude oil production in the United States will average 12.4 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2023 and 12.8 million b/d in 2024, surpassing the previous record of 12.3 million b/d set in 2019," reports the EIA. "In 2022, U.S. crude oil production averaged an estimated 11.9 million b/d. Increased production in the Permian region and, to a lesser extent, in the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico (GOM) drives our forecast growth in production. We base our forecast on our expectations of crude oil prices and infrastructure capacity additions."

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