Nuke Plant Shutdown is Model for Move to Renewable Energy

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

California’s planned shutdown of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in 2025 can provide a model for creating clean energy jobs while helping fossil fuel plant workers through the transition, the business manager of the union that represents the plant workers says.

Tom Dalzell, business manager for Electrical Workers Local 1245, explained what happened in a blog posted by the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center on Nov. 30. The blog was one of several follow-ups to an earlier conference on what labor’s role in battling climate change should be, particularly in the Golden State.

Union leaders are divided on what labor’s role should be in the climate change debate. Unions that represent fossil fuel workers, notably the United Mine Workers and some building trades unions, argue – correctly -- that conversion away from those fuels has cost their members jobs and left them with no alternatives.

Other unions, led by the BlueGreen Alliance, the Steelworkers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, National Nurses United and others, contend the labor movement must campaign for measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming.

They also contend that plant closures as a result of conversion from fossil fuels must be accompanied by retraining for the workers, especially for unionized high-paying jobs retrofitting buildings, manufacturing solar and wind power structures and erecting other facilities to store such new energy.

Dalzell says what happened at Diablo Canyon can provide a model for that course. “A fundamental premise should be that workers must not be made to pay the price,” he said.

Negotiations on how to deal with the coming closure “were possible because everyone involved, even those who had been enemies for over three decades, put down their swords long enough to chart a path worth taking together,” Dalzell said. His local represents 500 high-skilled high-tech workers. 

A prior, abrupt nuke plant closure – throwing hundreds out of jobs – made clear that advance planning for Diablo Canyon’s shutdown was absolutely necessary. So both sides got to work.

“We negotiated a 25 percent retention bonus for workers to remain at the plant through its closure,” Dalzell wrote. “For workers close to retirement, the additional income was welcome news. For younger workers, the plan provided an opportunity to remain in the community and expand their skills thanks to a training program to transition them into the ongoing work of decommissioning the plant.”

The community needed advance planning, too, so the bargaining produced an $85 million package “to help mitigate the blow” of the Diablo Canyon’s shutdown. And the pact also included provisions for replacing the plant’s electrical power output with other, carbon-free, sources. The prior closure had led to a scramble for replacement sources – and those sources increased emissions, Dalzell said. It was “in everyone’s best interest to build a long, seven-year runway,” he added.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Press Associates

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From the AFL-CIO

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