The Biden administration has announced the first round of funding from a new federal program designed to support nuclear power plants. The first recipient is the embattled Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the last nuclear facility in California, which until recently was on track to be completely shut down by 2025. 
The civil nuclear credit program, created as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will provide a $1.1-billion grant to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The money will support the continued operation of the plant, which provides around 10 percent of the state's electricity and 15 percent of its clean energy. 
“This is a critical step toward ensuring that our domestic nuclear fleet will continue providing reliable and affordable power to Americans as the nation’s largest source of clean electricity,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, in a statement. “Nuclear energy will help us meet President Biden’s climate goals, and with these historic investments in clean energy, we can protect these facilities and the communities they serve.”  
The funding is the latest example of a shift in sentiment around nuclear power. Since 2013, the federal government has allowed 13 reactors to shut down, despite urgent calls to replace fossil fuels with carbon-free energy.  
Indeed, the Palisades Nuclear Generating Station in Michigan closed as recently as a month ago, even as a burgeoning pro-nuclear movement rallied behind keeping it open. 
While the U.S. still maintains 92 reactors, many are threatened by local pushback  and economic challenges brought on by deregulated energy markets. 
In the meantime, nuclear plants provide roughly 50 percent of carbon-free electricity in the United States. The Biden administration noted that carbon emissions have increased in regions where nuclear plants have closed.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) echoed the administration's call to maintain nuclear power plants in order to combat climate change, though with the qualifier that she sees the extension of the plant's life span as temporary.  
"This short-term extension is necessary if California is going to meet its ambitious clean energy goals while continuing to deliver reliable power," she said. 
According to the Department of Energy, plants must demonstrate that they are projected to close for economic reasons and that the closure will increase carbon emissions and air pollutants to receive funding from the program. 
On the latter requirement, the case is clear. But nuclear advocates argue that Diablo Canyon was doing just fine economically, and that the funding should never have been necessary in the first place. 
"Most of the cost and difficulty of continuing the life of this power plant has already been collected and spent before efforts to shut it down were nearly successful," said Mark Nelson, a pro-nuclear energy consultant and founder of the Radiant Energy Group. "We've lost five or six years of preparation time for nothing, for no gain, only pain."  
In other words, the long political fight to close the plant set it back significantly in terms of upkeep, and recent state and federal support is mostly just filling that gap, according to Nelson. 
"A bunch of these costs should have and would have been avoided by not forcing the plant into this ridiculous situation where it only has two years to get done work that should have been done six years ago," he added. 
Still, the most significant and risky work, including replacing steam generators, is already done.