Roger Johnson, San Clemente
Many who live in the shadow of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station are under the impression that the plant is closed just because it no longer produces electricity. Those who went to the recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting in Carlsbad were shocked to learn that decommissioning could take 50 to 60 years. Even Unit 1, which was shutdown in 1992, is not completely decommissioned.
What this means is the thousands of tons of radioactive waste will remain in our backyard indefinitely. It is so dangerous—containing the radioactive equivalent of a thousand Hiroshima atomic bombs—that no one else will accept this waste. By default, we are all neighbors with a nuclear waste storage facility.
In addition to the high-level waste, there is also the problem of how to dispose of all the low-level waste. By law, the contaminated “low-level” radioactive waste must be carted to Andrews, Texas, with even lower levels of contaminated waste going to Clive, Utah. The NRC said that “most” waste would go outside of California, but perhaps some of it might end up in our own landfills. Transferring contaminated waste from one side of San Clemente to the Prima Deshecha Landfill on the other is not a solution.
There is also the troubling issue of the large discharge pipe into the ocean, which is 18-feet in diameter and longer than the San Clemente Pier. Southern California Edison has been flushing radioactive liquid waste through this pipe into the ocean for the last 30 years. Chances are that Edison will want to do the same thing with this pipe—leave it in the ocean forever. Any opinions about this, surfers?
The NRC refers without explanation to “high-risk activities” during decommissioning. Unfortunately, all radioactive monitoring will be done in secret. At Fukushima, authorities knew that radioactive fallout was blowing north, but they refused to warn people who were evacuating in that direction. It would be naïve to assume that Edison and the NRC will rush to disclose dangerous levels of radioactivity.
Another alarming issue that came up was the admission that Edison secretly switched to Hi-Burn Uranium fuel back in 1996. Hi-burn fuel burns hotter and produces more steam, meaning more electricity and more profit. It is also more dangerous, more radioactive and it must remain in cooling pools three times longer than conventional fuel. This means that spent fuel rods will remain in cooling pools until about 2030. By the way, the term “spent fuel” is highly misleading. It means only that the fuel rods are no longer economically efficient. The uranium is still very much alive and dangerous.
As for long term safety, the dry casks at San Onofre, which are good for about 20 years, are stacked openly a few hundred feet from Old Pacific Highway. The cooling pools are located outside of the containment domes and are highly vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis and terrorist attacks.
Dealing with all of these issues is probably the number one issue for the future of south Orange County. For those who wish to learn more, please attend a community symposium on decommissioning San Onofre on Saturday, October 19 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., at 1201 Puerta Del Sol, Suite 100, San Clemente.