10 Things to Know
about San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant
An Open Letter to Myself
Dear friends, relatives, neighbors and Facebook lurkers,
Why in the world is my Facebook and Twitter stream bulging with “San Onofre” lately?
It’s simple, really, but not easy…. For some quick context, here in Southern California, when we say “San Onofre” it means one of two things, depending on the circles you run in: San Onofre State Beach (one of the best surfing beaches in the world), or San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which has nicknames like SONGS or The Twins. There are other–anatomical–terms, too. To be clear, the beach and the power plant are in the same location geographically, but a world apart philosophically. (More on that in a future post.)
I live about 10 miles as the crow flies from the plant and on a clear day can see the domes from the balcony. For years I was vaguely aware of a nuclear power plant down the coast somewhere but, like so many others, was psychologically unwilling to think about the risk it posed to my family, friends and future.
Then came the Fukushima disaster — a wake-up call that obliterated the cozy denial I’d enjoyed for so long.
I promise to post much more here in this blog about my very personal journey with the issue of this nuclear power plant. But for now, since it’s currently 4:30am and I just can’t sleep, let’s keep it simple. Here is a short list of the most uncomfortable things I’ve learned about San Onofre.
- Currently over 30 years of highly radioactive waste is stored on site at San Onofre. The plant was engineered and built to store waste for only 5-7 years.
- There is no plan to remove over 1,400 tons of the highly radioactive waste on site.
- This plant uses the fuel longer than most plants, which makes the waste more highly radioactive than most.
- The plant was originally designed and licensed to be shut down in 2013.
- San Onofre sits within a ring of some of the most active earthquake fault lines on the globe. It was built to withstand a 6.0 quake, and was later somehow retrofitted to about 7.0. Geologists now expect an 8.0+ in nearby faults. A new, underground fault was recently discovered very near the plant.
- The plant sits in a tsunami zone. The tsunami wall is 14 above high tide. The geological record in the area shows tsunami evidence up to 195 feet above current sea level within the last 900 years.
- San Onofre has the worst safety record of all nuclear plants in the United States. In 2010, San Onofre had 10 times the national average of safety violations.
- The steam generator sprung a radioactive leak on Jan. 29, 2012, and the plant has been ordered shut by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- Only 4 out of 10 emergency workers within the plant responded according to required emergency procedures.
- Since the leak on Jan. 29, 2012, plant operators have not publicly shared any primary data about the causes of the leak, nor firm plans to address the problems.
So, the simple part for me was concluding that this plant should be shut down once and for all. The not-so-easy part? For that to happen, we all have to overcome a few minor obstacles: public apathy, multi-billion dollar industries, governmental inadequacies, lobbists, fear, and all the irrational political rancor of an election year.
Regardless of the obstacles, I’m personally compelled to give the effort whatever support I can muster. I don’t particularly want to get involved in this issue, but my conscience just won’t let me ignore it any more. That’s why the sub-title to this post is “an open letter to myself”… as much as anything else, this blog post is a message to myself:
Go back to sleep now, Ross.