Urging local residents living near tons of stored radioactive waste at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station to take action, five specialists presented views on safety dangers to more than 200 people last Wednesday, June 8, at the Laguna Beach City Council Chambers.
Rita Conn, chair of Let Laguna Vote and founder of Secure Nuclear Waste, organized the panel of experts that included environmental attorneys, a transportation expert, utility watchdogs, a medical doctor and a geologist for a two-hour presentation.
“This is one of the most vulnerable places on the planet,” said Conn. A disaster with the stored radioactive waste at Southern California Edison’s decommissioned nuclear power plant south of San Clemente has the potential to affect 10 million people living within a 50-mile radius, she said.
At this past Tuesday’s City Council meeting, council member Rob Zur Schmiede commended Conn and said more cities are joining the Concerned Coastal Communities Coalition in support of moving the stored waste at San Onofre to a more remote location.
“Currently, there is 89 times the amount of radiation at San Onofre as was released at
Chernobyl, 89 times the amount,” she said, citing a report by Robert Alvarez of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and a former cabinet-level energy advisor.
If not stopped, Edison will bury 1,631 metric tons of lethal radioactive material in untested canisters on the beach 42 yards from the ocean and three feet above the water table, she said.
Two of the panel’s attorneys, Mike Aguirre and Maria Severson, filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court Wednesday asking the court to order the California Coastal Commission to rescind its permit allowing Edison to store nuclear waste at San Onofre. The lawsuit claims that other, more viable and safer alternatives were not considered, Aguirre said.
San Juan Capistrano Mayor Pam Patterson, one of the panel speakers, says Edison’s Community Engagement Panel is instilling a false sense of safety. “They don’t have anything planned,” said Patterson, a member, who described herself as the panel’s rebel. “We can call it public relations, it’s a public relations panel, but in the end it’s all about propaganda.”
The CEP is hand-picked to “candy-coat” the safety risks at San Onofre, said Patterson, which she said is a tactic that runs throughout the nuclear industry.
“It’s not a PR panel,” said CEP chair David Victor, a professor of international relations at UC San Diego. Members are volunteers and don’t work for Edison and meetings are focused on removing the spent fuel, he said.
Every member is a volunteer and no one works for Edison, he said. “We’re not a decision-making body or a planning body.” Meetings focus on options to remove the stored fuel, Victor said.
Evacuation and emergency plans were greatly reduced at the plant once it was decommissioned, according to Edison’s San Onofre webpage: “With the reduced radiological risk at the station, we will no longer need to maintain pre-planned, off-site radiological emergency preparedness plans or the 10-mile emergency planning zone around the plant.”
Medical facilities are ill-prepared to cope with possible contamination from any type of nuclear mishap, said another panelist, Dr. William Honingman of Anaheim, a 29-year emergency medicine specialist and expert in the care of victims of environmental toxins. “The danger is not gone. On order of magnitude, there is an obscene level of unpreparedness,” he said.
Local hospitals are not prepared for the mass contamination of a nuclear power disaster, Honingman said. Hazmat suits, which emergency hospital personnel are trained to use, will not be effective, he said.
Outside showers to wash down victims of exposure to contaminants are unusable if there’s radioactive contamination, he said. Temporary auxiliary showers would be needed to catch the toxic water wash-off. “Then where are they putting that?” he asked.
Above-ground, interim storage of the spent nuclear fuel must be established before Edison moves ahead and buries the waste, said anti-nuclear activist Marni Magda, an audience member.
A West Texas site is now being licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for military use and could be expanded to include commercial use by 2021, Magda said. “To get it out of San Onofre, we have to get behind a bipartisan bill, HR 3643,” she said. The bill would allow for interim storage of “high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel of domestic origin,” according to the government’s online summary.
“I wish it were that cut and dried,” Maureen Brown, an Edison spokesperson said in a separate interview. “We’re early in the licensing process.” Two sites are being considered for storage in West Texas and New Mexico, Brown said. Licensing, building the facility and transporting radioactive waste are lengthy processes, Brown said, and will be discussed at the next Edison community meeting from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, June 22, at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center, 25925 Camino Del Avion.
The panel urged the audience to attend that meeting and sign a petition to remove stored spent nuclear fuel from San Onofre.