The story of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is a sad ballad of civil societies inability to keep pace with modern scientific and technological developments. It didn’t start out that way.
In 1958, folks were thrilled with the exploits of the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine. It sailed under the North Pole and generally recreated the exploits of the fictional Nautilus, as depicted in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
This created visions of a “Jetsons” lifestyle with electric energy that was clean, safe and too cheap to meter. In the early 1980s, a consortium of local utilities built the S.O.N.G.S. nuclear power plant units two and three. Some say the cast concrete containment structures were intended to reinforce the notion that nuclear power is as safe as mother’s milk.
Those two reactors ran for slightly less than 30 years. In that time, they produced 20 percent of the electricity used in Southern California. That saved a lot of carbon, caused by burning fossil fuels, from being dumped in the atmosphere while at the same times creating tons of nuclear waste.
By 2011, two new steam generators were installed in the plant. They didn’t last long.
A year later, an inspection in response to a nuclear leak revealed that 3,000 tubes in the new steam generators had excessive wear in 15,000 places.
One engineer, on viewing a video of the vibrating tubes with a bubble floating past, said, he “knew at that moment the plant would never run again.” It hasn’t.
Sen. Barbara Boxer stated that the plant’s modifications proved unsafe and posed danger to 8 million people living within 50 miles and called for a criminal investigation.
In June of 2013, the operators of the plant gave up and in 2014 started a decommissioning process that will take at least 20 years to complete.
When decommissioning is complete, all traces of the plant will be gone, except for all the spent fuel. That fuel was supposed to go to a federal government central storage facility for long term storage. Yucca Mountain was the location of the largest of those facilities. It was closed by politics, not science.
Because of this federal failure to meet its obligations we will be stuck with the spent fuel from these reactors being stored on site perhaps until Hell freezes over. The storage casks have their own issues. They may prove unsafe and pose danger to 8 million people. Maybe we’re not mature enough as a society to be playing with mother nature in this way.
JJ Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11yrs old. He has loved it ever since.