Raising Toxic Questions

Laguna Beach resident and Secure Nuclear Waste Coalition organizer Rita Conn took her concerns to the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C.
Laguna Beach resident and Secure Nuclear Waste Coalition organizer Rita Conn took her concerns to the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C.

A panel of eight experts and activists will provide their solutions for moving radioactive nuclear waste from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at a 6 p.m. presentation Wednesday, June 8, in the City Council chambers.

The experts want to force Southern California Edison, operator of the decommissioned nuclear power plant, to extract the stored waste and move it elsewhere, according to Rita Conn, organizer of the presentation and chairperson of Let Laguna Vote.

“Edison, if not stopped, will bury 1,632 tons of lethal radioactive material that contains 89 times the amount of radiation that was released at Chernobyl in untested and experimental canisters on the beach 42 yards from the ocean and three feet above the water table,” said Conn, who spent the last two years lobbying nuclear energy regulators, elected officials, the Orange County Terrorism Taskforce and experts in nuclear transportation to rid San Onofre of the toxic waste.

“You can’t see or smell radiation like you can our wildfires,” said Nina Babiarz, one of the panelists and a transportation and technology consultant who will discuss details and roadblocks of transporting nuclear waste.

Babiarz questioned the California Coastal Commission approval last October that allowed Edison to expand radioactive fuel storage at San Onofre State Beach. “If there were one human error, there’s the potential of shutting down a major rail corridor as well as an interstate highway,” she said. “When you have millions of passengers being carried through the rail corridors, we need to get this stuff out of here.”

The San Onofre nuclear power plant, beside Interstate 5 and an Amtrak rail line, was permanently closed on June 7, 2013, after a radiation leak shut down both generators at the plant 18 months earlier.

Edison encourages continued public engagement on the decommissioning of San Onofre nuclear plant, including questions about storage of used nuclear fuel, said Maureen Brown, an Edison spokesperson, who said an SCE representative will not attend the meeting.

Edison’s decommissioning plans call for moving two-thirds of the spent fuel rods, currently stored in a 40-feet-deep pool, to dry-cask storage in concrete-encased, sealed steel canisters, said Brown. One-third is already in dry-cask storage, scheduled to be completed by 2019, she said.

The 2,700 rods must be contained in dry-casks before they can be moved, Brown said. There also needs to be a licensed storage facility where the spent fuel can be moved, she said, which is still undetermined. Edison is considering temporary sites in New Mexico or Texas, she said. An unfinished Department of Energy repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is the utility company’s choice for possible permanent storage, she said.

“The easiest alternative is to put it on trucks and take it to the Mojave Desert in Arizona,” said another panelist, Michael Aguirre, a former San Diego city attorney and anti-nuclear activist. Palo Verde, a spent-fuel but unlicensed storage facility, already exists there, he said.

After two years, efforts to derail storage at San Onofre have gained momentum, Conn said. “We have reached the point that, with enough people behind us, we can force San Onofre’s nuclear radioactive spent fuel to be among the first to be moved to an interim Department of Energy nuclear waste repository in Texas,” she said, encouraging people to “step up and not leave this to a handful of activists.”

Some state and federal officials and even environmentalists are now refocusing on nuclear power because it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, a turnaround prompted by the Paris agreement on climate change, according to a recent New York Times article.

“The truth is that nuclear power is not clean because it’s toxic and it’s certainly not cheap,” said Conn.

At the presentation, Aquirre will discuss the legal argument for Edison to remove the waste. Conn will talk about the political and legal inroads made by the Secure Nuclear Waste Coalition and the needed next steps. Consumer fraud attorney Maria Severson will discuss allegations questioning San Onofre’s operations. Pam Patterson, current mayor of San Juan Capistrano and a member of the Edison Community Engagement Panel, will offer insights about that panel’s hearings.

Charles Langley, listed as a “watchdog,” will talk about costs to taxpayers and ratepayers. Bill Honigman M.D. will address emergency preparedness. Geologist and environmental scientist Robert Pope will talk about “geological and corporate erosion.”


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  1. Edison’s actions are criminal. There is absolutely no excuse for what they’re doing – – the top 15 executive should go to jail

  2. My husband has worked around the world overseeing the cleanup of radioactive waste for 25 years, so I have a good amount of knowledge on this subject. It seems you people don’t realize that Edison has no choice since our politicians; and in particular Harry Reid; were successful in using fear-mongering to get Yucca Mountain shut down. YM is not “unfinished” as this article states, implying that finishing it is all that is needed; it was purposely shut down in a complete breach of contract with all the utilities, many of which are currently getting payments of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars for interim storage of fuel that should have been deposited at YM. The only way to solve this to everyone’s satisfaction is to force the government to honor its contract – and good luck with that – or for the Dept. of Justice to allow WCS to be purchased by Energy Solutions so that the fuel can be stored safely and remotely by a company that has decades of experience and a history of total safety handling radioactive waste. This is a complicated issue that requires a thorough understanding and level headed approach based on facts. Too many people hear “radiation” and freak out unnecessarily. Not one person in this country has ever died from exposure to radiation at a commercial facility. By contrast, coal miners die at an average of 35 per year, with thousands killed since the beginning of the 1900’s. Some perspective would be nice; and bringing up Chernobyl isn’t the way to get it. As for the “toxicity” issue, lots of things we use every day are highly toxic, but when handled properly that danger is mitigated to zero. Since we do not have any source of renewable energy that will handle the loads required to run the state, let alone the country, nuclear is far and away the cheapest, cleanest way for energy to be produced. It is time for the science to speak; new technology has created cores that cannot melt down; and it is high time supposedly “intelligent’ people quit being fearful and examine the science without the hystrionics and with an openness to understand.

  3. Thank you Rita, your supporters and the panelists for motivating a full-house of attendees to pay attention. Disposal of SONGS high-level nuclear waste material is more than a safety issue, it is a toxic gene disrupter, the Nemesis of civilized modern times.


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