San Onofre: The Risk of Denial

By Rita Conn
By Rita Conn


Every time we make a decision, we consciously or unconsciously weigh the risks against the rewards. When the reward is particularly enticing, we tend to use the defense mechanism of denial to skew the decision in favor of the reward. For example, most of us in Laguna Beach live in denial of the risk of a major earthquake that scientists say is coming. The visual rewards of our magnificent environment, breathtaking sunsets, and friends we love makes it hard to seriously consider what the effects of the “big one” could have on our lives.

However the serious risks of the decommissioning process at San Onofre must not be denied. Many of us think that because the plant has been shut down we have nothing to worry about. A report from the US Environment and Public Works Committee cautions us, “Make no mistake, the San Onofre reactors may be shutdown, but the risks of an accident or terrorist attack are not gone.” Laguna is located within the 20 mile “dead zone”. If there were an accident we may escape with our lives but we would never be able to return to our property.

Edison has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an exemption that will allow them to spend the ratepayer’s trust fund to clear the grounds of buildings and security infrastructure before they safely secure the radioactive waste.

The safe storage of nuclear waste is a national problem and a national security issue. San Clemente’s recent resolution mistakenly calls on Yucca Mountain as a solution, even though it has been closed. Approximately $16 billion was spent to create a national repository at Yucca Mountain. Then scientists concluded the location was too seismically and volcanically active to store highly radioactive waste. With no other solution in sight and minimal government funding to find one, the status quo is to store the waste at the power plant that created it.

We must never accept status quo as a best solution; to do so would stop progress in science, medicine, technology and prevent us from finding a better solution for nuclear storage.

The solution for safe storage at San Onofre represents special challenges: It was designed with a mathematical model to withstand a 7.0 earthquake yet it sits next to an 8.0+ earthquake fault that science tells us is long overdue. Fukushima and Chernobyl were also designed using mathematical models, yet unplanned events occurred which the models did not anticipate. The plant is situated in recognized tsunami and firestorm zones and in a densely populated area vulnerable to terrorist attack.

San Onofre is an easy target from the I-5, the ocean and the air. The press reports, “Last month several mysterious drones flew over French nuclear power plants. These events have raised concerns and fears of possible terrorist attacks and explosive payloads.” How will Edison protect us from these unplanned random events?

Can Edison be trusted to put our safety first and profits second?

Edison tells us it is safe to leave 1,632 tons of dangerous nuclear waste in 5/8 inch stainless steel casks for 30 to 60 years and possibly indefinitely in dry storage casks. Edison tells us that the casks will not crack and that they will stay intact for 240 years, needing to be replaced only once, yet the NRC licenses these casks for only 20 years.

The casks will be inserted into cement casings with no way to check for cracks or leakage. They will be left out in the open exposed to the elements, even though the NRC thinks that corrosion cracking could occur in 16 years. There are no adequate plans to repair potential cracks.

There are no current evacuation plans or real-time warning sirens for the 9 million people within the 50-mile evacuation zone.

Applause to Mayor Whalen and Councilman Zur Schmiede who have seriously listened to our safety concerns and called for a city resolution. We welcome this new era of public-council cooperation. On Dec. 16 the city resolution will be presented to the council for a vote. We need to be there, voice our concerns and make sure our city tells Edison “No!”


Rita Conn leads Let Laguna Vote, a citizen group.

We must demand that Edison work with the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to create a secure interim location – perhaps on a military base or in some other sparsely populated location and require that the spent fuel be moved and safely stored before any of the ratepayers trust funds are depleted on site restoration activities.


It is our hope that Laguna’s resolution will serve as a strong model for other cities. The San Clemente Resolution certainly was not! San Clemente may be in denial. We cannot afford to be.






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