Village Matters: Facing up to SONGS

By Ann Christoph.

It’s one of those issues. What will we say to our kids when they ask, “Did you speak up?”  I hope they don’t have to ask, “Why did you let that happen?”

It was that kind of night at the City Council, one to remember.  We had our own locally broadcast “60 Minutes” program with high-quality focused comments about the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and what should happen next.

This is not one of the issues I have focused on and I don’t know the technical details.  But it was enough to be reminded that there is a facility close by with the potential to put this region out of business and off limits for living, for us, and our grandkids and beyond.  With the pervasive and long-lasting radiation that could overlay everything we hold so precious, all the delicate things we are painstakingly trying to protect would be lost to us in an instant.  That perception, of course, is assuming we could all miraculously evacuate and have the ability to overlook this catastrophe at a distance.

I am part of the duck-and-cover generation. We had practice routines in school where we were instructed to hide under our desks with our heads down in case of an A-bomb attack.  After last night’s testimony, I feel that I, like perhaps many others, have still been covering our heads, not wanting to believe the seriousness of the danger right next door.

In history we were told of the horrible damage the atomic bomb had caused in Japan, but that scientists were working on ways to “harness that energy for the good of mankind.”  “Clean nuclear power” was one of those benefits.  For years now we have been finding that those benefits come with a cost and a risk. The extent of those costs and risks are becoming larger and more clear. And our region and our community are in line to pay directly if the power system at San Onofre goes awry.

Now that San Onofre has been out of operation for months due to damaged components in recently purchased generators, we have an opportunity to take stock and explore ways to reduce our vulnerability.

Thanks to the residents who spoke of their concerns, to the activists who have informed themselves and spoke so knowledgably, to the representative from Friends of the Earth who traveled from the east coast to share their research, and to the Edison spokesperson who said they put safety first.  Thanks to our council for providing the forum for this testimony and for focusing our community attention on this overwhelming concern.

Our council adopted a resolution calling for a public process before the generators at SONGS are restarted, the state Public Utilities Commission to evaluate the financial status and viability of SONGS, and exploration of alternative renewable energy alternatives to SONGS.  They also noted that ratepayers should not be responsible for expenses resulting from the faulty equipment that has caused the current crisis.

This was an important meeting, but not the last one.  Armed with our research and driven by our concern, we can be there the next time.  Are we doing all we can to protect our families, and our community?


A former mayor, Ann Christoph works as a landscape architect.

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