Living Near a Nuclear Waste Dump
Surprise, surprise, the government is not going to remove the nuclear waste after all. The big promises made years ago to seal the deal for allowing San Onofre to be built was the guarantee that the highly-radioactive nuclear waste would be removed when the plant closed. Now they have reneged on their promise. Instead of removing the waste, the new plan is to store the toxic waste right here indefinitely.
Voila…. Our area is now a Nuclear Waste Dump.
Funny thing is, few people even know they live near a Nuclear Waste Dump. Some even think that they are safe because the reactors are no longer operating. Living near 2,000 tons of uranium and plutonium is safe??? As the decades pass, the risks multiply. In addition to accidents and human error, there is always the danger of a big earthquake or tsunami. That is what caused the disaster in Fukushima. And now Edison is limiting its choice of casks to cheaper versions which have no internal monitoring, are vulnerable to leaks and cracks, and cannot be repaired when they do leak. Does anyone seriously believe that none of these things could happen before the government is supposed to remove the waste in 2049? But the government has no plan to remove it. Its only plan is to keep it here. If the government doesn’t remove the waste by 2049, the “plan” calls for doing nothing and leaving it here for another century. Part of the plan is to wait for a big accident and then figure out what to do.
Now factor in the possibility of a terrorist attack. With such an inviting and vulnerable target, and all the terrorism around the world, does anyone think nothing will happen in the next 50 or 100 years? Some say that one truck bomb could release enough radiation to take out all of Camp Pendleton, much of Orange and San Diego Counties, and make a wasteland of large parts of Southern California.
The National Academy of Sciences is worried about this. In 2006 they issued a long report about the safety and security of nuclear waste storage sites like the one we have at San Onofre.
They concluded that because fuel pools and storage casks were never designed to withstand high explosives, they might not survive this kind of attack. The NRC does not require plant operators to defend against anything other than a token attack involving 5 bad guys traveling on foot. There is no defense against airplane crashes, drone attacks, missiles, shelling from the sea, or truck bombs. Terrorism experts say that there should be truck bomb barriers 400 feet from the fuel pools and storage casks. But that is impossible at San Onofre because the storage areas are only 300 feet from Old Pacific Highway where anyone can drive or park. Should we close that road? That means closing most of San Onofre State Beach. Interstate 5 is right next to it, should we close that also? Should we prohibit people from walking or surfing at San Onofre State Beach?
Instead of increasing safety and security, Edison is doing the opposite. It has told the NRC that it wants to reduce its security presence and it does not want to be involved in off-site emergency preparedness: http://www.songscommunity.com/eplan.asp What Edison says with a straight face is that reactor-based accidents are no longer possible since the reactors are no longer operating. Therefore there is no danger. What they ignore is the thousands of tons of highly radioactive fuel sitting above ground in vulnerable pools and casks. And soon they plan to purchase 100 casks to hold the waste. But they will not consider the safer casks made in Germany. The ones they want are the cheap ones which may crack within 30 years. There is no technology to inspect or repair such cracks or to replace them. (Casking has to be done underwater, and Edison plans to demolish the fuel pools.) Edison’s “plan” for safety continues to be PR which claims that “Safety is our number one priority.” It is amazing how many people actually believe the PR that nuclear power is cheap, safe, clean, reliable. The public has learned the hard way that it is very expensive, very dangerous, very dirty, and very unreliable.
Anyone going to candidate night forums quickly hears the mantra that your particular town is safest most beautiful town in the country. Living near a nuclear waste dump now changes all of this, but few candidates pay any attention. Real estate agents, business owners, and town planners take note. Who wants to live, work, or raise a family living near to a nuclear waste dump? Making our area a nuclear waste dump is a monumental setback for the future of every community near the plant. And remember that radiation contamination will not be covered by any home or business insurance. We all face total loss of everything if there is an accident.
But what does “here” or “near” mean? Is it only San Clemente, Oceanside, and a few other coastal towns? One could start with the definition of “near” that the National Academy of Sciences used in their current study called “Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Living Near Nuclear Facilities” (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13388&utm_expid=4418042-5.krRTDpXJQISoXLpdo-1Ynw.0&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F). They are now studying cancer streaks in the 31 mile radius (their definition of “near”) around San Onofre. That would be a circle starting at Huntington Beach and going around to Temecula and back to Solana Beach.
You could also take the U.S. State Dept. recommended evacuation zone around Fukushima: a 50 mile radius. That would cover about 8.4 million people living between Los Angeles and San Diego. Let’s face it: a large swath of Southern California is “near.” Becoming a Nuclear Waste Dump is a really big deal for everyone. City and town officials all over Southern California better start dealing with what is the most important issue for our future: getting nuclear waste moved out of here.
There are those living a few miles away who imagine that nothing could happen to them. The National Academy of Sciences says that a plume of radiation from a nuclear waste storage facility could travel hundreds of miles in a short time. It would travel inland with prevailing winds, and the fallout could continue for days or weeks or months. If the storage casks that Edison wants to buy leak, there is no known technology for making repairs. If the leaks involve gamma radiation, no one could go near the source of the leak. Gamma radiation penetrates lead, steel, and concrete, and of course goes right through your body (rearranging your cell DNA and causing cancer). Women and children are more vulnerable to radiation than are men. (The NRC conveniently uses only adult males in its calculations of radiation danger.)
How bad could a radiation disaster be? The accident at Chernobyl resulted in the contamination of 1,000 square miles around the plant. This entire area is now a forbidden zone of exclusion. But that could not happen here, right? Dr. Allison Macfarlane, Chair of the NRC, has said that a fuel fire at a storage facility like San Onofre could spread more radiation than the catastrophe at Chernobyl. You bet it could happen here. As the decades pass, the risks multiply.
But back up and ask how we suddenly became a Nuclear Waste Dump. All nuclear power plants (NPP) generate highly-radioactive waste. The industry likes to call this “spent” fuel because it suggests that its potency is diminished. Not true. Some radionuclides will remain lethal for hundreds of thousands of years. U.S. nuclear power plants generate over 2,000 tons of such waste each year. Because this waste is so dangerous, nuclear power was a hard sell in its early years. No one would finance or insure a nuclear power plant until the government interceded back in 1957 with the Price-Anderson Act. This act indemnified the operator of a nuclear power plant in case of an accident. The operator could walk away and the government (read: tax payer) would pick up the tab. Current estimates of the tab for a major accident at San Onofre? Five hundred billion.
The next problem was what to do with the nuclear waste? California was one of the first to be spooked, and it wisely passed a nuclear moratorium bill back in 1976 (under none other than Gov. Jerry Brown). This protected us against Richard Nixon who wanted to build 1000 nuclear power plants before the year 2000. California would have had its coastline dotted with NPP (one was even planned for downtown San Francisco). The moratorium stated that no additional NPP (after San Onofre and Diablo Canyon) could be built until the waste issue is solved. The waste issue was never solved and still is not solved. Of course the NRC and the nuclear industry are tickled because they now have a solution: turn every NPP into a Nuclear Waste Dump. Instead of a big one in Nevada or New Mexico, we will have lots of them scattered all over the country.
To deal with this issue, the government had to step in again to bail out the nuclear industry. In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Act which guaranteed that the U.S. Government (specifically the Dept. of Energy) would remove all nuclear waste and transfer it to a permanent deep underground repository. Yucca Mountain was selected as the final resting place.
Unfortunately for the nuclear industry, the Nuclear Waste Act also contained a clause that allowed any state selected to be the waste dump could have veto power. Even though the waste was to be buried 2,200 feet underground in a remote area that was seismically stable, the people of Nevada considered it way too dangerous. They vetoed Yucca Mountain. Their arguments were buttressed by scientists who concluded that there is no known technology to prevent water penetration which could result in radiation leaks. (It was not because of a political deal made by Sen. Reid.)
Yucca Mountain failed, but the nation still had one last deep underground repository (only for military waste) located in Carlsbad, NM. This was the pride of the nuclear industry. Until it failed. In Feb. of 2014, this facility had fires, explosions, and radiation leaks. It is now closed. Currently there are no plans to build another repository, a very expensive undertaking that would take decades. Many experts doubt that there ever will be a permanent repository.
With no place to store this highly-radioactive waste, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was put under court order not to license any new nuclear power plants or to relicense old ones until it came up with a new plan for storing nuclear waste. On Aug. 26, 2014, the NRC announced its new plan. The Commission voted to store nuclear waste on site where it was generated for the indefinite future. Instead of the old promise to remove the waste, the new plan is to keep it in where it is indefinitely. This is how San Onofre became a Nuclear Waste Dump for the foreseeable future. San Onofre now has about 2000 tons of uranium and plutonium stored either in fuel pools or enclosed in temporary stainless steel casks licensed for 20 years. This waste will be stored above ground with the ocean on one side and I-5 on the other. It is situated in the middle of two major metropolitan areas. It is highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks and rests on earthquake faults in a tsunami zone. Southern California Edison will soon begin a $400 million project to move the waste from fuel pools into storage casks where it will remain indefinitely.
This brings up an interesting discussion which has now emerged, namely how should we name the plant? Should it be called the San Clemente Nuclear Waste Dump because the dump has the same Zip Code as downtown San Clemente? Should it be the Camp Pendleton Nuclear Waste Dump because it is physically located on Camp Pendleton? Should we name it after Gov. Brown or Southern California Edison? Early indications are that the most popular name is the Darrell Issa Nuclear Waste Dump. Congressman Issa has allowed a Nuclear Waste Dump to be located in his District 49 without a peep of protest. You can actually give your opinion and vote on this by clicking here.
Why is there no discussion about moving the waste to a remote and safe temporary storage site? No politician or public official will touch this subject. Gov. Brown, the savior in 1976, is MIA. Edison will not discuss this issue. Even Camp Pendleton says nothing even though their entire base might have to be abandoned forever with only a few hours notice. Congressman Darrell Issa is strangely silent. He does not answer constituents who write to him about this major problem. Apparently he is too busy with Benghazi to worry about his own district. He is in Washington, detached and unengaged, too busy promoting himself to worry about his district.
It appears that the problem is not the technical issue of how to move waste. These casks were designed for temporary storage and transportability to a permanent storage site. Now their mission has been completely changed to long term storage never going anywhere. It appears that the real problem is not transportability but the political issue of where to take the waste. It is pretty obvious that the worst possible location is right here. It is also obvious that there are many remote locations which are far less risky. If the casks are transportable, why can’t they be moved from one important but vulnerable military base to another uninhabited military base? Some have suggested the Chocolate Mountain gunnery range only 100 miles away. It is four times the size of Camp Pendleton, situated in an area with no cities or towns, no public access, a no fly zone, no earthquake or tsunami zones, and of no interest to terrorists. Why is there no discussion of the many possible alternatives? Is it nothing more than the self-interest of the nuclear industry? It is because it is cheaper and easier to keep it where it is, and that the nuclear industry is so powerful that it has a complete stranglehold over all levels of government?
There is an old saying that when the leaders will not lead, followers have to become leaders and the leaders have to become followers. This issue is too important to be left to the parochial self-interests of politicians, public officials, and nuclear industry profiteers. The waste has to go. Start the discussion. Come up with a procedure and a plan. Do not meekly say that there is no point in discussing it because we have no jurisdiction. Do not say that we can’t discuss it until we already have a fool-proof plan that will please everyone.
It is time to stop this plan and demand that the nuclear waste be removed.