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Shut down San Onofre: The continuing nuclear threat to southern California

Posted Jun. 18, 2012 / Posted by: Tim Freeman

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located in San Clemente, Calif., between Los Angeles and San Diego, poses a threat to the health and safety of the people of southern California. The reactors have been shut down for nearly five months, following a release of radioactive steam into the environment and the related discovery that recently installed steam generators in both reactors were critically damaged and defective. This current crisis at San Onofre is leaving citizens rightfully worried.

Edison confirmed earlier in June that both of San Onofre’s reactor units would have to remain shut down through the summer, but the fight is not yet over. We’re working with local citizens groups to prevent a restart to these dangerous nuclear reactors, which pose a unique threat to eight million Californians living within 50 miles.

The latest developments

Friends of the Earth filed a legal petition today with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission demanding that the reactors’ operator, Southern California Edison, obtain a license amendment from the NRC -- something the utility went out of its way to avoid -- before it can restart San Onofre’s reactors. The petition builds on a series of technical analyses that Friends of the Earth commissioned from Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates demonstrating the major design faults of the defective steam generators and why Edison’s deception plus the NRC’s lax oversight allowed the safety crisis at the reactors to occur. Only through a license amendment process, including public hearings, will the people of southern California have an opportunity to scrutinize Edison's nuclear folly.

Later this evening, the NRC will be holding a public meeting about its current investigation into San Onofre. Local Friends of the Earth activists and allied organizations will be in attendance to ensure the voices of residents are heard. We’re calling on the NRC to publicly disseminate its records and investigations into San Onofre, and for these to be independently reviewed. To date, the NRC has chosen not to do so, begging the question: what are our nation’s nuclear regulators hiding?

Trouble at San Onofre

In late January, with reactor Unit 2 down for a routine check up, the steam generator of reactor Unit 3 began leaking radioactive steam into the environment. (Unit 1 has been shut down since the early 1990s.) Further examination showed that the steam generators of both units, which were less than two years into an expected 30-year life span, showed extensive corrosive damage to dozens of the pipes. The ruptured pipes are likely unfixable, and the replacement of the generators will cost hundreds of millions of dollars on top of the $670.8 million that Edison ratepayers are already being required to pay for the original, now clearly defective machines.

Further, reports have surfaced in recent months that in the event of an earthquake similar to the one suffered at the Fukushima reactor in Japan, San Onofre would be woefully unprepared. Edison reported that the vibration sensors on the emergency back-up diesel generators  could in fact shut them down following a seismic event -- at the precise moment when you would need them. This would potentially leave the nuclear core at grave risk of a meltdown and spent fuel pools at risk of overheating and releasing their radioactivity into the environment. San Onofre’s location on the Pacific coast and near major seismic fault lines represents a tangible danger.

On top of both of these major concerns, incidents such as fire safety and whistleblower harassment demonstrate why these are not isolated problems. San Onofre’s track record speaks for itself and continuing operation of its critically flawed reactors would endanger the health of  surrounding residents.

Watch our most recent television ad alerting residents near San Onofre to the risks.

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