By Jim Kempton
Out of an inescapable curiosity, I attended a forum about the current state of the waste storage for the radioactive fuel rods that have been untreated since the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has been shut down. It was an illuminating experience, even if some of the speakers had conflicting positions on how great the danger is and what the best solution should be.
One of the most critical issues facing San Clemente and the entire Orange County area, this dilemma of how to deal with the spent fuel rods from our nuclear power plant is perhaps the most important decision the region will make for our children and all future history. These highly toxic, potentially lethal rods now lie in open pools of water in what most parties agree is a vulnerable and dangerous state.
The rods are currently planned to be buried on the bluff next to the retired plant, just a short distance from the edge and near the beach at San Onofre itself. Without defending or attacking the claims or validity, it should be noted that these are also near a vital military base on an earthquake fault line and on a dramatically eroding coastal ridgeline. Whether there is high likelihood or little, the fact is that if a catastrophic event was to occur it could render large potions of this region uninhabitable for the foreseeable future—as in millennia. One would think that this would be a point of concern for those of us living in this shadow.
And yet when I bring this subject up to surfers at San Onofre, citizens in San Clemente or political leaders in Orange County I get a shrug or a glazed look.
I am always amazed. We are able to bring thousands of determined citizens to protest the extension of a toll road though our towns. But burying thousands upon thousands of pounds of radioactive waste material 50 yards from the beach in canisters that only guarantee the lifetime of 30 years, which if exposed incorrectly could be catastrophic to the entire region, brings barely a yawn.
It is not that we might be in incalculable peril that worries me. It is that for the most part, the entire populace including most of the decision-makers seem only minimally informed.
I am not going to get into the heavy debate about how critical the various risks are. But we do know at least a few things:
Southern California Edison, the majority owner of SONGS, has not been forthcoming in its communication with the public about this issue—they have a long record of repeated dissembling of inaccurate and incomplete information about the risk, the responsibility and the reasoning behind the proposed plans. Neither, it seems, have any of the auxiliary entities involved. And experts disagree strongly.
I am not advocating any position on this issue. I am suggesting that educating oneself from a variety of sources should be a paramount priority for anyone who owns property here or is planning to live in the area for any length of time.
Jim Kempton is a writer and surfer who has learned the hard way that education has a price, but it is not nearly as costly as the consequences of ignorance.