Cathy Iwane | Pine Needles Drive
Disasters of any kind bring me right back to spring 2011 and the triple nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan. After months of confusion, mixed messages – and, finally, elevated radiation levels in locally-grown food – I evacuated my family from Japan to north San Diego County.
As we have rebuilt our lives, my attention has shifted from Fukushima to the disaster-in-waiting at the seaside nuclear waste repository in San Onofre.
COVID-19 has us sheltering in place. How would we isolate during an evacuation? What would more than 8 million people living within 50 miles of the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) do if, in the event of a radiological release, they had to up and leave?
Last month, on questioning from Rep. Mike Levin, a Southern California Edison (SCE) vice president played down the utility’s lack of resources and plans to evacuate people living near the shuttered nuclear plant, where workers are in the midst of transferring 3.6 million pounds of highly-radioactive waste from cooling pools into dry storage.
Edison Vice President Doug Bauder offered this mealy-mouthed reply:
“In fact, in June 2015, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the SONGS Permanently Defueled Emergency Plan, which eliminates the requirement for SONGS-specific off-site emergency plans. However, more general “all hazards” emergency plans remain in place with local cities and counties. At present, Camp Pendleton remains our partner for initial responses to fire, rescue, medical, and medical transport needs. We also have a full-time and a part-time nurse practitioner on site, as well as a robust and well-trained security force. SCE has memorandums of understanding with local health care providers regarding health or medical treatment for employees and contractors. They have assured us they can continue to provide medical care, if necessary.”
Is he joking?
Bauder seemed unaware – or he just didn’t care -- that our health care system and emergency responders are stretched to their limit with the pandemic. He also hasn’t explained how the waste transfer qualifies as an essential activity and what is so urgent about the dangerous work that it can’t hold until the global crisis is over.
Edison’s determination to plow ahead follows a pattern of recklessness that includes a near-catastrophe in 2018 during the bungled loading of 50-ton waste canister. The steel canisters themselves are vulnerable to failure from scratching, gouging and corrosion – especially since their storage location is a stone’s throw from the ocean. If this weren’t enough, sea levels are rising and the storage vault is located near an earthquake fault.
Contractors at the nuclear plant should stay home like the rest of us. Work should resume only when Edison can show that evacuation, emergency response and medical infrastructure is in place to provide for our safety.