March 2012 home page

Radioactive Radius
Nancy Fisher | 24th Street


On February 8th, one week after a leak that might have caused a small amount of radioactive gas to escape into the atmosphere, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, added her voice to the growing number of California residents who are calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to review and report on safety conditions at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

In a letter to the Chairman of the NRC, Dr. Gregory Jaczko, Boxer wrote, “I am concerned about recent media reports regarding dozens of tubes carrying radioactive water that have been degrading at an unusual rate. According to those media reports, there is ‘extensive wear on tubes that carry radioactive water in a steam generator. The tubes were installed less than two years ago…’ The reports also state that ‘the extent of the tube damage was not yet clear’ in the facility’s Unit 2 reactor.”
Boxer’s letter was posted online one day after the city council of Laguna Beach voted 4-1 to join the San Clemente city council in sending letters of concern to the NRC questioning continued operation of the San Onofre plant beyond its 40-year license (set to expire in 2022), a move that the city council of Solana Beach is looking into as well.

Laguna Beach residents expressed concerns about many issues, including San Onofre’s status, according to a 2011 ranking by Newsweek/The Daily Beast, as the second most unsafe nuclear plant in the nation, based on most dangerous physical locations, weakest relative operating conditions, and highest populations within the evacuation zones. San Onofre is located in an area subject to earthquakes and tsunamis, has a long history of safety violations, and a population of over 8 million in the 50 mile evacuation zone, which was the zone recommended by the American Embassy for Americans in Japan during the recent nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
The NRC identifies two emergency planning zones (EPZs) around each nuclear power plant to help plan a strategy for protective actions during an emergency. The plume exposure pathway EPZ has a radius of about 10 miles from the reactor. The strategy for this EPZ includes sheltering, evacuation, and the use of potassium iodide where appropriate. The ingestion exposure pathway EPZ has a radius of about 50 miles from the reactor, and includes a ban of contaminated food and water.

Most residents, however, were there to bring attention to the fact that high level radioactive waste, in the form of spent fuel rods, has been stored on site since the plant began operating in 1968. “If it can’t operate safely and is unable to remove the waste, it should be closed,” said Laguna Beach resident Marion Pack. “We have too much to lose with 8.4 million people living within a 50-mile radius of San Onofre.”
Council member Toni Iseman, who along with Mayor Pro Tem, Verna Rollinger, introduced the item, agrees. “This isn’t about how you feel about the industry – it’s about how you feel about this particular plant.


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