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8 Million Californians at Risk of a Nuclear Explosion

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Southern California Edison (or SCE Corp) is storing over 3.6 million pounds of lethal radioactive waste at the abandoned San Onofre nuclear plant in San Clemente, California. The 8 million people living within 50 miles of the power plant are unnerved by this controversial decision as the radioactive waste poses a significant threat to their health, safety and the economic vitality of the region.

The plan is to bury the waste about 100 feet from the shoreline and just a few feet above the water table. Work of transferring the waste from cooling pools into specially designed steel canisters is already in progress. These specially designed containers, unfortunately, are prone to corrosion and cracking. Work crews even discovered a loose bolt inside one of the canisters earlier this year. Work ceased for 10 days but then resumed with other containers. Edison admits that it can’t check if there are defects with the four new containers it had already filled with waste.

But storage containers are just one of the many alarming aspects of the flawed scheme. San Onofre sits on an active earthquake fault and the area has witnessed tsunamis in the past. It is close to Interstate 5, the railroad line that Amtrak runs on.

Due to global warming, the sea level is expected to keep rising, bringing seawater closer to the buried canisters. If hairline cracks or pinholes occur due to corrosion and the containers were to let in even a little bit of air, it could make the waste explosive.

And although San Onofre is a no-fly zone, it is not guarded by radars and surface-to-air missiles. It is guarded just by a handful of guards carrying pistols, leaving the site susceptible, or may we say an easy target for terrorist attacks.

San Juan Capistrano Councilwoman Pam Patterson warned President Trump of this potential risk at a meeting in May. She brought to his attention that, in 2001, terrorists were planning to attack nuclear power plants in addition to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

She also voiced her concerns by pointing out that some of the 9/11 terrorists received their flight training at San Diego’s Montgomery Field, only 50 miles from San Onofre, and just 62 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The power plant, she told Trump, is a “Fukushima waiting to happen.”

Former prime minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, describing Japan’s preparedness in dealing with catastrophes arising from natural disasters like at Fukushima said that even if the radioactive cooling pools at Fukushima had caught fire, he was prepared to evacuate not only Tokyo, with its population of 9 million people, but also the larger metropolitan area of 38 million, including regions 160 miles away from the plant. “Martial law would have been declared,” he said.

Speaking to a British newspaper later Kan said, “Had the fire proved uncontainable nobody would have been able to move back to the region for 100,000 years. The future existence of Japan as a whole was at stake”. He further added, “Something on that scale, an evacuation of 50 million, it would have been like a losing a huge war.” His words echoed those of Mikhail Gorbachev, who once said if something like the Chernobyl explosion happened again it would render Europe uninhabitable.

Unfortunately, unlike the case of Fukushima, we do not have any federal or state evacuation plans for a disaster at San Onofre. Local first responders would be tasked with an impossible mission.

Experts advise that there are safer storage alternatives that Southern California Edison could implement, which although being temporary will give Edison time to device better and safer storage methods.

 Suggested temporary solutions include avoiding the storage of the waste in thinly walled canisters, keeping the waste in cooling pools until casks with thicker walls are available. Relocating the waste to a site known as ‘the mesa’ on the other side of the freeway has also been suggested. This site is about 80 feet higher than the present beach site and further away from rising seas, potential tsunamis and periodic storm surges. It could also maintain a cooling pool on site for emergency transfer efforts in the event of a cracked canister or terrorist attack.

But all experts are unanimous in their thoughts that these are all short-term solutions. The only real long-term solution is for Edison to develop a robust system that would not be prone to severe leaks and therefore would not compromise the safety of the residents.

Given the propaganda spread by popular American media, most Americans feel that the threat to America is from the outside, not knowing that a nuclear bomb waiting to explode is lurking closer to their homes.

Author: Pradeep Banerjee