Monday, June 10, 2013

A Victory for Safety and Common Sense

If you follow California politics, you will undoubtedly be aware that the inactive San Onofre nuclear power plant will be permanently closed and hopefully safely decommissioned at a tremendous cost over the course of the next few years. This plant has continuously supplied electric power from its activation in 1968 until January of 2012. There was never a serious accident or threat to workers or neighboring communities during that time. The only real ecological damage done by the facility, other than the enormous whole in the beach and the blight of an enormous structure on the coast was to raise the temperature of the adjacent ocean waters in what was undoubtedly once considered a very innovative approach to cooling the vast byproduct of heat associated with reactor power. The relatively uneventful and small leak of radiation from brand new yet defective steam pipes manufactured by Mitsubishi late in 2011, had it occurred in an earlier time of lesser awareness and a more complacent political climate, very likely might not have caused a permanent closure, but only a short period of repair and renovation. Because this all happened on the heels of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, issues of the safety of San Onofre were first and foremost on the minds of Californians. Concerned Californians at the recent meetings of the California Public Utilities Commission as well as protesters did not forget the Fukushima disaster. I recall after watching the horrifying tsunami and reading about the citywide release of dangerous amounts of radiation, one of the first things I did was to look up earthquake history near San Clemente and Oceanside California. Of course, our local republican congressman, Brian Bilbray advocated bringing the poison fire steam generator back on-line at the earliest possible day.

Here are some of the things that I found. The San Onofre nuclear power plant is located at the northwest corner of the County of San Diego at approximately 33.4⁰ latitude and -117.6⁰ longitude, just south of Nixon’s Western White House in San Clemente on the northern tip of the twenty miles of coastline occupied by the mostly undeveloped Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton maybe about fifty miles NNW of beloved La Jolla and UCSD. We often laughed at the huge “titties” of the radiation containment domes, clearly visible from that desolate stretch of I-5. This is obviously in a very active earthquake corridor. The largest local earthquakes have occurred in the Mojave desert, but several dangerous earthquakes have been centered right on the coast in nearby metropolitan Los Angeles, notably the devastating Northridge Earthquake which miraculously occurred at 4:31 a.m., January 17, 1994 on the federal holiday, MLK Jr. Day, thusly limiting loss of life. Read for yourself about the widespread damage done to parking structures, tall buildings, homes and freeway overpasses. This led to the earthquake retro-fitting of every freeway overpass and bridge in Southern California. These L.A. quakes are easily felt throughout the southland to the Mexican border. I live within bow and arrow distance of the famous San Andreas fault, but have little to fear because there is no subduction of techtonic plates in a north-south running faultline. I was much more threatened by the possibility of nuclear radiation leaking from San Onofre just over fifty miles away from my home in the event of a large offshore earthquake. Here is my evidence.

September 7, 1984 an offshore earthquake with a magnitude of 4.8, the first entry of the table I cited, occurred at 32.94⁰ latitude and -117.81⁰ longitude, approximately 31.7 miles due west of Torrey Pines State Beach, at a distance of about 33.3 miles from the failed San Onofre nuclear reactors. Sure, nothing we know of happened to the facility. Units two and three were on-line for the second of the thirty-eight years they provided electricity in 1984. But no one can say what might have happened anytime in the next one hundred years in the event a major Southern California earthquake anywhere within fifty miles of the facility.