Saturday, January 5, 2013

The familiar becomes invisible: The Battle Against San Onofre...

January 4th, 2013

Dear Readers,

People travel past the San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station, its twin domes sticking sharply into the skyline between San Diego and Los Angeles, about a million times every week. But who really notices it?

Nestled tightly between I-5 and the railroad on one side and the ocean on the other, it's been on the front page of the local papers dozens of times since it sprung a leak and had to shut down nearly a year ago. But its current problems have become "old news" -- even while the ratepayers continue to pay $60 million a month for nothing. And even though we obviously don't need it -- the lights stayed on all year.

"Do you have a defining moment, something different, something new?" a popular local radio reporter asks an independent SanO safety team spokesperson. The team had sent out (another) press release, describing the latest problem SCE is facing (a strongly-worded letter from, of all places, the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulations at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission). The reporter couldn't see that San Onofre's spiraling continuum into oblivion is still a BIG story. She could report something about it every day, like a riot or a war. It's a war against humanity -- all of humanity, but especially everyone local. It's a war to prevent a Fukushima-level event here. And while most people remain oblivious, other people have learned about the danger and are actively opposing ANY restart of the crippled reactor. They need your help.

The die was cast for the battle against San Onofre that's now occurring when the control rods were pulled out for the first time in the early 1980s (and earlier, for the already-retired Unit 1). From that moment on, millions of deaths in the community became possible, and a catastrophe becomes more and more probable as time goes on. The debt to the future long ago became unpayable. Atoms were split for profit, the radioactive fission fragments, plutonium and other crud that was produced along the way was ignored.

Either San Onofre will kill us or we will kill it -- it's a fight to the death. Yet most people, even after Fukushima's warning (or Chernobyl's) still aren't paying attention.

300,000 people around Fukushima are still in "temporary housing" nearly two years after the nuclear accident. It wasn't the tsunami that displaced all those people -- it was the radiation. They won't be able to go home for many generations. The "decontamination" procedures going on in Japan are criminally negligent and often make things worse -- contaminating rivers, for instance, in order to clean up land areas. And burning the radioactive debris is utterly irresponsible, but they do it 24 hours a day now in Japan. They even haul radioactive debris miles away from Fukushima just to burn it somewhere else.

In most cases, radioactive contamination cannot be effectively cleaned up at all. Trying to do so, at best, merely harms the workers who do the work, and at worst, stirs up the debris and leaves it in a worse place. What's happening in Japan is a tragedy. We don't want that here.

Most of San Onofre is not visible from the highway. Only the top portions of the twin domes can be seen -- peculiar-looking things. Distinctive. Perky.

Massive additional structures exist between, behind, and near those domes, but those structures are difficult to see from the highway. And reportedly, they're building a new 20-foot wall around the entire structure -- to become more invisible, of course.

There are two extremely deadly spent fuel pools, and dozens of also-dangerous spent fuel dry storage casks (which are relatively new, they started adding those last decade). There are four massive emergency diesel generators (two per reactor, located above any expected tsunami level). Each is as large as a locomotive, and has two weeks' worth of fuel, but the fuel is stored below grade.

There are backup batteries, which are only good for a few hours, and backup water systems to flood the reactors in an emergency, but there's only about a million gallons of water and it can go through that in a minute. Also, there is a huge transmission switchyard, and huge tanks filled with various chemicals to treat the coolant system water, and many, many miles of pipes and cables going every which way.

It's all rusting in the salty air, just like every set of stairs along the coast, just like every metal fitting at every pier. But at San Onofre, it's hidden from public view. You can't get tour of the facility. Not since 9-11, and even before that, access was very limited for the public.

The largest pipes at nuclear reactors have names, like Main Steam Line, Outflow, and Intake. The Pacific Ocean is called "the ultimate heat sink" by reactor operators, because if anything goes wrong, they'll dump the heat into the ocean as much as possible. And the radioactivity. The ocean floor (and everything that feeds along it) around Fukushima is heavily poisoned with radioactive debris.

Very few of the tens of thousand of people who drive by San Onofre every day think about any of this, or what can go wrong -- but they should! They should think about it day and night until it's gone -- decommissioned, demolished, returned to pristine beach.

Like we were promised.

Sometimes you can see San Onofre steaming slightly. Sometimes it steams a lot, as it dumps (slightly radioactive) heat into the environment after a sudden shutdown. But the last time THAT happened was almost a year ago, and both reactors have been shut down ever since. With luck, and some activism in the community we can say good riddance to San Onofre forever.

But most people still ignore this danger in their midst. Driving by it, San Onofre seems benign, even friendly. Even when it's spewing poisons that can kill a person in minutes, it can still LOOK just as benign -- the hydrogen explosions at Fukushima don't have to occur for there to be a disaster unfolding at a nuclear power plant. And the poisons it spews are odorless, colorless, and tasteless even in lethal quantities.

Sometimes a huge part of the plant might be seen being moved in or out of San Onofre with massive cranes. They even have their own 200-wheel truck just for hauling away old steam generators. The only problem is, they've got a lot more old steam generators than they expected.

Floodlit at night, flocked with birds at sunset on the north dome (why only the north dome?), the peculiarly-shaped pair of reactors sits idle, not quite out of sight, but totally out of mind. The familiar becomes invisible.

Meetings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission come and go... and come, and go. Webinars. Panels. Class 1 meetings. Class 3 meetings. Meetings in Washington. Meetings here. We were told there would be "at least" two NRC hearings AFTER the "root cause" of the current problems had been found. Instead, the plant operators are talking about restarting the plant in just two months, not only without those two hearings AFTER the root cause had been determined, but without even determining the root cause of the problem!

The steam generator tubes vibrated until they ruptured, and radiation leaked. Why? What was different about Unit 3 that caused it to fail in less than a year, when Unit 2 hummed along -- albeit, not nicely -- for 22 months, all the way to its first refueling outage after the replacement steam generators had been put in?

That question has not been answered.

But nor have a thousand other questions, starting with, "What will we do with the waste?" When the reactors are operating it piles up at the rate of more than a ton a week: That's what ends up in the spent fuel pools and dry casks, because we have nowhere else to put it. The federal government promised to take it (and burden someone else with it) but they have not been able to do that. One smart nuclear scientist (which is not as redundant as it sounds) in Japan asks, "Would you build a house without a toilet?" but that's exactly what we've done at San Onofre. "Even the nicest mansion would become uninhabitable if there is no toilet" he adds. San Onofre has no toilet. The nuclear industry has no place for the waste.

Get involved. Get this plant closed. It's your future that is at stake! It's your children, your lives!

Right now, more than ever, the NRC needs to hear from local citizens. More than ever the California Public Utilities Commission needs to hear from you. People who have been watching the plant for the past year (or longer) need your help, and you CAN change your future, and prevent Southern California's own Fukushima.

Next time you drive by San Onofre, remind yourself how much you like to live here. Ask yourself if you want to breath clean air without poisons in it, like tritium or cesium or radioactive iodine. Ask yourself if you need to live at all -- because San Onofre can kill by the millions the moment they restart it.

Ask yourself these questions, then choose to demand San Onofre be shuttered once and for all. Don't expect anyone else's voice to matter. We need yours.


Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Upcoming events:

Sunday, January 6th, 2013, 2:00 pm:

Ace Hoffman (possibly with Special Guest Harvey Wasserman if he can fight traffic from a KPFK interview to get there in time) at OC Greens monthly meeting

Talking about San Onofre's problems (this event will be filmed)

Irvine Ranch Water District Headquarters Community Room
15600 Sand Canyon Avenue Irvine, California 92618-3102
(Use of the facility does not represent endorsement by the IRWD)

If you plan to attend please RSVP to Ron Rodarte:
Ron Rodarte <>


Tuesday, January 8th, 2013:

Press conference at CPUC (hearing at 10am, press conference around noon)

Call for San Onofre shutdown; Nuclear-Free New Year

Front steps of the CPUC, 505 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco, California

If you plan to attend please RSVP Steve Zeltzer:
Steve Zeltzer <>


Wednesday, January 9th, 2013:

Ilene Proctor Presents #55 in the Great Mind Series:
An exciting evening with Harvey Wasserman (Ace will also be there...)

Critical Meeting to Keep San Onofre Shut

Time: 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM

Join Hostess Lila Garrett
Address available with RSVP

RSVP A Must:

Fee: $20, $15 for PDLA Members


The two remaining reactors at San Onofre---Units 2 & 3---have been shut for almost a year. This is our critical moment to close them forever. Core technical problems have compromised steam generators that must never be allowed to operate again. Because financial issues are at stake, this is a rare moment where state agencies---especially the California Public Utilities Commission---can make the difference. Time is short but our power in this situation is unprecedented. The permanent closure of these reactors would make southern California a vastly safer place, with major economic opportunities for the Solartopian shift to renewables, efficiency and conservation, revolutionizing the regional economy. This is a truly unique moment in our history----let's act now to make the most of it!!

Life-long peace/No Nukes/social justice/election protection activist Harvey Wasserman edits and has been fighting for a Solartopian future since 1973. In 1984 he was arrested at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant and is now focussing his efforts on shutting America's remaining 104 reactors---including San Onofre Units 2 & 3--- and ushering in a era free of atomic power. He has authored and co-authored a dozen books and helped coin the terms "No Nukes" and "Solartopia". He has served as senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resources Service. He has spoken to scores of rallies, citizen groups, media outlets and school groups, and in 1994 addressed 350,000 semi-conscious rock fans at Woodstock 2. He is overjoyed to find himself in southern California in January, where his new grandson is about to turn one year old.


January 14th, 2013 (afternoon; exact time and place TBD):
A "private" one-hour meeting with NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane:
Presumably there is at least one spot available for this event since I was kindly offered a seat but won't be there. If you wish to attend please RSVP Gene Stone:

Gene Stone <>


From NIRS (accompanied the awesome Nuclear Monitor #755):

Nuclear Monitor #755 is a special issue on radiation issues. We hope you find it useful.

We are currently searching for a new editor for the Nuclear Monitor. This position is based at the World Information Service on Energy office in Amsterdam. If you, or someone you know, is interested in this position, please contact

Until a new editor is found, we expect to publish the Nuclear Monitor monthly rather than biweekly. The attached issue is your December issue, which has been delayed due to a December power surge in NIRS� office which fried the computer and software used to produce the Monitor (and which has now been replaced).

We have updated our Monitor subscription list; welcome to the hundreds of new subscribers from November and December who have now been added!

Michael Mariotte

Contact information for Ace Hoffman:


Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:
Carlsbad, CA
Email: ace [at]


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