A San Diego watchdog group brought awareness of a potential nuclear waste burial at a nearby beach to the attention of Fallbrook residents during a town hall meeting March 4 at Hilltop Center for Spiritual Living.
According to the group Public Watchdogs, Southern California Edison (SCE) has a permit to bury millions of pounds of nuclear waste on the beach at San Onofre State Park.
The waste is intended to be stored in ⅝” thick steel drums that have a design life of 60 years, but with a manufacturer’s warranty for only 25 years. The current burial date is set for Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, and is based on public announcements by Southern California Edison.
According to the Watchdogs, the 8.5 million Californians living within the 50-mile plume radius identified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are at risk. Fallbrook is east of the site, and the radioactive fallout will likely blow east.
“We believe that the worst possible location for what will be the largest privately operated nuclear waste dump in the USA is on the beach at San Onofre,” said Public Watchdog executive director Charles Langley. “Some specific facts to put things in context: first, the nuclear toxins in the delicate stainless steel disposal barrels represent the radioactive equivalent of 700 nuclear warheads. The radiation inside is deadly to humans for tens of thousands of years. The waste will be located 108 feet from the beach.”
The watchdog group’s position on the nuclear waste disposal is “anywhere but the beach,” said Langley, who stated that some solutions that should be considered include burying the waste temporarily further inland in less populated areas.
Allowing Edison to bury the waste on the beach poses the threat of creating a property that is legally bona vacantia, an ownerless property for whom no-one but the government is responsible, said Langley.
“At this time, Edison is legally responsible for the waste,” said Langley. “By preventing beach-front storage we will be able to keep Edison engaged in finding meaningful long-term solutions. The law firm of Aguirre & Severson argues that Edison owns a facility in Arizona that is in a remote and unpopulated area that is licensed to handle the waste. The key problem with storing the waste in San Diego is that the dump is in the center of a 50-mile radioactive plume radius inhabited by 8.5 million people.”
“Ultimately, it will take an Act of Congress to provide a semi-safe burial site for nuclear waste, but to date we have seen no meaningful action,” continued Langley. “The Department of Energy has spent more than $30 billion to build a repository in Yucca Mountain, but it was terminated due to grave environmental threats. Congressman Darrell Issa has proposed siting the waste in Texas on a temporary basis, but he will need broad support to do it.
We want the government, courts, politicians, or regulators to step in and prevent beachfront burial. To date, all of these bodies have failed to protect the public.”
Public Watchdogs supports legal actions designed to prevent the burial of the nuclear waste on the beach.
“The Coastal Commission issued an unlawful permit to bury the waste in violation of their own mission statement,” said Langley. “The permit was issued as the result of an unlawful secret vote that was taken before the Commission held the legally required public hearings. As it turns out, those public hearings, which lasted only an hour or two, were a complete sham.”
“The public record shows that all of the Commissioners had met secretly with Southern California Edison prior to the vote,” continued Langley. “We know this because prior to the public vote, Southern California Edison issued a press release to the media announcing that the vote had already been taken, and that the vote was unanimous.”
Langley also stated the commission approved Edison’s plans to bury the waste in violation of their own requirements.
“Specifically, Edison has no way of inspecting its delicate thin-walled casks for damages from salt water, salt air, tsunamis, or earthquakes,” said Langley. “The thin walled casks are more narrow than the diameter of a U.S. dime and can contain up to 500,000 pounds of deadly radioactive waste. The Coastal Commission terms specify that Edison must have a means of inspecting the casks, yet according to the public documents, the method for doing so has not yet been invented.”
Even a small microscopic fracture could release millions of curies of radiation into the water and the atmosphere, said Langley.
“A single curie is enough to kill you over time, yet these casks will be stored inches above the water table, and have the potential to pollute the entire Pacific Ocean,” said Langley. “The radiation inside the casks is deadly for up to 250,000 years. Each of the 80 delicate thin-walled casks contains more radiation than what was released at Chernobyl. The casks are subject to leaking, and even a small leak could cause a critical event – i.e. an explosion similar to what happened at Fukushima or worse.”
Currently, Public Watchdogs has no formal dialogue with SCE. However, SCE has sponsored a Community Engagement Panel (CEP) that holds quarterly public meetings in Orange County and San Diego near the affected communities.
“The sole purpose of the Community Engagement Panel is to assuage residents and the media into believing Edison’s claim that it is acting in a safe and responsible manner by burying deadly nuclear waste on the beach in temporary containers,” said Langley. “The CEP has falsely portrayed a no-options situation. They are claiming that the only place to store the waste is on the beach. We dispute this idea. We also dispute the idea that it can somehow be stored in safer casks. For us, the only solution is to force Edison to find another location, and it shouldn’t be the public’s job to find that location. The solutions to this problem will only come through massive public awareness and a massive uprising of educated voters demanding action from our elected officials, the courts, and our regulators.”
Those interested in learning more about the nuclear waste burial on San Onofre Beach can go to www.publicwatchdogs.org and sign the Public Watchdogs petition, and support their activities to raise awareness of this plan.