Ricardo Nicol, San Clemente
A three-year 2007 study organized by the Southern California Earthquake Center, the U.S. Geological Survey and the California Geological Survey, forecasts a 37 percent probability that in the next 30 years an earthquake of magnitude 7.5 or greater will occur in Southern California. Such an earthquake would be of a much greater magnitude than what the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) was designed to resist when it was built over 30 years ago.
That all important consideration was all but ignored at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s heavily attended public meeting, October 9 at the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort in Dana Point, to discuss proposed studies, tests, possible repairs, safety and partial reopening of the disabled nuclear plant. SONGS has been closed since January due to malfunction of its new steam generators, which had been recently installed to replace the old ones at a cost of $670 million.
If the plant and its vital support and safety systems, or the on-site storage of thousands of tons of radioactive nuclear waste, are not adequate to safely withstand earthquakes of the magnitudes predicted, all the studies, tests and repairs of the steam generators are irrelevant and a waste of critical time and of millions of dollars.
Given the potentially catastrophic outcome of the plant’s failure on an entire region and on hundreds of thousands of people (think Chernobyl and Fukushima), SONGS’ seismic safety should be the first thing to be determined. And if, as it is likely, the plant is not seismically safe to resist the predicted earthquakes, or cannot be made safe, it should be decommissioned immediately.
Understandably, as loudly expressed by them at the NRC meeting, the loss of jobs if the plant closes permanently is of great concern to its present workers, but decommissioning a dangerous SONGS and cleaning the site would benefit everybody. Also, the effort would take many years and provide many jobs far into the future, as would the development and construction of other plants using existing or new technologies for generating electric power.