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An aerial view of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo by Andrea Swayne
An aerial view of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo by Andrea Swayne

By Jim Shilander

Amid concerns about a lack of jurisdiction in the regulatory process, the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees last Wednesday indefinitely tabled (by a 5-2 vote) a resolution calling for an adjudicated license amendment hearing for Southern California Edison’s proposal to restart the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Adopting the resolution would have put the board on record as opposing a restart of SONGS without an adjudicatory license amendment hearing. Anti-nuclear activists had called for a vote on the resolution, citing a vote in favor of a similar resolution by the San Diego Unified School District board in January. A number of activists, including parents of current and former CUSD students, gathered before the meeting at a press conference outlining their position.

“This resolution speaks to this district’s position on children’s safety,” San Clemente resident Grace van Thillo said. The adjudicated hearing, she said, was necessary to regain the public’s trust.

Van Thillo also spoke before the board, noting her experience as both a former parent and teacher in the district.

“All of our children are counting on us to keep them safe,” van Thillo told the board.

She and other speakers highlighted the proximity of CUSD school to SONGS. Concordia Elementary in San Clemente, for example, is only three miles away.

Via Tran, a representative from Southern California Edison, said that much of the staff of SONGS also sent their children to CUSD schools, and that they had a profound interest in keeping them safe. Tran said the two public meetings in Dana Point were an example of the transparent nature of the NRC’s process.

“This is a technical issue and an engineering issue,” Tran said. “We want to keep emotions and the politics out of this.”

Parents in favor of the resolution said that the district did not have enough busing to transport students in the 10-mile evacuation zone around the plant.

Trustee Anna Bryson of Laguna Niguel said she understood the concerns about the plant, but said that thousands of citizens used the nearby San Onofre State Park and beaches for recreation.

“As a mother and a grandmother and a resident, I understand the feelings that people have and feelings are always something that we need to give credence and credibility, but we also need to go beyond that and give credence and credibility to facts,” Bryson said. Her own research, she said, had found that nuclear power had been effective elsewhere.

Trustee Ellen Addazio said she opposed an adjudicated process, saying she preferred to keep the current process in place. A number of board members, including Addazio, also mentioned having visited the plant recently to have their own questions answered.

Trustee Lynn Hatton said she favored the resolution, in order to get the most information possible.

“I think it’s really important to pass this resolution, if not for just for insuring that we have the information, because I don’t believe we have the information,” Hatton said. Hatton said that the board wasn’t voting to oppose restart entirely, but instead just for more complete information and transparency.

Trustee Jim Reardon also indicated a reluctance to intervene in a matter beyond the scope of the school board, noting that the plant had been under federal regulation “his entire adult life.”

Trustee Amy Hanacek said she favored the motion, saying that it didn’t oppose restart of the plant entirely, only to get more information.

Trustee Gary Pritchard also worried about stepping beyond the bounds of the board.

“I feel completely out of my depth as a trustee to address this in a meaningful way… We have a right and a duty to protect children, but at what level does this agency have the ability to effect change, and I’m not sure we want to get into the nuclear regulatory issues, and this document seems to do this. As a board member, I can’t support this as a document.”

Board President John Alpay said he had wrestled with the motion, acknowledging the impact of SONGS, but said the resolution went beyond the purview of the board.

“This is an organ of the state of California, so in this form, this resolution is very troubling to me,” Alpay said.” “I think if we talked about the evacuation process, that’d be more tied to what we are.”

Brian Park contributed to this story.

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