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San Onofre surf community starts to take on the issue of nuclear waste on their beach
By Jake Howard
To be frank, the surf community’s response to the nuclear waste situation at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has been apathetic at best. Somehow, the toll road dilemma generates more attention and more buzz than the fact that at this moment there are four questionable canisters of nuclear waste buried yards from the waterline at San O. Why aren’t there more “No Nukes” bumper stickers on cars around town?
The amount of nuclear waste stored at the SONGS site includes 51 old canisters and potentially 73 new ones, which can be hazardous to human health—there are even signs posted by the fences that ward off people from going near the facility.
Meanwhile, everyone from local rippers to old salts to young hipsters and first-time surfers have been playing in the ocean, contently disregarding the threat of exposure to radiation lurking over their shoulders.
But recently, the conscience of the local surf community has been stirred by an impassioned photographer, surfer, mother and San Clemente resident, Andrea Coleman. In recent weeks, Coleman has partnered with her friends at the San Onofre Surf Co. to launch an awareness campaign.
“The vibe at San O is shock and disgust, but most don’t know how they can help. It’s bigger than most of us. My theory was that I needed to make everyone wake up and pay attention,” said Coleman, who launched a campaign to sell T-shirts to raise money for marketing her cause. “I met with Joey Lambert, the creator of San Onofre Surf Co., and asked if he would be willing to help with a T-shirt design that we could sell and put 100 percent of the profits to a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times. Joey didn’t even hesitate. He and the San Onofre Surf Co. jumped right in.”
Coleman and crew launched a social media campaign that was an immediate success. Surf publications like SURFER Magazine and Surfline picked up on it and amplified their voice. As of press time, Coleman was halfway to her fundraising goal.
The support was overwhelming, but one thing that struck Coleman was the hesitancy of some of the community’s most influential athletes to jump into the fray.
She said because of their social media presence, it would help to have some notable faces supporting her efforts.
“They surf here, have skateparks named after them here, yet can’t do a quick post to support something so serious in their own backyard?” Coleman said.
The latest development at the SONGS site should be enough to alarm everyone. After the first four new canisters were placed in storage last month, it was discovered that they’ve had issues.
“Four-inch-long, stainless-steel pins inserted at the bottom of 18-foot aluminum shims are defective,” said Gary Headrick, the founder of San Clemente Green and an activist who opposes the storage of spent nuclear fuel at SONGS. “Southern California Edison (SCE) found a loose pin at the bottom of one canister after loading four canisters with fuel. This new shim design aids helium cooling of the fuel. Although Edison attempts to assure us that the four canisters that have already been loaded using this flawed design will be safe for storage, they admit that transporting them later may prove to be problematic. They also admitted they cannot inspect the bottom of the shims, so they do not know the condition of the pins in the loaded canisters.”
SCE is the majority owner of SONGS.
Compounding the design issues is the location. Storing the canisters brings up a litany of potential environmental-related problems.
“As sea level rises, the containers are subjected to elements that they are simply not designed to handle,” San Diego Mayor Len Hering told KPBS. “That in itself should be a significant risk that is of concern to the citizens, but also to the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense, recognizing that, should there be a breach, that Pendleton would basically be useless. God only knows what the contamination containment area might be. The risks are significantly greater than we should have to endure.”
Coleman and her friends at the San Onfore Surf Co. have got the ball rolling in the surf community, but it’s going to take long, dedicated fight to save their beach and Southern California. Who else is in?
“I’m not a scientist or nuclear physicist, but you don’t need to be to know that this is a disaster waiting to happen,” Coleman concluded.