Cal­i­for­nia dis­as­ters that may be wait­ing to hap­pen

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Opinion - Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]

Vir­tu­ally all adult Cal­i­for­ni­ans know the kinds of dis­as­ters that com­monly be­fall this state by the time they de­cide to stay here or move to the Golden State from some­place else.

The usual list most folks con­sider is fairly short, but can have long-last­ing im­pacts: fires, floods and earth­quakes. Those who lack com­plete faith in tech­nol­ogy and hu­man ef­forts to pre­vent tragedy see some other po­ten­tial dan­gers lurk­ing.

One is the nu­clear waste dump that has taken shape be­side the de­funct San Onofre Nu­clear Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion near the bor­der be­tween San Diego and Or­ange coun­ties.

About 15 months ago, the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son Co., op­er­a­tor and ma­jor­ity owner of the one­time atomic power plant, saw a 50-ton (100,000-pound) can­is­ter with a five-eighths-inchthick shell twist al­most com­pletely out of con­trol while be­ing loaded into a niche in the newly-con­structed beach­front nu­clear waste dump Edi­son has built be­cause there is no room in ex­ist­ing fed­eral atomic dumps and no im­me­di­ate prospect of open­ing a new one.

Like other nu­clear plant op­er­a­tors, Edi­son must fend for it­self both in build­ing and fill­ing its dump. The near-mishap, which could have seen the gi­ant, thin-walled can­is­ter fall dozens of feet to a hard con­crete floor, was nei­ther re­ported nor ac­knowl­edged pub­licly by Edi­son un­til months later, when a worker men­tioned it dur­ing a pub­lic meet­ing nearby.

Be­cause this al­most-ac­ci­dent took time to clear and work­ers plainly needed more in­struc­tion and prac­tice in han­dling the can­is­ters, no more ra­dioac­tive waste was loaded into the dump – just yards from a pop­u­lar state beach – un­til slightly over a year had passed.

Edi­son main­tains ev­ery­thing there is now hunky-dory, even though a major leak from the dump could the­o­ret­i­cally ir­ra­di­ate ev­ery­thing within 50 miles, in­clud­ing most of Or­ange and San Diego coun­ties, plus one of Amer­ica’s two largest Marine Corps bases, Camp Pendle­ton.

The near-ac­ci­dent “will not re­peat it­self,” Edi­son has said. A spokesman told a re­porter, “What is­sues we did see were cap­tured as part of our lessons-learned, con­tin­u­ous ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram. That will help us be suc­cess­ful go­ing for­ward.”

No one is pan­ick­ing in sur­round­ing ar­eas. But some con­sumer ac­tivists still worry, es­pe­cially af­ter a we­bi­nar in which the fed­eral Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion ad­mit­ted it has no backup plan for re­pair­ing or safely stor­ing any dam­aged nu­clear waste con­tainer. The best way to re­move leak­ing con­tain­ers is via “hot cells,” por­ta­ble nu­clear con­tain­ment cham­bers. But there are no hot cells

within 1,000 miles large enough to cope with San Onofre’s stor­age units and fed­eral law for­bids mov­ing high-level nu­clear waste across state lines – or even across free­ways like the ad­ja­cent I-5.

Said Charles Lan­g­ley, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the San Diego-based ad­vo­cacy group Pub­lic Watch­dogs, “The ad­mis­sion by the NRC that it has no backup plan for han­dling leaks in th­ese thin con­tain­ers at San Onofre is ter­ri­fy­ing.” He also wor­ries about what a sig­nif­i­cant earth­quake on the known fault off­shore from San Onofre might do to the can­is­ters and their stor­age fa­cil­ity.

Only about 45 miles north­west along the coast, other folks worry about an­other fault and an­other kind of po­ten­tial dis­as­ter.

A home­owner group in San Pe­dro, be­side the Los An­ge­les Har­bor, which is Amer­ica’s busiest, wor­ries about the ef­fects of a pos­si­ble earth­quake on the pre­vi­ously un­pub­li­cized, blind-thrust Wilm­ing­ton fault which seis­mol­o­gists only re­cently rated as ac­tive.

The fault runs near sev­eral oil re­finer­ies, but the home­own­ers group wor­ries it might set off an ex­plo­sion from a 25-mil­lion-gal­lon liq­ue­fied pe­tro­leum gas stor­age tank fed­er­ally au­tho­rized un­der then-Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon dur­ing the early 1970s.

The group says this large tank was built with­out Los An­ge­les per­mits and sits on soils which the

U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey de­fines as prone to “land­slides and liq­ue­fac­tion.” A quake un­der this al­leged ge­o­log­i­cal fea­ture could be dis­as­trous, the home­own­ers fear.

And yet … life pro­ceeds quite nor­mally for res­i­dents who could be af­fected by ei­ther of the po­ten­tial dis­as­ters at the doorsteps of San Diego, Los An­ge­les and their sub­urbs.

Real es­tate prices have risen ex­po­nen­tially over the last four decades in both ar­eas, while no one has se­ri­ously dis­cussed pos­si­ble ef­fects on schools and other pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties.

Is much of Cal­i­for­nia liv­ing in a fool’s par­adise?

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