California Public Utility Fumbles Radioactive Storage

While California is busy sweeping poop of public sidewalks and making sure restaurants don’t give their patrons plastic straws, there is a disaster waiting to happen in San Onofre.

Canisters containing radioactive waste from a now-defunct nuclear power plant, which are stored in unsafe conditions, pose a threat not only to tens of thousands of people who visit the world-famous San Onofre beach but also large, nearby population centers such as Los Angeles and San Diego.

The San Onofre nuclear power plant was shut down in 2012 due a leak caused by the fact that plant was operating the reactor outside allowable limits for both pressure and temperature. However, the plant still stores over 3.5 million pounds of lethal radioactive waste. On August 3, 2018, one of the waste canisters nearly fell from 18 feet up as it was being loaded into a temporary transport carrier. If the canister had burst open, it would have released as much radiation as the infamous Chernobyl disaster released back in 1986. Even so, no one would have heard of the incident had it not been for a courageous whistleblower who works on the site. David Fritch, an experienced safety professional who works at the site and witnessed the near-disaster, spoke about the incident in a public meeting held on August 9.

The accident has highlighted a number of serious issues surrounding the San Onofre plant and its nuclear storage policies. For the last five years, the plant’s nuclear waste cannisters have been stored in containers 20 feet under water. However, this storage option is only acceptable as a temporary form of storage, not a long-term one. In 2015, The Coastal Commission granted a permit for allowing the waste to be stored in a dry-storage bunker in the city in spite of the fact that there are many serious problems with doing so.

First of all, the storage facility would be built in close proximity to large cities and a major highway. What is more, the area is earthquake prone. To make matters even worse, the storage containers are made with thin walls that are no more than 5/8″ thick, even though most countries storing radioactive material in canisters use ones with walls that are up to 20″ thick. Furthermore, the San Onofre canisters have not been proven safe for either storage or transport, and do not have a seismic rating. There is also no way to detect cracks in the canisters until after a leak has already occurred.

Storage problems aren’t the only danger that local residents face. As David Fritch recently pointed out, the workers handling the radioactive cannisters don’t have the training needed to do the job right. Many of them have not been around nuclear materials beforehand and the work culture does not put a priority on safety above all other concerns. One would also be tempted to question the expertise level of executives at Southern California Edison, the public utility charged with handling the San Onofre power plant, after listening to a recent radio interview given in the wake of the August 3 accident.

The Chairman of the Edison Community Engagement Panel likened the near-disaster to a workplace safety issue. Apparently, he misses the obvious fact that an accident at a normal construction site does not have the potential to kill tens of thousands of people.

What will happen to the San Onofre nuclear plant remains to be seen. Enraged activists have already begun protesting what is an obvious safety problem that could spell disaster for the entire region. However, what is known is that, at this point, the state does not have any sort of evacuation plan should a disaster occur. Given the fact that workers handling the waste seem unconcerned about safety protocols, and those managing them have clearly not been completely honest with the general public, one can only hope that those who live in the area surrounding the plan remain safe and free from harm for the foreseeable future.

~ Liberty Planet

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