Residents Want Real-Time Data About San Onofre Radiation

Concerned by recent leaks at the nearby San Onofre nuclear power plant, several local residents are imploring San Clemente to make independent radiation monitoring information available to the public in real time.

Ten speakers at Tuesday night's City Council meeting told city leaders they were worried about safety at the 44-year-old plant, which can provide power for up to 1.4 million Southern California homes. The plant remains shut down three weeks after a minor radiation leak.

Some asked that the city provide real-time access to data from independent radiation detection stations within the city.

"I understand that there is no independent monitoring," said Mel Kernahan. "I think it's absolutely mandatory that you have some kind of [independent] monitoring."

Others said the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant last March, which displaced more than 88,000 people, underscores the importance of independent monitoring.

"The Fukushima anniversary certainly makes it clear for all of us that we need to be concerned about this, that the same kind of thing could happen here, that this is a very serious matter involving all the surrounding communities," said Dick Eiden, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 49th District, which includes San Onofre.

Officials from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission have said repeatedly in recent weeks that the tube leaks at San Onofre were very minor and posed no threat to the surrounding community.

Responding to the public comments Tuesday, council members directed the city staff to report on current monitoring and the potential for data to be made public.

"I would like to agendize the independent radiation study just to understand what's involved here," said Councilwoman Lori Donchak. She asked that the report include a general description of where the existing monitoring stations are.

The council plans to discuss the topic sometime after their next meeting and will decide then whether to take action or seek more information.

City Manager George Scarborough added that several government agencies conduct radiation monitoring in the area, including the Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Health, U.S. Department of Energy and Orange and San Diego county agencies.

The residents' request comes after a series of recent issues at the plant.

On Jan. 31, the plant was shut down after a minor radiation leak brought on by severe wear to tubes that carry radioactive water within a steam generator. The NRC told the Los Angeles Times that the tubes showed "many, many years" worth of wear despite being less than two years old.

The week before the leak was discovered, a worker fell into a reactor pool. While the pool would normally be radioactive, the reactor had been shut down for two months and the employee was uninjured, plant officials said.

Additionally, federal regulators investigating a November ammonia leak at the plant found that workers "failed to adequately identify, evaluate and correct a problem" and "faulted plant operator Southern California Edison for failing to follow its own procedures," the Associated Press reported.

And the Los Angeles Times reported that in a 2008 internal plant newsletter, San Onofre managers told employees that "injury rates at San Onofre put it 'dead last' among U.S. nuclear plants when it comes to industrial safety." That same year, the facility "received a string of citations over such issues as failed emergency generators, improperly wired batteries and falsified fire safety data," the newspaper reported.

Homes in southern San Clemente sit 2.6 miles from the nuclear plant, which can provide power for up to 1.4 million Southern California homes.

San Onofre's proximity to a populated area — San Clemente has around 63,000 residents — sets it apart from the state's only other facility at Diablo Canyon southwest of San Louis Obispo. That reactor is 7 miles from the nearest town, Baywood-Los Osos, which has a population of about 14,000.

Some of the speakers on Tuesday also asked the city to find funding for a study to determine whether city residents have a higher-than-expected cancer rate.

Others asked the city to participate in a March 10 event observing the anniversary of the Fukushima incident.

The council took no action on either request.

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