The Irvine City Council this week approved a “strong” letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, requesting the implementation of various public safety initiatives for the troubled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Among other steps, the letter proposes expansion of an emergency planning radius from 10 miles to 50 miles, which would include all the major counties in Southern California. It also calls on the plant operator, Southern California Edison, to refrain from restarting the steam generators at units 2 and 3 until there is “full assurance” the units won't exhibit rapid wear and tear over the next 10 years.
San Onofre has been shut down since January when plant workers discovered a minor radiation leak caused by unusually rapid tube wear. Since then, other revelations have raised questions about the safety of the plant. For example, the number of substantiated safety allegations at San Onofre is six times the national average, Voice of OC reported last week.
Council members Beth Krom and Larry Agran were prepared to call for the permanent shutdown of the plant, citing the possibility of a massive nuclear catastrophe.
“I call on Southern California Edison to show leadership. There is no doubt that San Onofre is not a sound facility. It should be closed down permanently. License renewal should be a nonstarter,” Krom said to standing applause from some meeting attendees.
But while Agran moved to have the council make a collective call for the decommissioning of the plant by 2022, Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway said he wasn't ready for such a decision without knowing all the facts about the issue.
“I too have serious concerns about the safety at San Onofre. With that said, I don't know the answer,” Lalloway said. “I would like to hear in a rational, nonpolitical way what the experts have to say.”
The council opted not to call for the decommissioning of the plant and instead asked Edison officials to attend the May 8 council meeting and explain how they plan to generate power during the summer, the peak season for energy consumption.
Veronica Gutierrez, vice president of local public affairs for Edison, said that the plant operator would not restart the plant until they had confidence in the integrity of the tubes.
“We are not going to restart those units until we and NRC are convinced that it's safe to do so,” Gutierrez said.
The council's discussion cames just a day after a 3.9 magnitude earthquake jolted Orange County, an area that is a known earthquake zone. A powerful earthquake caused the tsunami that ravaged the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
Agran and others argue that San Onofre's situation is frighteningly similar. With the plant sitting on the coast, it is a prime tsunami target, they argue.
Agran also asked City Manager Sean Joyce whether the city is prepared to handle a Fukushima-scale disaster. Joyce and Police Chief David Maggard said the city would not be ready and would require assistance from other agencies.
“We are not prepared on a daily basis to do anything like that,” Joyce said.