Protesters hit the San Clemente streets to voice opposition for nuclear waste burial on the beach at San Onofre
|| Orange County Register
“Monique and Todd Furuike can’t remember the last time they joined a protest. It definitely was the first time for their children, Blake, 13 and Presley, 11.
But when they heard about a group gathering in San Clemente on Saturday to oppose plans to bury 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste at San Onofre State Beach, Monique and Todd knew they wanted to rally as a family.
“I think it’s important to see what we’re doing as adults, about what we feel passionate about. My kids are beach kids … we have our annual San Onofre beach day,” said Monique Furuike, who drove from Huntington Beach for the protest. “It’s important to see what’s going on around them. There’s so many different causes. This is our family cause.”
More than 100 people showed up at the San Clemente Community Center, some clutching signs with statements such as “kids should grow, not glow” and “it’s better to be active, proactive, reactive than radioactive!” before protesters marched up Avenida Del Mar and El Camino Real.
The latest protest follows similar efforts in recent weeks at Laguna Beach, then Huntington Beach, where opponents to the nuclear waste burial are trying to make a last-ditch effort before spent fuel is buried in the ground in a cliff near the ocean on Camp Pendleton land between Orange County and San Diego at the shuddered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station .
There’s no concrete date on when the fuel is going to be placed in the canisters, but it could be as soon as mid-January, said Lori Donchak, a San Clemente council member who has followed the issue for a decade.
“If something were to go wrong with the storage, water knows no boundaries,” Donchak said. “It will go straight into the ocean and affect all of California. There’s no reason to believe this part of the country is exempt from natural disaster.”
A spokesperson for Southern California Edison, San Onofre’s operator, did not respond in time for this story’s deadline on Saturday.
Plans to transport the spent fuel to Yucca Mountain in Nevada were taken off the table years ago, and officials haven’t figured out what to do with the nuclear waste other than storing it temporarily on site, in multi-billion-dollar canisters, just a short distance from shore.
In 2015, shortly after the California Coastal Commission gave Southern California Edison the green light to build on-sight storage, the nonprofit group Citizens Oversight filed suit to stop it.
The suit claimed the commission, which must review and approve or disallow seaside projects, failed to adequately evaluate other storage spots or the Holtec system that will entomb the waste. The suit also argues that Southern California Edison presented the spot just a few hundred feet from the beach as the only option.
The Coastal Commission said it followed state law and Edison argued that the new dry storage system is an expansion of an already-existing “safe, secure facility to temporarily store the spent nuclear fuel.”
The highly radioactive fuel will be much safer in the steel-and-concrete bunker than in the pools where it currently cools, Edison said. All waste is slated to be in dry storage by 2019.
Edison has little choice, it has argued. The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over the transport, monitoring and storage of spent nuclear fuel and has the legal obligation to permanently dispose of it – not just from San Onofre, but from every commercial reactor in the nation.
Edison produced electricity at the site for 40 years, creating millions of pounds of radioactive waste. The reactors were shut down in 2012 after steam generators malfunctioned.
In August, Citizens Oversight, SCE and the Coastal Commission struck a deal to take specific steps toward eventually removing nuclear waste from the region. But details about how that might happen remain vague.
Under terms of the settlement, Edison agreed to spend up to $4 million to hire a team of experts in fields such as nuclear engineering, siting, licensing, transportation, and radiation detection to develop plans to relocate San Onofre’s 3.6 million pounds of spent fuel.
One site the team is supposed to consider is the Palos Verde nuclear plant in Arizona, a site where Edison has a financial stake. The team also is supposed to explore temporary storage sites in New Mexico and Texas.
Already, some spent fuel has been sitting in storage bins – cooling for years – at San Onofre. Some experts argue the proposed dry storage, the steel-and-concrete bunkers, offer greater protection against earthquakes, fire, tsunamis and terrorist threats. And getting it into canisters for dry storage by 2019 is the first step toward transferring it off-site when a facility becomes available, proponents argue.
But concerned citizens in Orange County argue the canisters are below standards used around the world and not nearly as thick as they should be.
Placing the fuel just 100 yards from the water is risky, especially in an area that is due for a major earthquake, said Todd Furuike.
“I think it’s important the public knows of all these risks,” he said as he marched with the group. “That’s how we’ll put pressure on the federal government to respond.”
Torgen Johnson, of Solana Beach, spoke to the group gathered on a grassy lawn before they took to streets to protest.
“The waste is going to outlast recorded history by a huge amount,” he said. “We got our lights on for a few moments, now we have to babysit this fuel for eternity.”
He pointed to his four kids, Layse, 10, Enzo, 8, Coco, 6 and Del Mar, 3.
“We have to keep them safe, and their great, great, great, great grandchildren safe from this stuff,” he said. “It’s thinking about protecting your families and people who aren’t even on the planet yet.”
He was optimistic the crowd’s voice would be heard.
“It’s going to take people like you to speak up,” he said. “We have a big problem, but we have a big crowd and a lot of spirit here. I hope that all of you stay engaged in this fight.”
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