BEER CAN NUKES ON THE BEACH AND THE EROSION TRUTH
The one consistent truth about all the recent natural catastrophes is that they all can be recovered from — people and communities do rebuild and recover. Except for one — Japan’s Fukushima nightmare. A nuclear disaster lasts forever, and right here in the center of the Southern California populace, Southern California Edison is building a disaster that won’t take a massive tsunami to happen, just a bad decision based on costs, payoffs and the byproduct of a presidential election promise.
The California Coastal Commission, whose mission is to protect the California coast and its diverse marine life, granted a 20-year lease to SCE to construct a nuclear waste storage monolith 100 feet from the cracking, corroding San Onofre power plant seawall, inches above the water table: http://documents.coastal.ca.gov/reports/2015/10/Tu6c-10-2015.pdf. An oceanfront nuclear waste facility based on beer-can technology in the middle of an area housing 8.4 million people, an insane risk that could result in a fatal loss that cannot be recovered from, rebuilt or regenerated.
In the 40 years that I’ve been surfing in front of and around the plant, I have watched the adjacent clay cliffs erode and crumble. During a recent 11-day span from December 28 to January 8th, I photographed and videotaped at least 15 to 20 feet of erosion from the clay hillsides on the north side of the plant. On January 6th, I filmed SCE attempting to hide the erosion during a low tide, only to see twice that amount of erosion come off the slope the very next day. When I asked the SCE foreman directing the massive tractor shoving the clay boulders back into the hillside, “Why clean up today? The tide and swell is much bigger tomorrow,” he replied, “It’s a good day, the surfing beach is closed” with a smile. Yes, they are trying to hide the truth: the ocean will swallow the toxic fuel rods much quicker than they said.
When applying for the permit, SCE stated that the annual erosion was only “three inches to a maximum of 20 inches,” per studies done by the USGS. Yet the erosion of the entire southern Orange County coastline in the last month has been very aggressive, and it’s not due to El Nino or King Tides. It’s the ocean doing what it does. Is it rising? Maybe, because everyone agrees the low tides now are medium tides, and the minus tide features have disappeared. What is certain is that erosion is happening at a much faster rate, and storing 3.6 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel rods at sea level 100 feet from the shore in beer-can-thin canisters is an exceptionally bad idea.
Holtec International, the company SCE is using to build the storage structure, claims that its 5/8-inch-thick steel canisters are sufficient. Except those canisters have corroded and cracked at the Diablo and Koeberg storage facilities. Once that happens, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) prohibits them from being transported.
There is an alternative. Siempelkamp, a German industrial manufacturer, makes CASTOR dry storage casks that are 20 inches thick. http://www.siempelkamp.com/index.php?id=1982.
After Fukushima, Germany decided to shutter all its nuke reactors and build a dry storage cask that could never leak, can be transported, and doesn’t need to be buried in concrete monoliths that crack and fail. The Russians, Chinese and French are using its products. Why aren’t we? Turns out these products “are not licensed” by the NRC. Something smells poisonous here.
Another alternative is return to the plan that was promised to the American public. Congress approved the Yucca Mountain repository in 2002, and we the people were told that’s where the nation would store spent fuel rods from our 100 or so plants. But Barack Obama, in an election year deal made in 2007 with Harry Reid, shut it down in 2011, now locally stored nuclear fuel rods will be the toxic legacy of Obama. This action created the new industry of nuclear dry-cask storage. The federal government has taken billions of dollars to store the spent rods, but hasn’t taken one rod. We the public got conned.
This means that Senators Darrell Issa and Barbara Boxer need to get it together and do this right. We need a social media riot that goes viral until Congress listens, because what happens to San Onofre will set a precedent. Once the waste goes into the beer cans, it’s staying there until disaster strikes. Fukushima is 150 miles from Tokyo; San Onofre is 50 miles from LA county and within 10 miles of one million people.
Let’s look at local real estate values (something I know a little about) in the event of a relatively minor mishap, perhaps a mistake during the transfer of the rods from the cooling pools to the beer cans — a DEFCON 3, we’ll call it. With the plant somewhere near the middle, draw a circle from Newport Beach to La Jolla 50 miles across. All residential real estate in that radius would lose 30 to 40% of value, and in an instant, billions in mortgage loans become worthless. DEFCON 2 would be a leak into the ocean, filling it with Cesium-137 and Strontium 90, the lovely chemicals that were found in traces here from Fukushima last year. In that case, homes in that radius would lose 90 to 100% of their value. DEFCON 1 would be an ISIS thug with an explosive drone (which is very possible, since this storage system is half above ground, 100 yards from the 5 freeway) and we have Hiroshima. Any of these is a meltdown that affects everyone at every level.
Where are you activists, surfers and environmentalists: the ones who fought so hard to stop the toll road from happening? Surfrider Foundation? A concrete highway and everyone goes all-in to stop it — but a nuclear waste monolith on the beach in the exact same location, 100 feet from high tide, and you disappear?
We’re going give $150 billon to Iran to not build a nuclear weapon, but we won’t spend 10% of that to safeguard the future of our children and our country from our own manufactured nuclear waste? We need to wake up Congress, make a deal with the Germans and re-open Yucca Mountain.
Steven Patrick Dunn is currently a SVP at City National Bank where he advises the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center in San Clemente. Prior to that he was the Chief of Global Research at CBRE and assisted the FDIC in Washington, DC during the banking crisis.