This past Saturday’s monthly meeting’s topics were all related to Energy. Peg Mitchell gave an overview of the the two resolutions that were before the club membership for approval. The first, a “Resolution Urging President Obama to reject the Keystone Tar Sands Pipeline”, passed without much discussion. Members already had a high awareness of the issue and agreed that although there are many arguments to be made both for and against the pipeline, the bottom line is that we cannot allow this dirtiest of fuels to be burned by anyone and still hope to contain greenhouse gas emissions below a “tipping point”. Our only real solution is a transition to renewable energy as soon as possible.
The second resolution, “A Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing”, required some explanation since it is a more technical topic with which not everyone was familiar. Peg explained that although the actual practice of fracking for shale oil or natural gas was not likely to occur in San Diego County, the downstream impacts will definitely be felt by all of us who are consumers of food and water. Fracking requires enormous amounts of fresh, locally sourced water which is highly contaminated in the process. It must then be disposed of in a safe way that will not contaminate aquifers, drinking water supplies or irrigation water and fields. Fracking is taking place today with no regulation and contamination instances have occurred in the past. Additionally, fracking has already been blamed for causing low level (3.5-4.0) earthquakes in areas that have not had them before such as in West Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio. Given that the Monterey Shale field sits close to the San Andreas fault this is not something to be taken lightly. See the six slides below for more details of the issue and some explanatory graphics on the fracking process and its dangers. Both resolutions were passed by the club membership.
Our featured speaker was Rochelle Becker from the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility. Her focus for the last 39 years has been to encourage the state of California to enforce the laws and regulations that already exist as it relates to the nuclear industry. She reviewed the current situation at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). There are multiple issues that must be resolved before and if SONGS is to be allowed to restart its two damaged units. The original steam generators, which were supposed to last 40 years, didn’t last 20 years and were replaced at a cost of $680 billion to ratepayers. The new generators didn’t make it two years because of design flaws. A report recently issued by Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Ed Markey indicate that the flaws with the design were known by the manufacturer, Mitsubishi, as early as 2005. Decisions on how to proceed and who should pay are still pending NRC review.
In addition to the problems with the physical plant, the lessons learned from what happened at Fukushima, along with new information about the seismic signature of our coast, has given new urgency to understanding the safety profile of both SONGS and Diablo Canyon’s location near active faults on the Pacific Ring of Fire. For this reason, new seismic studies should be done before permits are renewed and will cost $64 million for each plant. But this is a double edged sword – the nature of the studies, which needs to be done offshore, will cause great harm to marine life from the 3D sonar technology that would be used. A decision on whether to proceed is still pending but Rochelle’s position is that we should do it once, but do it right and thoroughly so it never has to be repeated thus limiting the damage.
Additionally, SONGS, like all our nuclear facilities in the country, stores its nuclear waste on site. When SONGS was initially permitted on site storage was intended to be temporary. With no federal solution to permanent storage now for over 30 years, and no nuclear waste storage facility in existence anywhere in the world, current plans are to leave it stored as is for up to 300 years! The costs for maintenance and security could be enormous and it is unclear how this will impact California taxpayers.
The risks are real and recognized. For example, although a homeowner can get earthquake and fire insurance, there is no insurance available from anyone for a radiation hazard at any price. Moreover, the federal government caps each plant’s liability at only $12.6 billion. The claims in Japan related to the Fukushima incident are already over $150 billion. With over 8 million people living within a 50 mile radius of SONGS this is a huge concern.
Rochelle ended her very informative presentation with a plea to voters – understand the issues and the full costs of remediation and attend any public meetings that are held on the topic. Although our California legislators are doing a pretty good job so far they need to know we care so contact your local state legislator and urge them to extend the required evacuation zone from 10 to 50 miles (as the U.S. did in Fukushima for U.S. citizens). As Rochelle said, “Understanding the full costs of continued investments in aging reactors, and nuclear waste sites on our fragile coast is neither pro nor anti-nuclear, it’s just good sense!” As the next steps in the “legislative fight” become clear we will post requests and suggestions from Rochelle and her organization on how we can best support her in this important watchdog effort, such as letter writing to newspapers and legislators. Stay tuned!