By Helen Villines / San Diego Citizens for Nuclear Free Neighborhoods
“What if you had just 15 minutes to evacuate, looking around your apartment or house, trying to quickly decide what you will take, how overwhelmed would you be – knowing you couldn’t return for a thousand years,” Rocky Neptun asks the group.
The Greek fisherman’s hat slides down his forehead, exposing globs of silver hair as he looks out at the crowd. These are his people, working-class types: there are big, burly laborers, so work tired they only make a meeting every three months or so; single mothers, their children in tow, youngsters dangling from knees and chairs; senior citizens, serious, frowning, the lines of economic insecurity etched in their faces; the disabled in wheel chairs and immigrants chatting in dozens of languages.
Rocky Neptun has been the volunteer director of the San Diego Renters Union for almost 10 years and now the members have asked him to run for mayor, not only to bring the issues of rent control and free public transportation into the public debate but to focus attention on the continuing operation of the nuclear power station at San Onofre, which, in their view, poses a danger to their families.
“We have waited for the prominent environmental groups, like the Sierra Club or the Environmental Health Coalition, to act,” Jean Rogers, stands and tells the group, “but there is this eerie silence.”
She talks of how incredible it is that many weeks after the Fukishima nuclear power plant disaster there is not a mainstream movement here in San Diego to shut down San Onofre.
“Just 45 miles from where we gather,” Neptun told the gathering, “is a nuclear power plant with two reactors working and one shut down, storing spent fuel rods, just like Fukishima. For far too many years, we have naively accepted our government’s propaganda that the facility is safe because in our Faustian bargain for cheap electricity we have hid from the truth.”
He outlined that there was only a mere 6 feet of concrete which contained the plant’s spent fuel rods in reactor number one and that the building was designed to withstand only a 7.2 earthquake, while the quake in Japan registered 9.0 and was followed by a devastating tsunami. Most geologists agree that Southern California is due for an 8-plus quake.
“All it would take is a large earthquake closer to the California coast to generate a tsunami which could hit San Onofre, just a few feet from the ocean, without an effective sea wall,” he said.
“Eight and a half million people, including you and me, live within a fifty mile radius of that plant and that is exactly the distance that the United States government advised all US residents to evacuate from the disabled Fukishima facility immediately after the disaster.”
“Unit 3 at San Onofre is 27 years old, while unit 3 is one year older and like an aging 1980’s vehicle trudging through Death Valley, they are totally dependent on their cooling systems,” he told the crowd.
“My brother-in-law, Jerry Evans, a journeyman plumber, confessed to me just before his fatal heart attack a couple of years ago, how he had carried around the guilt of the faulty and cost-cutting work he had been instructed to do on the Diablo Canyon Nuclear power plant’s cooling pipes in the early 1980’s. He spoke of nightmares of nuclear meltdowns and eventually moved his family to Arkansas,” Neptun related.
“His words were particularly heartrending because my former lover and I had visited my sister at that time in San Luis Obispo while protesting at the entrance of the facility and had had a falling out with my brother-in-law over his work there.”
“These aging cooling systems, hundreds of miles of pipes and conduits, are all that separate this scorching, churning, gaseous death from our families,” Neptun outlined to the renters group.
“An earthquake, a tsunami, a clever terrorist or even human error, as at Chernobyl, could be devastating.”
He summarized a 2009 report by the New York Academy of Sciences which documented that from the April, 1986 Chernobyl disaster till 2005 a total of 125,000 people (soldiers, fireman, guards, cleaning crews) died from direct exposure and another 200,000 persons who lived within the fallout area have perished because of their exposure.
“There is 11 years left on San Onofre’s license but Southern California Edison is already beginning the process for relicensing this decaying facility by asking rate payers – you and I, since SDG&E owns 20 percent of the plant – to pay for a $64 million white-wash study of earthquake preparedness,” Neptun said.
“They are asking for another 20 years to operate but have not come forward with a single plan to dispose of the dangerous, volatile spent fuel rods.”
He told the gathering, the U.S. currently has 71,862 tons of this nuclear waste and no where to effectively store it.
“Most of the 104 operating nuclear reactors and all the 15 closed down ones house the spent fuel on site in water-filled cooling ponds or in dry cask storage bins but these storage holding facilities last a maximum of a hundred years – not the necessary ten thousand years.”
“What arrogance, what hubris and selfishness we have as a society to push these dangers and lethal consequences of continuing nuclear power off onto future generations, especially since there are alternative energy technologies available like solar, wind power and the ocean,” Neptun said.
“One of the great laws of the Iroquois was that in every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation, even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of pine,” he ended his presentation, “so let’s get our act together and insure a habitable future for our descendents here in our beautiful San Diego region before it’s too late.”
Helen Villines is secretary for San Diego Citizens for Nuclear Free Neighborhoods. If you wish to get in contact with the group, do so via the OB Rag’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will forward any contact requests to them.