Though a meltdown at a nuclear plant may be its worst case scenario, the dangers and risks by no means end there. In fact they go on every day.
Radioactive releases into the air and water are routine at nukes. As is the transportation of radioactive wastes offsite by road, rail and water. These activities are the seldom discussed everyday threats to people, other living beings, and the environment as a whole.
This report delves into what goes on at the San Onofre Generating Station in these respects.
San Onofre’s liquid radwastes flow out of the plants through “outflows” pipes and empty into the Pacific. They are highly diluted but nevertheless still there. According to the plant’s 2007 Radioactive Effluent Release Report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there were 202 liquid effluent “batch” releases that year. These releases lasted a total of 489 hours, or over 20 days. The longest was 7.6 hours in duration. The releases averaged 2.4 hours.
The releases contained many dangerous radioactive chemicals, including cesium 137, cobalt 60, iodine 131 and strontium 90. Cesium 137 has a radioactive life of over 300 years, cobalt 60’s over 50 years, and strontium 90’s almost 300. Iodine 131’s radioactive life is only a few months, but during that time it is intensely radioactive. I-131 mimics regular iodine, and concentrates in the thyroid gland if it enters our bodies. I-131 caused high rates of thyroid cancer after Chernobyl exploded and burned its nuclear core, releasing virtually all its radioactivity.
The 2007 report informs us “waste gas decay tank releases are considered to be ‘batch’ releases. Containment purges and plant stack releases are considered to be ‘continuous’ releases.”
Though San Onofre Unit 1 permanently shut down in 1992, the 2007 report states that its liquid and gaseous radioactive releases did not cease until 2006. And in 2007, though Unit 1 had been shut down for nearly 15 years, a radioactive accident happened in April, the report states.
During the transfer of the contents of a large liquid container there, “a worker noticed a steady flow of water exiting a pipe onto the sand in an area that had been recently excavated.” Turns out that a pipe had been “inadvertently severed…As a result, nearly all of the contents…about 2000 gallons, spilled through the severed pipe onto the sand.”
The spill contained “trace amounts” of cesium 137.
Out of Sight, Out of Their Minds
Also in 2007, the report states, “solid [radioactive] waste” from all three units was “shipped offside for burial or disposal.” In fact, the report states, there were 599 such shipments. This waste contained, among other radioactive chemicals, plutoniums 238, 239, 240, 241 and 242. Plutoniums 239 and 242 have radioactive lives in the millions of years.
San Onofre’s shipped-out radwastes end up in Utah, Tennessee and South Carolina. The public is not notified of these shipments. If it were, it would have to hear of them just about every day.
Playing a prominent role in spiriting San Onofre’s radwastes away is EnergySolutions, headquartered in Salt Lake City. The company’s motto is “Energy Solutions, we’re part of the solution.” Among its operations is operating privatized radioactive waste dumps. If you’re a basketball fan, you may recognize the company’s name. It adorns the home court of the Utah Jazz. EnergySolutions operates a low level radwaste dump in Clive, Utah, about 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, near the Nevada Test Site. The latter site is where the US blew up atomic bombs above and below ground.
The company also operates a high level radwaste site at the defunct Big Rock nuke plant in Michigan. High level radioactive waste includes spent fuel, nuclear fuel that has outlasted its commercial life but remains lethally dangerous thousands of years after it is removed from nuclear reactors.
According to the 2007 report, in 2004 all of Unit 1’s spent fuel was transferred to this site, dubbed the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation.
The federal government’s plan to transport all the spent fuel from commercial US nuke plants to Yucca Mountain, a sacred site on the land of the Western Shoshone tribe, is, like most of this radwaste, going nowhere. This site is also near the Nevada Test Site.
Lacking any real solution to the spent fuel problem, enter EnterySolutions, part of the problem. Because most nuclear safety advocates believe that until a real solution to this problem is created, the waste should stay on the sites of the nuke plants.
Nuclear authorities tell us that all of the above activities are perfectly safe, and that there is no threat to the public. That all the releases are below acceptable levels, and all the buried and “disposed” waste will never escape into the environment to harm us or succeeding generations.
However, numerous studies have found higher rates of cancers around nuclear power plants, such as the one reported recently in the OB Rag that found high mortality rates for childhood leukemia in counties adjacent to San Onofre. And virtually all nuke dumps, such as the massive one in Barnwell, South Carolina, have already leaked.
In addition, in 2005 the National Academy of Sciences committee to study the effects of radiation on our health concluded that there is no exposure to radiation without risk. The committee’s chairman, Richard Monson of the Harvard School of Public Health, stated “The health risks-particularly the development of solid cancers in organs-rises proportionally with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. As the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk.” And since San Onofre has been operating since 1970, there are all too many lifetime exposures already.
And you will note that EnergySolutions low level waste dump isn’t anywhere near its HQ of Salt Lake City, but instead embedded in a restricted and defiled region riddled with the remains of atomic explosions, whose memory will forever shame mankind.
San Onofre’s owners would like to operate their two remaining active reactors for an extra 20 years, until 2042, to continue their legacy of contamination for an extra generation, and its consequences for many more generations.
With true green energy looming on the horizon as real energy solutions for our future, why let the insanity that is San Onofre waste it?