The San Onofre Fukishima Connection

by on March 26, 2011 · 5 comments

in California, Energy, Environment, Health, San Diego

Two weeks into Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant crisis, the situation continues to worsen.

Among the headlines in today’s paper is “Breach feared at reactor—radiation high.” The Associated Press reported “Plant operators don’t know the source of radioactive water discovered in at Units 1 and 3.” The utility, Tokyo Electric Power Co., suspected that water found in Units 2 and 4 was similarly contaminated.

The BBC reported on March 25 that radiation levels in Unit 3 were “10,000 times higher than normal.”


On Wednesday [3/24] the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that radioactive iodine and cesium had been fund in 10 Japanese prefectures and stated “the trend is generally upward.”

Earlier this week levels of radioactive iodine in Tokyo tap water were so high that the government said infants should not drink it, setting off panic buying of bottled water.

Fukushima radioactive plumes have spread westward and the hot stuff has been detected in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado in the US. Further westward it has also been found in Iceland and was expected to arrive in France soon.

Bans on certain Japanese food imports have gone into effect in Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Australia, the US and the EU.

On March 24 ran a story headlined “Fukushima radioactive fallout nears Chernobyl levels.”

“Japan’s damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and cesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986,” New Scientist reported.

“Austrian researchers (at the Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics in Vienna) have used worldwide network detectors to show that Iodine 131 released at daily levels of 73% of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of Cesium 137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60% of the amount released from Chernobyl.”

San Onofre: Standing On Shaky Ground

As the world now knows, these disturbing events are among the dire consequences resulting from the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent 30+ foot tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.

These dynamic forces of nature shut down the 6-six-unit Fukushima nuclear plant on Japan’s east coast and wrecked the reactor cooling systems that prevent nuclear fuel and spent fuel rods from melting down. Such meltdowns in turn can lead to releases of radiation into the environment.

Like Fukushima, San Onfore nuclear plant sits on an active earthquake zone. Not far offshore is the Cristiano fault, said by experts to be inactive. But earthquake science is far from perfect.

Other, active faults are in the region as well. As reported by OB Rag writer Dave Rice in the August 10, 2010 San Diego Reader, these include the Whittier-Elsinore fault, 23 miles northwest; the San Jacinto fault 43 miles northwest; and the southern San Andreas fault 57 miles northeast.

There are also more offshore faults that could affect San Onofre, Rice reported. These include the South Coast Offshore Fault Zone and “the faulting that connects San Diego’s Rose Canyon Fault and the Newport –Inglewood Fault Zone, which extends north to Los Angeles.”

In 2008 the California Energy Commission released a report about California nuclear plants and earthquakes. Of San Onofre it stated “The plant “could experience larger ground motions than had been anticipated at the time the plant was designed.”

San Onofre was designed to withstand a 7.0 shaker. The 1989 Loma Prieta quake in Northern California was a 7.1, and occurred along a previously unknown fault.

Deadly Wave Motion

At Fukushima, the tsunami overwhelmed a wall meant to withstand such gigantic waves. San Onofre has such a wall too, 25 feet high. Thus it’s 7 feet lower than the 33 foot wave that hit Fukushima.

In the wake of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted a study assessing potential tsunami hazards at US nuclear plants. Released in 2008, the NRC concluded that tsunamis “can result in a severe hazard to safety-related cooing-water systems as well as other structures, systems and components important to a nuclear plant.”

And that’s exactly what happened at Fukushima, leaving us with the present catastrophic mess we have now, with no end in sight.

Reason would call for the immediate shut down of San Onofre—and Diablo Canyon. But other motives like profit and CEO salaries drive companies like Southern California Edison and PG&E.

Instead the owners of San Onofre and Diablo Canyon want to extend the operating licenses of their nuke plants for an additional 20 years. That would allow San Onofre’s two operating reactors to run, theoretically, into the 2060s.

The California Energy Commission’s 2008 report recommended that both of these companies conduct “seismic studies employing state of the art technology—three dimensional seismic mapping and GPS technology—before seeking license renewal,” Dave Rice reported.

But, in a typical arrogant move, PG&E refused to do so, and instead filed for license renewal in 2009. SC Edison did file a preliminary report with the commission, but neglected to do the 3D mapping technology.

Shut ‘Em Down!

To this day, the nuclear utilities, the NRC, and the White House all are saying that US nukes are safe, perfectly safe, from earthquakes and tsunamis. OK, they will be doing a review (read: whitewash) just to cover their asses. And to continue their crusade for new nukes, at a cost of $36 billion in taxpayer guaranteed loans to wannabe new nukes utilities.

San Onofre has other problems related to plant safety.

You may remember that when the Fukushima reactors lost cooling power because electricity was knocked out by the disaster, the last line of defense was a system of batteries.

San Onofre has such a system. But one of these crucial batteries was inoperable between 2004 and 2008 because one of its bolts had a loose connection all that time.

In addition, a worker at the plant falsified records from 2001 to 2005, indicating that hourly fire patrols were made when they never happened.

In 2009 a worker contacted the US Department of Labor, alleging a “hostile work environment meant to discourage raising safety concerns,” the Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch reported this March 24.

Because of these and other such problems, San Onofre has been under NRC increased scrutiny for several years. The Patch reported last week that the NRC latest inspection found that the plant’s “corrective action problem effectiveness has declined.”

Radioactive contamination? In 2006 workers permanently shutting down San Onofre Unit 1 found radioactive ground water underneath it. Subsequent testing showed it contained radioactive tritium (hydrogen) 16 times higher than EPA allowable levels.

In recent years the Radiation and Public Health Project ( found the highest rates of childhood leukemia around nuclear plants they studied.

“The plant with the largest population is the San Onofre installation in Southern California,” authors Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman wrote. “Results are also presented for this site…and a [statistically] significant increase in leukemia for children aged 0-9 [41% higher than the normal rate] and 10-19 [29.5% higher] were observed. Areas near other individual facilities experienced many fewer deaths, and no changes achieved statistical significance.”

We can go all the way back to 1977, when, Time magazine reported in 1982, Bechtel Corporation “was …embarrassed…when it installed a 420-ton nuclear reactor backwards” at San Onofre.

In response to the latest such duplicity, Rochelle Backer of the Alliance For Nuclear Responsibility, a long time opponent of Diablo Canyon, told San Diego’s KULI -TV9 on March 17, “If you had asked the Japanese nuclear regulatory people a week ago today, whether or not this could happen in Japan, you’d have the same answer you’re getting from Southern California Edison: it can’t happen here.”

Meanwhile, thousands are out in the streets in Germany, demanding that all their nukes be permanently shut down as Fukushima radiation invades.

It’s high time we joined them.

Many thanks to Dave Rice for much of the information included in this report.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Rick Ward March 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Frank,your headline photograph is up-side down.


Frank Gormlie March 27, 2011 at 8:09 am

Rick, I know, dude, and you look at the entire post – you can almost see the mirror reflection of the Fukishima plant.


tj March 27, 2011 at 8:06 am


The apathy here is beyond belief.

I guess the many year in process “reforms” to the schools have finally been realized – a nation of unthinking sheep.


Peyton Farquhar March 27, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Reality Check >> If the west coast has a tsunami higher than 25 FT, then our problems will be *much* larger than the nuclear reactors at SONGS melting.


D.A. Kolodenko March 27, 2011 at 8:51 pm

In this week’s San Diego Citybeat, I also argued for shutting down the San Onofre plant. Thanks to Michael for writing this, Dave for the research & Frank for publishing such a timely, vital piece. Let’s make this happen.


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