San Onofre – Fukushima Lessons Symposium: Gets Pitiful Media Coverage

On Monday June 4th 2013, the former Prime Minister of Japan Naoto Kan and the former head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Gregory Jackzo, along with Peter Bradford, also a former NRC Commissioner and Arnie Gundersen spoke about the lessons learned at Fukushima and how they might apply to the San Onofre nuclear facility that is located within 50 miles of over 8 million people. Also speaking was Kendra Ulrich from Friends of the Earth that along with Arnie Gundersen has been involved in the legal battle to keep San Onofre from reopening.

The four hour long symposium received no national media attention, and horrible coverage by the Los Angeles Times.  Other local coverage was somewhat better, but still mostly censored considering the timely nature of the event.  For anyone looking at just how biased the current state of US media coverage has become barely two years after Fukushima, its clear that we are witnessing an intentional agenda of walking away from protecting this country from similar future events. Imagine if a former president of the United States spoke out about a prominent global issue and only had three major media outlets show up, with two of those from Japan.

The event itself was invaluable in that it brought Naoto Kan to speak outside of Japan for the first time since he stepped down as the acting head of Japan during Fukushima, the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Northeast Japan on March 11th 2011.  Even though he was a supporter of nuclear power prior to the disaster, Mr. Kan now supports the idea of a nuclear free Japan as well as the development of renewable energy sources to replace all of his country’s nuclear energy.

The timely theme of the event comes at a critical moment as the Southern California Edison, the owner of the San Onofre nuclear facility, has been pushing to reopen unit two of the facility possibly as early as this month.  The ongoing controversy over the newly installed steam generators that have forced the twin reactors to stay closed for nearly a year and a half has spurred a campaign to keep the reactors closed for a number of major reasons, highlighted by strong possibility that what happened at Fukushima could happen at San Onofre.

Rather than attempt to summarize Prime Minister Kan’s presentation first, since it largely about his own personal experience in dealing with events surrounding Fukushima, it was Gregory Jaczko’s presentation that could have made a difference in the current debate around San Onofre. Sadly, that didn’t happen, even though there were a number of important general issues he did speak to.  The most important comment he did make was his concern about how complex computer models are being used to evaluate the probability of events to rationalize against doing anything about severe events similar to Fukushima.  He also believes that the industry should not doing any further licensing of reactors until twelve major recommendations of changes to the current safety regime is done. And of primary concern the agency’s current procedure of making safety changes at reactors voluntary rather than mandatory!  The next most important concern he had was that extending the operations of current fleet of aging reactors beyond their original licenses should be reconsidered.  During the question and answer session he pointed out that the NRC should not have allowed such a major modification of critical equipment as the replacement of the steam generators in the procedural manner that it did.

Gregory also went onto to describe the agency’s order calling for all Americans within 50 miles of Fukushima to evacuate more as a travel advisory in nature when asked why similar rules are not part of US regulations here that only require mandatory evacuations out to 10 miles.  Even though his comments are significant, including his acknowledgement of the human costs of Fukushima and that the American Nuclear Society has estimated the disaster costs at $500 billion, there was much that wasn’t said, including far stronger language.  His acknowledgement of our version of Japan’s “Nuclear Village” was clearly a major letdown. The term “Nuclear Village” in Japan goes to the heart of the Japan’s own investigation into what happened at Fukushima and not mentioned at all by Prime Minister Kan or Mr. Jaczko!   In July of 2012, the 6 month long government investigation done by Japan’s legislative body (Diet) stated that it was the Nuclear Industry’s control over all regulatory agencies – that led to lax safety procedures was the root cause of the Fukushima disaster.  Thus the term “Nuclear Village” where a regulated industry has almost complete control over the government’s regulatory authority of itself.

It would be former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford who would properly frame the current state of affairs with our own “Nuclear Village”, giving details of how the industry controlled NRC has gutted the ability of the public to participate in the regulatory process.  Let alone all but dictates how the agency runs, as seen by a recent congressional letter threatening the Commissioners if they attempted to push too hard on safety issues from Fukushima that was initiated by Jaczko.  Peter’s presentation also detailed the fact that collapse of the highly touted “Nuclear Renaissance” in the US has died on economic grounds.  As demonstrated by decision to close two facilities this year and the abandonment of most of the reactors that were announced after former President Bush and congress handed the industry $13 billion in 2005 and additional $18 billion in federal loan guarantees.

It is very important that Arnie Gundersen made his presentation on why San Onofre should not be allowed to conduct go back online as well as the controversy about how its owner had snuck through the steam generator replacements that are estimated to have cost the region over $1 billion which is now being investigated by the California Public Utilities Commission as to whether or not ratepayers or Southern California Edison should be responsible for paying. Especially since Senator Boxer’s call for a criminal investigation of the matter of the company intentionally lying to the government.

However, there was no presentation about the real dangers of what the region faces if there is a major earthquake and meltdown at San Onofre.  Just as the people of Japan were told for decades, that such an event could never happen, but did, Southern Californian’s have also been spoon fed the exact same claim.  And unlike the situation in Japan, there is a massive population far closer and directly downwind of San Onofre.  And of course, what is of most concern is the fact that the potential of such a Fukushima repeat isn’t just a remote possibility, but has been on the radar as a very serious concern by the California Energy Commission for over five years.

However, as anyone close to the issue knows, the NRC has exclusive authority over all reactors in the US, thus resulting in the owners of state’s nuclear facilities long ignoring their own legal authority as granted by state law.  As clearly stated by Peter Bradford during the event, California’s unique regulatory relationship with the NRC goes far deeper.  In fact, there is no other example known where a regulatory body has been caught breaking its own rules but was then protected by the US court system to continue on with its legal activities has is the case with NRC’s illegal and original licensing of both Diablo Canyon and San Onofre.

California is the 2nd most seismically active region in North America literally being hit around the clock with earthquakes every day of the year.  In fact Southern California experts believe that the region is 150 years overdue for the next major quake, which is defined as event registering 6.7 or greater on the Richter scale or greater.  The USGS says that there is a 97% chance of such an event in the next 30 years, having released impacts studies of what would happen if a 7.8 quake hit the region.  They have withheld details of impacts of large quakes.  And in the light of the previously thought impossible mega-quake that hit Japan in 2011, have failed to publicly acknowledge that at least one geologist that has been living on the San Andreas has said there is evidence of much greater historic quakes.

Yet, even with the state’s historic relationship with major earthquakes, a cavalier attitude has been in place by both the companies and oversight agencies that have all but failed in their original agenda to make California the home of nuclear power, where the country’s largest promoter – General Electric used to have its nuclear division headquartered, which has since moved to Japan.  by the mid 1960’s Pacific Gas & Electric was promoting plans to build over 60 reactors in the state but resulted in the first successful movement to stop reactors anywhere, resulting in only the two operating facilities today.

1984-7-25-nrc-diablo-52bIn fact,  when the reactors in California were licensed to operate in 1984, the NRC broke its own regulations when it intentionally did not consider the complicating effects of earthquakes on evacuation planning for a nuclear disaster. In fact, an upset NRC Commissioner intentionally leaked the secret minutes of the agency’s decision to ignore its own regulations.  This led to a dramatic 2 year legal war that ended in a 5 to 4 vote by federal judges, with all the modern conservative stars of today’s Supreme Court involved.  The ring leader was none other than Judge Robert Bork of the infamous Saturday Night Massacre, the only person Richard Nixon could find that was willing to fire the country’s attorney general in an attempt to stop the release of the Watergate Tapes.  It was Bork who would rule that looking at the leaked transcripts would be tantamount to judicial activism. Thus to this day, the public can look at these documents that show how the agency lies to the public as well as broke its own rules rather than allow public hearings over emergency planing prior to licensing not just at Diablo Canyon but also for San Onofre! Because of Bork, we have no legal recourse to use the documents, but anyone can see our “Nuclear Village” at work and the power it wields!

Far more urgent today is the fact that when, rather than if such a major quake does happen, the public will not be prepared to deal such a disaster that could be far worse than what happened in Japan! And here we have on June 4th, an all but uncovered event, where the former head of the NRC says that the methodology in this country for estimating the chances of such an event should be dismantled and replaced with real plans or in this case, not his words, keep it shut down.

If the coming earthquake is sufficiently large to damage San Onofre, it would also be big enough to damage or destroy any number of the 30 plus aging dams and reservoirs in the area that would be potentially be as devastating to much of Orange County as the Tsunami was to the coast of Japan after 311.  Furthermore, the region also has nearly 7 months a year where it is under high alert for fire, for example nearly a million people had to be evacuated in 2007 due to fires.  But combine this with broken natural gas lines during a serious quake as seen during Fukushima, broken water mains and at least 1,600 estimated fires that will break out as estimated by seismic experts in just a 7.8 quake and you have a living nightmare.  Yet, this is only the start of what will come.

The current emergency plans for a nuclear crisis mandates staged evacuations in the 10 mile zone only, with estimates that it could take up to 17 hours to accomplish.  In such a scenario state earthquake and liquefaction maps for the area show that all evacuation routes would be compromised by landslides, or downed overpasses of which there are over a 1000 of in Los Angeles alone.  The entire region will be facing an innate urge to flee from radiation without any previous preparation.

Contrary to what former NRC Chairman Jackzo said as well as Prime Minister Kan said about following the orders of emergency planners in case of a meltdown, the following issues make what they are saying ludicrous if not insane in the case of San Onofre:

The current emergency plan in place for the public farther than 10 miles away from San Onofre is to shelter everyone.  That’s right, you will be told to go indoors and shut your windows – stay off the roads and don’t flee!  After the above 7.8 earthquake, the USGS has estimated that over a half million homes, and other buildings will be damaged or destroyed.  For anyone who has ever experiences a major quake, the very last thing they will be willing to do is stay inside a building that could potentially fall down and kill them in the hours and days following the initial quake.  Furthermore, there will be an even greater number of shattered windows that will all but preclude the public from keeping radiation from getting into their homes.

As demonstrated in what happened during the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979 when an order for just over 5,000 women and children to evacuate were given, instead over 140,000 people did so in the rural area surrounding the damaged reactor.  Even more disturbing is the fact in numerous studies there have been shown that there are serious problems about Shadow Evacuations of people who would complicate the emergency plans to remove just the public closest to the facility.  With the latest report on this being the buried Government Accountability Office’s report released overshadowed by the NRC’s own announcement of its plans to go ahead with okaying a restart at San Onofre.

And of course, during the last emergency hearings done by the state over 20 years ago, the strategy of using police to keep people from evacuating onto freeways in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego where so many people live would result as some suggest in the police being some of the first victims as people attempt to flee onto the freeways to get away.

In the only known investigation ever done by California in 1980, it was shown that most of Orange County would shoulder the brunt of the fallout. Today there are over 3 million people living in the county with over five more million living a few more hours away in Los Angeles and San Diego.  On an average day it would take between 2-4 hours for the radiation to blanket Orange County and 7-10 hours to cover Los Angeles.   There is no conceivable chance that nearly 8 million people would stay in their homes, or for that matter be able to flee.  Or more to the point, millions of people would be trapped, possibly facing damaged homes, fires or tsunami like flooding all at the same time.  As seen with Katrina debacle in 2005, emergency planners themselves will be unable to respond at the time most needed, or be in a position to move millions of people out of way of radiation.

So what should have been communicated at the “Fukushima Lesson’s Learned” symposium  is that:

  • Southern California is 150 years overdue for a major quake;
  • It is inappropriate to tell the public that there is a slim chance of a major nuclear incident;
  • The California Energy Commission has ordered more investigations because it is unclear if San Onofre could withstand the maximum credible earthquake
  • The local emergency planning body in charge of planning meets in secret as well as intentionally reduced the mandatory evacuation zone around San Onofre to just two miles
  • The Government is at this moment replacing the current Protective Action Guidelines that determine when the public should evacuate with new ones that don’t acknowledge that safely evacuating the public in such an event near a major city is impossible.
  • The agencies protecting the public still don’t  acknowledges that the fact that the 2011 earthquake was never suppose to happen!
  • Both the Japanese and American public were lied to intentionally to allow for the development of nuclear energy in places it should have never been considered!
  • An earthquake greater than 7.5 would likely result in a loss of power and meltdown at San Onofre
  • If the largest fault, the San Andreas, which is less than 100 miles away were to produce a quake greater than 8.3 it would result a catastrophe at San Onofre
  • A big quake on San Andreas would set off aftershocks across the region and within a few miles of San Onofre, possibly even a Tsunami that could be larger than planned for.
  • Such a major event would destroy the biggest breadbasket of the entire US as just beyond Los Angeles is the country’s main agricultural area.
  • Los Angeles is also a trillion dollar economy beside having a similar amount of private property that is not insured from either nuclear accidents or earthquakes.

Most the country is barely aware of the fact that the region just beyond Los Angeles also happens to be the bread basket of the US producing much of this country’s produce, has the largest shipping port on the west coast has over a trillion dollar in private real estate in the region almost none of which would be protected from either earthquake or nuclear insurance.  Such an event would very likely make the following economic depressions of the past look like child’s play on this country and all just to keep the stockholders of one company happy.

San Onofre should not be allowed to reopen simply because the human and economic consequences are too great.

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