Friday, April 6, 2012

Is San Clemente a Safe Place?



On March 29, the National Academy of Sciences released a 460-page report about cancer risks associated with living near a nuclear power plant. They recommended six areas in the United States for intensive studies of possible cancer links. Our area was one of the chosen six: They want epidemiological studies done for towns within 30 miles of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Is south Orange County becoming the poster child for a place where it is dangerous to live, work or bring up a family?

While many are concerned about accidental radiation leaks such as those in January, the dirty little secret is that reactors routinely release radiation without announcement. Air ejectors release radioactivity into the atmosphere and pumps discharge radionuclides into the ocean. Regulations on the deliberate release of radioactivity are specified in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s federal code in which reference is made to ALARA or “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” Knowing that nuclear power plants cannot operate without regularly releasing low-level radiation, government agencies allow them to do so. Without monitoring, we have no idea what is released or when. Edison is not required to announce either the dates or concentrations of these secret releases. They do post yearly averages, but we have no way of knowing if the numbers are the result of possibly dangerous levels on some days averaged with no releases on other days. The industry claims that these doses are low for adult males, but to have radiation released year after year, decade after decade is problematic, especially for children.

If you want to know what San Onofre released two years ago, study Edison’s own reports to the NRC. In 2010, the list included 34 radionuclides, including some of the most toxic substances on the planet. There were 44 hours of atmospheric batch releases and 550 hours of liquid radioactive releases into the ocean. How many surfers are aware of this? In addition, Edison trucked 27 flatbed trailers of radioactive solid waste to Utah, through San Clemente and lots of other towns.

Many have difficulty fearing invisible microscopic radioactive particles. We do know that radiation causes cancer, but some disregard health threats that take years to develop. Individual doses are made to sound insignificant, but the effects are cumulative. Children are 15 to 20 times more vulnerable to radiation, and the fetus is 30 to 50 times more sensitive. Recent studies published in the International Journal of Cancer, reported that children living near nuclear power plants in Germany and France are twice as likely to get childhood leukemia. In California alone, there were 56,030 cancer deaths in 2011 and 163,480 new cases of cancer. No one knows the exact cause of most cases, but experts tell us that the vast majority of cancer has environmental origins.

If San Clemente wants to be a safe place to live and work, shouldn’t we have radiation monitoring of air and water plus epidemiological studies to learn if we are being harmed? This was the main issue at a recent City Council meeting where droves of citizens lined up to request radiation monitoring. When City Councilwoman Lori Donchak courageously made a motion to ask for independent publicly accessible radiation monitoring in town, the other four councilmen refused even to second the motion. The council ignored the warnings of City Manager George Scarborough who pointed out that the current real time monitoring near the plant is not available to the public. Council members said that everyone should trust the authorities and that those who favored increased safety for San Clemente were engaging in fear mongering.

Perhaps the main lesson learned from Fukushima is the collusion between government and industry. The government and the nuclear industry in Japan lied about radiation dangers before, during and after the meltdown. The tab for Fukushima is already $300 billion and still rising. It seems reasonable that anyone living in the shadow of San Onofre should be skeptical of those who are willing to risk our future. We should trust scientists long before we trust those who profit. In 2006, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev remarked that it was Chernobyl that really caused the downfall of the former Soviet Union. One serious accident here might do the same thing to our country.

Roger Johnson, San Clemente