Ace Hoffman Is Tilting at 'Nofre

The anti-nuke activist has spent years fighting the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Now, the impossible is on his horizon: its permanent shutdown

Ace Hoffman Is Tilting at 'Nofre

"Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, [those] hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them . . . for this is a righteous war, and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless."

"Take care, sir," cried Sancho. "Those over there are not giants, but windmills."

—Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605

The old man and the sea
Brendan Klein
The old man and the sea
Ace Hoffman at rest
Brendan Klein
Ace Hoffman at rest

* * *

The Pacific Ocean gleams like liquid diamonds as I steer my Toyota up the 5 freeway at sunset under a clear, silvery, gloaming sky.

I'm headed home to San Clemente to meet with a modern-day Man of La Mancha (or, in this case, of nearby Carlsbad)—Ace Hoffman [1], a guy in the know about nuclear power, a defender of human life and the environment, a true grand tilter at mighty nuke atom-splitters. Ace's life mission: generally, to end mankind's use of nuclear power, which he equates to the 14th-century Black Plague in its destructive impact on human bodies and society.

"Males in the northern hemisphere are said to piss out about a million atoms of plutonium every DAY of their lives," Hoffman wrote for a Counterpunch article in 2007. "Just from one 1963 NASA space-probe accident."

More specifically, though, Ace wants to permanently close Southern California's San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)—or "Nuclear WASTE Generating Station," as he terms it.

"What," asks this contempo Don Quixote, "will we do with thousands of tons of lethal spent fuel sitting on that site for at least 300 more years, threatening our lives and livelihoods?"

Opposing Ace is SONGS' owner and operator, Southern California Edison (SCE), a Fortune 500 power goliath ($12.3 billion annual revenues, 20,000 employees) and state-protected energy behemoth. SCE is headquartered in Rosemead, east of downtown Los Angeles, a comfortable 62 miles from SONGS and a good 10 miles outside SCE's self-designated 50-mile "Ingestion Pathway Zone" (IPZ) specified for SONGS emergencies—in other words, Ground Zero. In 1996, SCE made itself the largest subsidiary of a holding company it calls Edison International. Slogan: "Life. Powered by Edison."

Reality: SCE failed early in the fission fest, way back in the mid-1950s. The company built the ill-fated Santa Susana Sodium Reactor Experimental (SRE) nuclear power plant near Moorpark in Ventura County. Owner Atomics International even fabricated plutonium fuel there. In 1959, the plant's reactors partially melted down, a California first. Fifty-four years later, the Old Susana site remains contaminated.

Edison moved on to build SONGS. In 1968, Unit 1, a Westinghouse pressurized water reactor (PWR) began operations. SCE built Units 2 and 3 in the 1970s (and in a portent of troubles to come, Bechtel Corporation, the nation's largest construction-and-engineering company, installed a 420-ton nuclear-reactor vessel backward). Unit 2 went online on Aug. 8, 1983, with Unit 3 following on April 1, 1984. They've been offline since Jan. 31, 2012, when a "leaking incident" damaged equipment and led to a release of radioactive steam into the environment.

Radiation entered the air, soil, beach, plants and water surrounding SONGS, just 8 goddamn miles from my fucking front door.

My family numbers among the 7.4 million people who live within that 50-mile SONGS IPZ. Welcome to the SoCal glow club, Long Beach, LA, Riverside and San Diego! Eat, drink and be wary.

But don't worry, advises SCE, which claims our biggest power facility has operated peacefully and "cleanly" ever since first fission, providing ratepayers with nearly 20 percent of SoCal's electricity while sparing everyone the deleterious effects of burning coal: tons of smog-producing pollutants and greenhouse-gas carbon emissions. SCE's unstated SONGS business-value proposition: nuclear pollution isn't nearly as bad as coal pollution and global warming.

Ace Hoffman perceives a more sinister scenario about his adversaries, who include SCE, which owns 78.2 percent of SONGS; Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), which owns 20 percent; and the city of Riverside, which owns 1.8 percent. "San Onofre is owned and operated by belligerent liars," Ace e-ranted to me. "They lie to each other, they lie to the media, they lie to the public, they lie to the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission], and they lie to themselves, thinking 'a little radiation is safe' or even 'a little radiation is good for you.'"

Senator Barbara Boxer also doubts SCE management's veracity. The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has called for a new investigation of SCE and a shutdown of SONGS based on information in a document from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which built the plan's faulty replacement steam generators, installed in 2010. According to Boxer, the document indicates that Edison and Mitsubishi were aware in advance of potential safety problems with the generators.

But SONGS survives in its South County haunt due entirely to SCE's political prowess and the Big Nuke propaganda machine. The heavily subsidized $33 billion nuclear-power industry is small but powerful because it's really just a money-losing beard for the military-industrial-congressional complex and its $56 billion-per-year U.S. nuclear-weapons programs. The commercial nuclear-power market was invented in the 1950s by the U.S. government to provide plutonium for nuclear warheads. Making electricity for consumers was just an (insane) excuse.

U.S. taxpayers mostly support the nuclear-power industry. In fact, Michele Boyd, legislative director of the nonprofit consumer-rights group Public Citizen's energy program, has called nuclear power a massive swindle of the American public put together by the federal government in collusion with ostensibly "for-profit" nuclear-plant operators. The heart of this fraud is the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act, which artificially limits the amount of primary insurance that nuclear operators must carry—an uncalculated, indirect subsidy in terms of insurance premiums they don't have to pay.

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