One of the terrible ironies of the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan is that two of the reactors that are overheating weren't even turned on when the earthquake and tsunami occurred. What sparked their meltdowns weren't the reactors, which were cool, but rather the toxic waste being stored next to them in so-called cooling ponds. Here in California, such waste has been piling up at our two reactors in San Onofre and Diablo Canyon ever since 2000, when it became clear there was no place else to put it.
The presence of all this nuclear waste at a location--a nuke plant, which is inherently dangerous--has never been lost on anti-nuke activists. You can read a story about their concerns regarding San Onofre's toxic waste stockpile that I wrote all the way back in November 2000 right here. Chief among their worries is the fact that the nuke plant sits alongside a seismic fault, which is apparently the exact same concern now being voiced by both California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
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We first heard word of a letter that they just sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) about San Onofre in a Fountain Valley Patch story today. Their letter apparently cited the fact that a recent California Energy Commission (CEC) study found that while San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was only built to sustain a 7.0 earthquake, there's reason to believe that much more powerful earthquakes could strike along the nearby Christianitos fault.
"The unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan has raised questions about the safety of nuclear-power plants here in the U.S.," the letter states. "As senators from California, we are particularly interested in the safety of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located in San Clemente, and the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near San Luis Obispo, both of which are near earthquake faults."
Boxer and Feinstein point out that while about 424,000 people live within 50 miles of the Diablo Canyon plant, for San Onofre, that number is 7.4 million. Officials with So Cal Edison, which operates San Onofre, routinely claim the greatest intensity earthquake that could possibly strike the plant is 7.0, which poses no threat. But Boxer and Feinstein want the NRC to look into the recent CEC study and also determine if any new faults have been identified since the plants began operating.
Strangely, despite the seeming comprehensiveness of their letter to the NRC, Boxer and Feinstein's letter makes no reference at all to what would happen to all that nuclear waste being stored in cooling ponds at the nuke plant in the event of a catastrophic earthquake or tsunami.