Now this is a big relief: Southern California Edison, which operates the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), says its nuke plant–you know, those two pendulous white domes on the beach between San Clemente and Camp Pendleton–is totally safe. And by “totally safe,” Edison officials mean it was built to withstand a 7.0 earthquake and/or a 25-foot tsunami. This good news came courtesy of an Orange County Register story on March 12, the day after a 9.0 earthquake followed by a 30-foot tsunami hit Japan, creating a nuclear emergency of epic proportions, with three reactors now close to melting down.
So, what if a 9.0 earthquake strikes along the Newport-Inglewood fault, which is just off Orange County's coastline, causing a 30-foot or higher tsunami?
No comment, apparently.
In fact, if there's any good news to relate about SONGS, it wasn't in that particular story, but rather in another Register article based on a report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The report lists 23 nuclear plants in the United States that are similar in design to the Japanese plant, and thankfully, SONGS isn't on that list. The plant's dome-shaped containment walls are generally considered much stronger in design and will thereby hopefully prevent the kind of hydrogen explosions that have led to the explosions of all three containment walls at the foundering Japanese plant.
So, to recap. As long as SONGS is never hit by the type of earthquake that just hit Japan, we're relatively safe, assuming that neither human error nor terrorist attack leads to a rupture at the plant or the release of radioactivity or a meltdown. Meanwhile, the only protection for the tens of thousands of people who live near the reactor, not to mention the hundreds of thousands to millions who live within a 100-mile radius, is to stay inside with a towel over your mouth until officials say it's safe to go outside.
And, oh, yeah, don't forget to take your potassium iodide pills, which became a controversial safety measure adopted at SONGS more than a decade ago, which I wrote about at the time. I mean, who wants to survive a nuclear holocaust just to get thyroid cancer?