On Monday, July 1, workers began taking down the old warning sirens set up to alert those living near San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) if something in the reactor went a little haywire, rendering their neighborhoods possibly uninhabitable for the next few generations. Because the power station is shut down, the sirens are no longer necessary, SONGS officials said.
A June 26 news release from SONGS explained why the doomsday sirens are going away:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, determined in 2015 the sirens were unnecessary because accident scenarios at the defueled nuclear plant can no longer exceed Environmental Protection Agency protective action values that recommend evacuation or sheltering in place.
While the reactors at San Onofre were operating, the sirens would only have been activated during the two highest emergency levels, known as a site-area and a general emergency. Neither can occur at San Onofre now that the reactors are retired. In the more than 39 years that the sirens were in service, they were never activated due to an emergency at San Onofre.
There are 50 sirens located within a 10-miles radius of San Onofre, in San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, as well as in unincorporated Orange County. Nineteen of the sirens were in San Clemente, nine were in San Juan Capistrano, eight were in Dana Point, and one was in unincorporated OC. All will be dismantled.
“Although emergency planning requirements are changing with the elimination of almost all accident scenarios, we continue to maintain a robust emergency planning and preparedness program,” said Kelli Gallion, SCE’s senior manager for Emergency Planning at San Onofre, in a June 26 SONGS news release. “We thank our local community partners for working with us on the siren removal process.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department says residents should go to AlertOC.com for more information on future emergency alerts.
“With the removal of the siren system, OCSD will continue to rely on other emergency notification methods for the residents of Orange County,” said a June 28 news release from OCSD spokesperson Carrie Braun. “This includes the AlertOC mass notification system, which can be used to issue Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), Emergency Alert System (EAS), and emergency messages to landline phone numbers. Orange County residents are encouraged to register at AlertOC.com or text the word ALERTOC to 888777.”
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.