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March 1, 2013
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The nuclear-meltdown threat in the States

Dear Editor:

Congratulations to The Aspen Times for covering the dangerous San Onofre nuclear power plant ("Uncertainty clouds future of California nuclear plant," Feb. 27). If there is a major accident, prevailing winds could contaminate much of the Southwest, including western Colorado.

Both reactors at San Onofre were closed in January 2012 because of radiation leaks caused by a faulty steam-generator design. Southern California Edison now wants to reopen one of the reactors under reduced power as an experiment to see if it will break again. Sen. Barbara Boxer found out that Edison and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission knew about the design flaws before Edison installed the generators but kept this information secret from the public. Edison concealed this safety information to avoid an adjudication requiring testimony under oath about the design changes made to increase profits.

In the meantime, Rep. Ed Markey asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Edison broke laws by keeping the flaws secret from investors. It is beginning to appear that the United States is repeating the mistakes of Fukushima instead of learning the lessons of Fukushima. Perhaps the main lesson of Fukushima is the collusion between the nuclear power industry and the government "regulators."

Fourteen U.S. senators recently wrote to the Nuclear Regulator Commission to ask why the safety lessons of Fukushima have not been implemented. Under intense pressure from the nuclear lobby, many politicians are pressuring the National Regulatory Commission to ignore safety features, some of which are expensive. Moreover, the National Regulatory Commission permits nuclear reactors (such as San Onofre) to operate even if they are sitting on top of an active seismic zone. In Japan, the Nuclear Regulator Authority will not allow this. Why is something considered dangerous in Japan considered safe in the U.S.?

San Onofre has the worst safety record of any nuclear power plant in the U.S., and recently there were acts of sabotage (workers poured antifreeze into the crankcase of the emergency power generators). It is extremely vulnerable to terrorist attack, partly because of the thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste stored in temporary caskets and open pools outside of the containment domes. In the event of a meltdown, this waste has the radioactive equivalent of a thousand Hiroshima bombs.

Low-level radioactive releases are also an issue. San Onofre regularly discharges (without announcement) such radioactivity into the atmosphere and dumps it into the Pacific Ocean. The National Academy of Sciences has just started a 2 years epidemiological study to see if there are cancer streaks among populations living near nuclear reactors. San Onofre was one of six nuclear power plants chosen for this study. In Europe, studies found that children living near nuclear power plants have twice the incidence of leukemia.

A nuclear meltdown at San Onofre could destroy the future of southern California and contaminate much of the southwest including Colorado. Some want to take the risk so there is plenty of power, but California got along just fine for the last 15 months without San Onofre. The fact is that nuclear power is expensive, dangerous, unreliable, and environmentally unfriendly. The only safety for everyone in the West is to make sure that this plant never opens again.

Roger Johnson

Professor Emeritus

San Clemente, Calif.


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The Aspen Times Updated Mar 2, 2013 08:43AM Published Mar 1, 2013 11:51PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.