Sound the Alarm

After a month of shut down nuclear reactors at San O, the hazards of nuclear energy spell potential disaster in Southern California

| posted on March 04, 2012

The San Onofre nuclear power plant casts an ominous shadow over this stretch of classic Southern California coastline. Photo: Ellis

Tuesday, January 31 looked like any other weekday along the coastline of San Onofre. From the freeway, you could see black dots crowding the peak at Lowers and spreading north to Cottons. The parking lot at Old Mans, perpetually full, as old men and blue-collared workers fit a session into their workday. Down the trails at San O, longboarders and SUPers cruised in the shadow of the bluffs, with the busty outline of the nuclear power plant looming from the landscape above.

But on this Tuesday, a warning sensor detected a small leak of radiation released into the local atmosphere, triggered by a malfunction in the Unit 3 reactor, which potentially exposed hundreds of local surfers and beachgoers to nuclear radiation. The facility claims that they were acceptable levels, yet the only monitoring of radiation comes from inside the energy company itself. The incident led to the discovery of extensive damage to tubes carrying radioactive water within the facility and the eventual shutdown of the other reactor two days later. The story, however, has made few headlines. Other than a brief mention on the local news and some online coverage, it has been developing under the radar for more than a month now. Today, both reactors are still offline, and the facility remains under inspection.

On March 11, it will be one year since an earthquake off the east coast of Japan triggered a tsunami that devastated the country and caused the tragic nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. The nuclear power plant in Fukushima was constructed on a tsunami-prone coast, close to range of fault lines in the Pacific Ocean. It was not built and maintained to survive a large-scale disaster, and as a result a 20 km radius of Japanese coastline has now become a nuclear dead-zone. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) sits just south of San Clemente, adjacent to the world-class waves of Trestles. More than 8 million people live within 50 miles of the plant, which sits in proximity to some of the more active fault lines in the world.

The parallels between San Onofre and Fukushima are harrowing. With the ominous nature of this incident at San O, which isn’t isolated and is still not resolved, the perils and consequences of nuclear energy in Southern California have never been more relevant. So why don’t surfers care?

A 2005 shot of Brendan Margison surfing in front of the now-damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Photo: Aichner

Gary Headrick is the head of San Clemente Green, a grassroots environmental group that has put decommissioning the nuclear plant atop their priority list. Headrick used to be as big a believer in nuclear energy as anyone else. But when the disaster at Fukushima occurred, and the glaring faults in nuclear regulation were revealed, he committed himself to putting nuclear power in the rearview mirror. He has myriad reasons why SONGS should be shut down permanently, and insists that they all are relevant to surfers.

He cites one particular testimony—from an email he was CC’d on in August 2011—as damning evidence. James Chambers worked as a licensed nuclear reactor operator at SONGS for more than 25 years before taking medical leave in 2010. Last year, Chambers wrote an email to the California Energy Commission outlining the issues that plague the nuclear power plant and detailing the unsafe environment that has been created. In his email, Chambers states, “SONGS has become quite notorious in the nuclear industry for being an egregious outlier in all the wrong areas of plant performance and industrial safety.” Chambers writes about how the plant has an INPO 4 rating on a 1-4 scale, the worst rating a nuclear facility can receive, and that it maintains an environment where the operators of the plant are afraid to raise safety concerns, for fear of retaliation. He calls for the shutdown of both reactors, saying that the barriers to prevent a catastrophic nuclear event are compromised and cannot be reestablished under current management.

The Newport-Inglewood Fault, which runs parallel to the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, most recently ruptured in 1933, creating a Magnitude 6.4 earthquake that caused extensive damage to Long Beach and surrounding areas. The California Geological Survey estimates it to be capable of a Magnitude 7.4 quake, which on the Richter scale is four times greater than the magnitude of 7.0 that the SONGS facility was built to withstand. Were a natural disaster like an earthquake or tsunami of that strength to hit the area, the potential nuclear meltdown would call for an evacuation of the 8.4 million people who live within a 50-mile radius of the plant. The release of radioactive materials would create levels of radiation that would forever condemn the Trestles area to a nuclear dead-zone, a coastal Chernobyl.

The red lines are the known faults in Southern California, and the yellow circle represents the 50 mile radius, with a population of 8.4 million, that would need to be evacuated in the event of a meltdown. Graphic from San Clemente Green.

Another claim by Headrick is that SONGS’ nuclear power is inefficient, and that it accounts for less than 10 percent of energy use in the state. “In all of California, we have two power plants, and they represent 14 percent of our energy. The state has a surplus of energy.” According to the California Independent System Operator, the shutdown of reactors at the San O plant has had no impact on wholesale energy prices, which begs the question as to whether the supposed demand for nuclear energy is an illusion in the first place.

The ever-emphatic Kyle Thiermann, who just released a short exposé on fighting the construction of a nuclear power plant near J-Bay in South Africa, sees the issue at SONGS as a pressing issue in our own backyard. “The locals in J-Bay are organized, they are pissed, and they are going to stop the plant,” Thiermann says. “Apparently, the nuclear industry has a fetish with building plants near world-class waves. Getting to a world where we power our communities on clean energy is possible and it will happen within our lifetime. I believe the only way we’re going to get there is if we all get involved in our own unique way.”

The crowd of stakeholders at Lowers should have a vested interest in the nuclear silos up the hill. Photo: Ellis

Headrick is frustrated with the inability for this issue to gain traction locally, particularly with surfers. “We keep running into problems with surfing organizations that are reluctant to stand with us on this issue. I don’t understand it. They put so much energy into keeping plastic bags banned, and here we have this nuclear threat everyone seems to want to ignore.” The Surfrider Foundation, which is headquartered in San Clemente, told SURFER that they have no position on SONGS, and no position on nuclear power in general.

“There’s nothing that could threaten the surf more than the nuclear power plant right there,” adds Headrick. “The fact that we could have a 12-mile ‘no-go’ zone— that’s every good surf spot around.”

It may be that there isn’t enough awareness of this issue, that it’s battling for priority with a dozen others, or that the environmental fatigue of protecting the ocean is wearing thin the surfer green-corps. But somewhere in the fine print of being a surfer there must be a clause, that when one dedicates his or her life to pursuing waves, they are obliged to protect them as well. As we near this one-year anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown, it’d be naive of the local community to not heed the warning of these ill-timed issues at SONGS. Could they be foreboding reminders of the recipe for nuclear disaster brewing in San Onofre? “How many more warnings can we expect?” asks Headrick. “It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”

To learn more and get involved:

Decommission San Onofre
San Clemente Green
Surfing for Change

  • Whamo

    My good friend, Retired local architect, San Onofre Club member, and one of Guatemala’s first surfers, Rick Nicol is gathering signatures to stop San Onofre. He needs 100,000 signatures, so give him a call.

  • Mikester

    How come this article is so “one sided?”
    The writer should have opposing view points!

    So Cal electrical grid is not affected by the outage at San Onofre?

    The power plants (Coal and natural gas fired) supporting the grid were not designed to provide the base electrical load that San Onofre does. These “Peaker” plants are designed to run for a couple “high load” (Summer) days then go down for maintenance. Peaker plants are not cheap to run regularly and are going to start raising electrical rates on YOUR bill.

    Nuclear is what makes your electric bill affordable. It is safe and highly regulated (both by the industry and the Federal Governement).

    What’s the energy alternative?

    Coal/ Gas fired plants? Air and Water Pollution!!

    Wind? – Not efficient, expensive to build, maintain and ugly! My father owned one – it was down for maintenance the majority of the time he owned it.

    Solar? – Highly inefficient (It can’t even boil a cup of water). Can you afford the $20,000 bill to put on top of your house?

    I guess this writer figured no one would read his stuff…

  • Rocky Neidhardt

    This plant is UNsafe and we have been lied to !!

  • Fukushima Remembered

    Planning a peaceful protest on March 11. Gather at noon near south gate on Old HWY 101.

  • Wes

    It appears to me that this writer did research online for 2 days, and decided to attempt to write a knowledgeable article about nuclear power and the dangers posed by the San Onofre plant. A couple of cited references here and there does not make an expert. I’m not a big proponent of nuclear energy, but I am also a realist. I live less than 10 miles from the other nuclear plant in CA, and while I wish there were quick and easy alternatives to the power provided by nuclear, there are not. Yes, the plants may provide “14%” of our power, but this 14% is massive considering it is baseload. This power is required continuously, by you, by me, and by everyone. Even in the middle of the night, this power is required. The other plants in CA cannot efficiently make up this load overnight if the nuclear plants were to be shut off, as mentioned by Mikester, they are “Peaker plants” – designed to only come online during peak periods to supply additional demand. These peaker plants are horribly inefficient, and as such, if we were to replace our nuclear plants with baseload provided by these peaker plants, our electricity bills would skyrocket. And I’m not 100% that the author of this article would be as big of a fan at that point with a $500-$1000/month electricity bill as he seems to be now…

    I am in favor of trying to get away from nuclear power, believe me. It must be done realistically though. Alternatives need to be discussed, and time needs to be taken to implement these so California residents are rendered powerless for a couple of years because we can’t afford our electricity bills. This is not going to be an overnight process, it will take time, and I think discussion and community concern is a step in the right direction. But I think caution should be taken in planting the flag on the “mega-eco-conscious-surfer” bandcamp and en masse ordering the immediate decommissioning of these plants, because the consequences stretch much further than the general public thinks.


    Surfer mag, the self appointed “bible” of surfing dares to ask

    “the perils and consequences of nuclear energy in Southern California have never been more relevant. So why don’t surfers care?”

    The answers simple, because you, magazine, have never done a days journalism or reporting in your lives. Because you’ve misled the public with your constant streams of advertorial and nonsense. Because you failed to bring this to anyones attention.

    With great power comes great responsibility.

    Relatively speaking, in surfing, you have great power, and yet take no responsibility. Yet you question surfers for their level of care about something you should have been educating them about from day one?

    Well done in finally doing something, but it’s a years late and a millions of bucks short.

    You manage the narrative, so get on it. This is just the first a thousand issues you’ve failed to cover in the past.

    In the digital age you might as well be real, cause you’ll die being fake… might die being real too, but at least you’ll stand a chance and be able to hold your heads up on the way out.

  • jclammer

    Fact: build a nuke plant, and find an earthquake fault, or two, or three, or…
    SONGS sits on top of a bunch, not known when constructed. Big ones.
    Now they lie – “No worries, SONGS is built to withstand them?”
    No it’s not.
    No matter about SONGS’ too low tsunami wall, or it’s 38,000 rotting pipes,
    or its measly electrical output, or that it’s supposed to be gone by 2013 –
    we’re still left with 4,000 tons of nuke-waste stored on site (talk about HOT waves) with 500lbs additional too-hot-forever nuke waste being crapped
    out of the beast daily, but never leaving. SOS
    SONGS is a nuclear accident, in progress.
    It’s either SHUT DOWN, or MELTDOWN. Take your pick.
    That baby blows, and paint OC, Pendleton, NorSD-County, San Clemente,
    Dana Point, San Juan Capistranio, Laguna, etc, etc, for 50-miles in all directions, a permanent NO-GO-ZONE forever. Same as Fukushima is now.
    The beast is currently Off, do to leaky pipes (and they’re the new ones, OMG)
    It must never get turned back on, EVER.
    Electricity-wise, we don’t need SONGS’ deadly presence.
    SONGS power, we can live without.

  • Darin R. McClure

    Now is the time to really “Save Trestles” for future generations.

    Aging Nuke Plants On Fault Lines In Tsunami Hazard Zones = Fukushimas…

    Any Questions?

  • Sophie

    If that earthquake ever hits and the reactor melts down I think saving a some surf spots is going to be the last thing on most people’s minds. Interesting information here though.

  • Torgen

    I’ve been surfing for 42 years, hold 2 graduate planning related degrees from Harvard, and want to share what I have learned since the Fukushima disaster. The more I research the history of nuclear disasters and its victims, the more the facts become heavily sided in favor of decommissioning San Onofre. For example:
    -San Onofre is allowed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to vent radioactive material daily offshore and into the atmosphere but most of us are unaware and the public is not notified by the power plant of these releases.
    -San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was originally planned to be shutdown in 2013 based on design obsolescence and embrittlement of vital internal components to avoid mechanical failure or meltdown however SCE wants to run the nuclear power plant until 2042 at the risk of a nuclear disaster. The consequences of that decision are now becoming evident.
    -San Onofre has the worst safety record of all 104 nuclear power reactors in the U.S. and it sits near 3 active seismic fault systems.
    -It was a mega quake that triggered the Fukushima triple nuclear meltdown disaster. And the USGS is warning So. Cal to prepare for an overdue mega quake larger than the design basis for the nuclear power plant.
    -The former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has become an outspoken anti-nuclear activist after seeing his country brought to its knees by a single nuclear power plant accident. At the time of the accident he feared the permanent loss of Tokyo due to radioactive contamination.
    -There is no viable way to evacuate the 50 mile radius evacuation zone around San Onofre and the public is not told that it will be permanent.
    -“Fuel fleas” are deadly microscopic particles of highly radioactive material that escape from nuclear power plants and if inhaled a single fuel flea can kill a person. Nuclear accidents scatter fuel fleas by the trillions across entire geographical regions yet they are almost impossible to detect without sophisticated sensing equipment. The way you find out you have been exposed is via the cancers you develop years later. The nuclear power industry will deny any link to your cancer as they have done repeatedly throughout its history.

  • Ron Rodarte

    In reply to Wes and Mikester, the deep research and dialog with the experts in the State offices, the power company execs and the published material from the power companies themselves, paints a picture of a pubic that has one view that has been planted by the industry public relations departments and has no basis in fact. The claims so many seem to have of a “dire lack of energy” are baseless, even the energy company publications have recently published a new guideline for power needs and the latest energy statements say that the power from nuclear power generating stations is necessary only in the summer and only on the hottest days. This is a whole world of difference from the past statements of the “need for power throughout the year” to prevent blackouts. The top advisors to the Governor have stated in a recent meeting that California has sufficient power without the SONGS and Diablo Canyon plants in operation to supply the State to 2020 without further buildout of new power plants, of any fuel source – and this statement also took into consideration the number of electric car charging stations that will have to come on-line in the coming years. As for the claim of “nuclear is what makes your electric bill affordable”, not so fast on that one. Nuclear energy is not inexpensive, is a mortal danger in every aspect of the development of the fuel to the 250k years of utter poisonous radioactive waste material, and relies on the human factor to remain in any aspect of stability. Those are not inexpensive or safe attributes, no matter who is advertising for the utility company. The NRC is a joke of revolving doors of corporate and industry insiders who just change seats and hats. The nuclear power industry is only made affordable by the billions of federal taxpayer dollars funneled into the technology to keep it running, so everyone is paying either on the front end or in their tax distribution, but we are paying top dollar to boil water with nuclear material. That brings to mind the constant drubbing of alternative renewable energy technologies, of which solar is claimed to be “highly inefficient” and “can’t boil a cup of water”. Tell that joke to the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative who have just this week announced their second solar power generator to be built within two years. The first solar generator has been built in Anahola and boils water quite nicely – boils it so good that it turns the steam generator turbines just like the big-boys in nuclear domes, without the danger of nuking our beaches and country into three generations of nuclear-poison abandonment.
    Kudos to Surfer Magazine for writing a real article; it is a start and it needs to be continued. All Americans must learn to learn, again – to educate themselves by scratching for the facts lying buried under decades of corporate media misinformation. A good vision of our world is enhanced by Surfer and other publications who dare to speak truth to power, and speak truth for the powerless.

  • Donna Gilmore

    Josh has stated the position very clearly. For the facts to backup what Josh is saying, go to the website. The facts are backed up with government or scientific data and includes reports, video and audio directly from San Onofre whistleblowers. The facts are there to support we do not need either of these plants, so why are we taking the risks? I’d like to see the naysayers here back up their statements with other than a press release from Southern California Edison.

    The government regulators and elected officials do not have the will or, in some cases, even the power to shut down these plants, so it’s up to the people to take action. Please download and sign the California Nuclear Initiative petition today to shut down unsafe California nuclear power plants. The people have an opportunity to get this on the ballot and vote in November to shut down these nuke plants. But only if citizens like you and me take action before the April 7th deadline to mail in petitions. There are no other options. Spread the word. This information needs to go viral. Show up for San Onofre events on 3/10 and 3/11 and bring petitions with you to gather signatures. San Onofre has already leaked radiation in the ocean and kills millions of marine life every year, yet our government does nothing. What will you do?

  • Wakeup!

    I don’t understand how any surfer that truly loves the ocean can argue against this article. I don’t care how inconvenient it is, maybe it’s time to change what we value in our society before we are like the thousands of Fukushima residents that will never see there beloved home town again. It could happen in the blink of an eye! Nuclear energy sits on a major fault next to our precious pacific ocean..Hello!!?There are alternatives(solar, hydro, & wind), but we are too manipulated to see them as feasible solutions or act on them. Don’t you think a “small” radiation leak would be immediately investigated by outside sources or be huge news story? The reason why the mass is so uneducated is because of the mass amount of$ invested in these plants. Something needs to happen before that beautiful gift of nature becomes a wasteland because of our inability to adapt to a new way of how to treat our planet.. I think many pro-plant residents would be singing a different tune if they were forced to look at their once was hometown from a distance.
    I would love to join the protest March 11, and we should use social media to spread awareness and information about upcoming protests.

  • noinfo

    Whamo, maybe you could be more vague? Should we just use our telepathic powers to guess Rick’s number or where to get involved?

  • Ajacks

    Highly regulated? Not so sure about that. The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) was once part of the Atomic Energy Commission until the AEC was forced to split apart in 1974 into the NRC and the ERDA. The AEC was essentially charged with the development and promotion of nuclear power and weapons. Now the NRC is supposed to regulate the commercial power generation yet they still have many of the same people from the AEC in there. Arnold Gunderson seems to have a large pile of evidence suggesting that the NRC is still in bed with the nuclear industry and do not regulate the way they should. The results as he points out are pretty obvious. Last year was riddled with nuclear “mishalps” in the US that went severely under reported. Anyone remember the Hudson river leak as just one example? In general the NRC as it is now is kinda like having the fox guard the hen house. Now that many of the American plants are coming past their prime I’m curious to see how the frequencies of these mishaps increase.

  • jason gittens

    Not to mention that from a national security standpoint an event there could compromise elements of the 2nd Marine Division!

  • Gary Headrick

    Please go here for more details on upcoming events…

    We need the surf community in a big way, so come to our events on March 10 and 11 to hear from survivors of Fukushima, see the new documentary on “Fukushima Never Again”, listen to Kyle talk about our abundant energy solutions and come to the protest to shut that bad boy down before it melts down!

  • leave

    you don’t like it? leave california. simple solution to YOUR problems.

  • Learn to Research

    This article is vague and poorly researched. Specific critiques would run as long as the article itself. And anyone informed on the issue at hand already understands what those critiques are. Hell, anyone who reads an actual news source on a a daily basis knows that. And if SONGS should be shut down as this article suggests, just what do you propose SoCal should do for 40 percent of its power? Learn to research and write, Saunders. Learn to stop publishing sensationalized bullshit for a few extra clicks, surfer magazine.

  • William Carter

    Your points are well taken.
    You state many of the obstacles we face in closing the plants in CA and the rest of the world.
    Yet – consider Murphy’s Law for a minute ie whatever can go wrong will go wrong.
    Any other power source, even the most expensive, is preferable economically and environmentally to Nuclear in my estimation – here is why:

    The true cost of Nuclear Energy is not calculable as there are no accurate cost estimates for the removal and long term containment of the spent fuel.

    In fact there is not even agreement among “experts” regarding how or where to store the spent fuel – don’t take my word for it check it out yourself.

    If we shut down the plant now before it leaks or melts down these unknown costs do not go away but the risk of higher costs associated with a major leak or melt down is mitigated. That is the best we can do.

    The economic argument in favor of Nuclear energy (even without an accident) fails in that a true cost analysis cannot be performed for the reason stated above.

    The cost in lost real estate alone if San O has a major leak or melts down will make 2008 seem like a walk in the park from an economic perspective.

    The human costs are equally nightmarish and incalculable.

    Nuclear energy is the most expensive energy we can choose to utilize!

    Alternatives to nuclear power (natural gas, oil,coal, wind, tidal, photovoltaic, biomass) all have some degree of uncertainty associated with their true cost calculations because they also have environmental and human costs that are hard to quantify.

    None of the alternatives however have the potential to make large areas uninhabitable for hundreds of human generations – only nuclear power does.

    Like Sophie says – If these plants fail we will have more than our surf spots to worry about.

  • tigre

    Sound the alarm! Relative to world energy production, every other energy source is more dangerous than Nuclear….

    TWh = terawatt hour (10^9 kilowatt hrs)

    Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

    Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
    Coal – China 278
    Coal – USA 15
    Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
    Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
    Biofuel/Biomass 12
    Peat 12
    Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
    Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
    Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
    Hydro (+ Bangio) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
    Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)


  • Bursting Boobies

    Jason, you meant 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. 2nd MarDiv. is at Camp Lejune, NC. (Odds on West Coast, Evens on East Coast -generally)

    -Good point you bring up if it did get real bad, real quick though, or in the unlikely event our adversaries pounded it, we’d have sizable portion of our Marines, and Navy support personnel, and equipment exposed.

    I’ve always been a fan of nuclear, but I see the risks and some good arguments are presented in the comments here. People need a reality check. How can you protest both coal and nuclear??? We need to look at making both better.

  • SurferMom

    I don’t see anything vague or poorly researched in this article.
    San Onofre IS shut down right now and we all still have our lights on.
    Heck, we have a energy surplus in California.
    Is there any good reason why we have to live with this risk?
    Why don’t we have roof top solar?
    Why not wind?
    The Latitude of San Clemente is 33 degrees north
    The Latitude of Munich Germany is 48 degrees north
    Look at this German that town produces 321% more energy then needed.
    Then they sell it at a profit to fund their many community needs!
    I am going to sign the California Nuclear Initiative
    and share it with everyone I talk to.
    Lets get on with the future.

  • Lily

    With what we now know of the high contamination area at Fukushima, the San Onofre evacuation area should be at least 120 miles east of the plant.

  • Kyle Thiermann

    We need more writers like Josh Saunders in the surf world!

  • Randall Hartman

    To the inconsiderate jerk who said, “if you don’t like it, you can leave CA”, well that’s what millions of people may be forced to do if their is a Fukishima or Chernobyl level event. There are reactors (over a hundred) scattered throughout
    the U.S., so we don’t have many options of places to go where there is no nuclear, and I didn’t even mention all the nuclear weapons and waste sites in the U.S. Its not a question of “IF” there is going to be a serious accident, but WHEN. And it not a question of does having these plants all over the country cause cancer, but how much, and how many cancer deaths are acceptable. I say, none are. What if it was your spouse of child that dies because of your need to waste energy and have your big house, and your big screen TV. But we don’t even need to choose between having not enough energy, and a clean environment, and nuclear. There is still huge gains possible in energy efficiency alone, and also in solar and wind to power the whole state, if not the whole country.

  • Captain Obvious

    Hey ‘Learn To Research’, I guess I would propose we continue doing whatever we’ve been doing for the last 30 days for our energy… just for starters. What reward could possibly be worth such potential catastrophic risk? Your comment is just silly.

  • What Are You Protesting Exactly?

    As a surfer and a radiological engineer it saddens me to see the surfing industry jump on the media band-wagon to take advantage of the uneducated readers by invoking fear of the unknown. People should know that the majority of the media (now include Surfer to the list) is absolutely clueless when it comes to reporting on nuclear affairs…articles written with exorbitant amounts of mis-information, it’s obvious the media is more interested in spreading fear than giving us the facts. And the worst part is that stories like this can motivate surfers to protest a form of energy that is crucial to the current and future health of our oceans and environment.
    As a surfer, neighbor, or concerned individual that may not even live near San O, I really do support the public holding private nuclear companies accountable and ensuring that federal and state regulations are not relaxed. We always want to be confident these companies hold public safety above private gains, however, I ask everyone to please become educated and informed before taking action. Understand the event, understand the actual health impact, and I guarantee you will not be wasting your time with protests.

    No I do not work for San O nor have I ever worked for them.

  • Eesha Williams

    Thank you, Surfer magazine for posting this important article. The risk of an accident is just the tip of the iceberg of problems with nuclear power. For more info on nuclear waste see:

  • Jeff

    I can’t address whether safety is compromised at SONGS, so I will address what I do know. We have old, and aging nuclear power plants around the country exactly because of people like this author. Propaganda, like China Syndrome, has scared off the approval of newer, safer, more modern, nuclear plants to take the place of the older one for some 40 years. The anti-nuke people have created the problem they now protest against.
    Also, the risks are overstated. Tsunami are a constant threat to Japan. All of their development has to take it into concern. That is because it happens with regularity. I bet you can’t remember the last tsunami in So. Cal. We have a different oceanic topography that helps protect us. Although the tsunami was triggered by the quake in Japan, the quake itself did little or no damage. SONGS will never experience the one-two punch that Fukashima experienced.
    Environmentalist love to sing doom and gloom of the end of the world if they do not get their way. We can’t drill for oil, because the worst, what happened in the Gulf last year, might happen. Go look. Most of the Gulf is back to normal, as if it never happened.
    We bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. People have been living in both cities happily and healthily for generations. We bombed the crap out of Bikini Atol. Researches a couple years ago were astonished to find no real radioactive or marine life signs of it when they surveyed and tested the water a couple years ago. Granted, the soil on the island itself still was not up to desired levels. But there were no risks from walking around the island as they did.
    Three Mile Island, what brought the end to nuclear energy expansion in the U.S., killed nobody outside the plant, and a few people on staff got sick from it. Hardly a holocaust. People have been living in Chernobyl for years… and THAT was worst case scenario. And even in this article it sites the current 20KM containment area, and then tries to scare us with the 50 mile radius… because they are almost the same size. It is more like 12 miles… and there are a whole lot of surf sites outside 12 miles of SONGS… And the reason SONGS is by the water is that a large amount of water is required to operate a nuclear plant safely, and the ocean is a reliable supply of it.
    That said, I am not trying to say there are not risks. But I am trying to tell you not to be scared by the scale of these Armageddon scenarios activists use to advance their cause. We need to work WITH SONGS and other power providers to maximize safety, not against then leading to increasingly unsafe outdated plants that we need because nothing else was allowed.
    The scale of the power demand we need in So.Cal. makes alternative energies impractical as anything but supplemental power. Don’t get me wrong,. I will take all of it we can get. If you want solar panels on your roof, awesome. Go for it. But coal, gas and nuclear is what we need to operate this state… at least for now. We can’t have everyone be a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). Coal is a domestic product, and it is MUCH cleaner than it used to be. Most of the natural gas is domestic, and shy of safe nuclear, it is as clean as we can get. We should be promoting more of all three, with a heavy emphasis on safety. And if you can’t get on board with that, I will go one farther than “leave California”, as someone else posted. I can suggest some specific parts of Africa or the Middle East that might be to your liking. But you don’t have the right to try to make the rest of us go back to the stone age because of your agendas or fears…

  • Fuck You

    Do we really have to suffer shithead’s like the one below?
    Create a solution asshole, it’s not an either or scenario.

  • Linda Gunter

    I don’t know who “Jeff” is who started this thread but what he writes does not stand up to even rudimentary scrutiny when it comes to the facts. It’s hard to know where to begin because pretty much every sentence is untrue. The point is that exposure to radiation at relatively low doses (i.e. not the huge single doses that cause radiation sickness that can kill within hours, days or weeks) takes a long time to trigger the eventual cancers or other illnesses. We will likely not know for decades how many Japanese will die as a result of Fukushima. The Chernobyl figure, according to an analysis of 5,000 Russian studies, is more than one million deaths. Only some elderly returned to the exclusion zone so NO, people are not living happily around Chernobyl. It is technically a permanently closed zone. No one can say how many people died because of the Three Mile Island accident, nor how much radiation got out because the monitors went off the scale and were shut down.
    The most important thing to remember is that this is NOT about Tsunamis or earthquakes – it’s about the loss of electricity to the plant. It was THAT which caused the meltdowns in Japan. The loss of electricity was caused by natural disasters. But the great Northeast blackout of 2003 was caused by a tree branch in Ohio touching a power line.
    So it can happen anywhere at any time and the consequences of such an accident vastly outweigh the benefits of running nuclear power plants, especially in sunny S. Cal with its immense potential for solar energy.
    It would be great to get Surfrider on board 🙂 (pun not intended). They came close I thought in 2001 when we brought out our report- Licensed to Kill – which can be found in the Animals section at We looked at the impact of coastal nuclear power plants on marine life – one of our focus plants was SONGS.
    So if you care about who is swimming with you while you surf, you should read the report – or at least the SONGS chapter (seals are one animal impacted there.)
    Lastly, I find “Jeff’s” comments about the atolls reprehensible and immoral. Maybe he has never met and spoken with those who were forced to leave their paradisiacal islands so we could use our atomic bombs, or forced back there by the US government to suffer radiation levels 10 times what would be acceptable for Americans – until Greenpeace evacuated them. The atolls are a tragedy and a disaster and, oh yes, people have died. But it’s not just about deaths. Radiation exposures also cause birth defects, spontaneous abortions and many different diseases. The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were ostracized from society, A similar thing is happening to people from Fukushima.
    We don’t need to let this happen here. We have never solved the radioactive waste problem but we keep making more and gambling with lives and the environment. It’s irrational to continue and irresponsible to look the other way and have “no viewpoint either way” on SONGS.

  • SurferMom

    The latest news from the NRC –
    San Onofre will be a nuclear waste dump for 200 – 300 years.
    That is the Plan?
    Are they serious?
    How much will that cost the next dozen generations?
    This will be a Forever TAX!
    If a town in GERMANY can produce over 300%
    of the energy it needs with
    Green, Renewable, Safe, No Need for a Evacuation Plan,
    No need for Sirens, No Need for Potassium Iodine Tablets,
    Clean Energy
    What are we doing here? Why are we putting up with this risk?
    Waste Confidence? We ain’t got not stinking Waste Confidence.
    Guess we will need some really big Depends.

  • schmit!

    more nuclear power! we already have the solution to energy independence it just needs to be done responsibly.

    p.s. san onofre is one of the best run nuclear plants in the world, why don’t you go protest the 20-50 nuclear reactors in developing asian countries or the hundreds in russia that are run with little to no oversight and shoe string budgets. that way there would be one less person at trestles too. win win.

  • zeno malan

    It’s the Obama ‘Conspiracy’ to destroy America all the while flying ‘under the radar’ of reality.

    This is and will continue to be his #1 agenda issue to assist his cronies at the EPA and all the ‘green’ enviro issues to prematurely shift America off of it’s energy sources that allow recovery to the Obama damaged economy.

    Is it obvious I’m not a fan of Obama?

    Hello to all the surfers from the Ritz Carlton to trail #6.

    “I’ll be back” in my dreams.

  • Gary Headrick

    See this interview with me from Bloomberg. It tells the whole story on video with San Onofre as the backdrop.
    1st time my words have not been edited down to 5 seconds. This article in Surfer Mag is also much appreciated in getting the word out. People must know the truth so they can make appropriate choices.

  • Garrett

    I am a surfer, have my degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Southern California, and I work in the radioactive decommissioning industry in San Diego (and work all over the state). First, it pains me to see that simply bc someone is a surfer, the misinformed and easily manipulated feel they must buy into the WHOLE environmental activist propaganda. Learn to think for yourself and try to educate yourself. Not only is California the most highly regulated state, especially when it comes to radioactive matters, the legal contamination and dosage levels are roughly 1/5 the allowable limits used in most other states. In other words, the projects I work on in the state of CA would not be a project in most other states. Second, nuclear power plants across the country shut down periodically every year. They are called “outages.” Google it. Third, as Linda Gunter noted, it is nearly impossible to determine that low levels of radiation cause cancer until many years later, at which point it is more likely that unhealthy life choices are most likely the cause of illness/death. Did you know you receive natural radiation doses each day? Some sources of radiation include the sun, the earth (radon occurs naturally in the ground), microwaves (although they are non-ionizing radiation), concrete (tritium), x-rays, etc. Also, when people hear the word radiation, they believe that this causes you to turn green like the Hulk and causes deformities, etc. However, there is a big difference between the perceived risk and the actual risk. In other words, the actual risk is quite low, while the public still believes that the risk is super high. On 90% of the projects I work on, we are looking for a needle in a haystack. There is rarely even one sq foot of contamination in entire buildings/laboratories/waste rooms when we are decommissioning a facility. The reason we do these projects at all is because we have to prove to the state of California that there is indeed zero contamination. I’m torn when it comes to the ignorance surrounding this, bc people need to research and educate themselves and stop believing everything they hear as factual. However, it also allows me to earn a lot more money, bc it is perceived as so “dangerous.” One last thing, if CA truly has an energy surplus as the author wrote, then how do you explain the Southern California power outage that happened as a result of severed power lines coming from power plants in Arizona?

  • Matt

    PLEASE READ THE POST BY JEFF, IF YOU ARE EDUCATED IT WILL MAKE SENSE. Most nuclear technology is lacking now because of misguided campaign’s and self-righteous propaganda that comes from organizations and individuals that rely on scare tactics to secure themselves a paycheck. Fucker’s. I can forgo the facts because Jeff’s post does a good job of summing up the general issue. No coal, no nuke power? What’s your plan, rubbing sticks together? I mean Holy Shit, you live in San Clemente which has one of the highest real estate values in the country. So bottom line, your a bunch of loaded pricks who need something to occupy yourselves with while the help wax’s your Land Rover. You wanna fucking protest. Shut the power down to your house and count your signatures by candle light. I used to do underwater (commercial diving) maintenance inside nuclear plants and the level of professionalism and attention to detail is top notch. And if you want to get all buddha about it, the Sun, that provides life to everything on this planet, is just one giant nuclear reactor. Get with the times hippie-dust the future of power is nuclear.

  • Matt O’Brien

    WOW! That was an interesting read. This should be the battle cry of 2012 for the San O/So. Cal region – afterall, how many people organized Marches/Protests/Media Buzz when it came to putting a [temp] stop for the proposed toll road through San Mateo State Park? This is a f-ing Nuclear BOMB! with a fuse just waiting for a spark. I live on the end of the state – but my family is down there (as 20+ million people AND the global effect) so this is “my backyard”. Thanks Surfer for posting this story, we should all “share” on our Fb & Twitter pages.
    In reply to schmit!, the INPO gave them the worst rating they could receive (4 on scale of 1-4, 4 being worst); what part of that crappy rating equate to: “best run plants in the world”?
    p.s. how can I sign the petition since I live outta area?

  • Matt O’Brien

    me again, WOW, I don’t know what is worse – reading some of these comments or the the San O Power Plant issue itself?
    For Jeff and Matt and Garrett and Linda – you confuse the desire to INCLUDE alternative energies as the Destruction of Traditional energies. Not the case, here is an example that maybe you can wrap yer head(s) around – what IF all the commercial AND residential Buildings/Houses had solar panels on their roofs to SUPPLEMENT the power grid with MORE (and Cheap) energy? You could still have your coal mines, and oil pumps, and EVEN nuclear (if Regulated and done Correctly) BUT the load to the system would be offset by the super shinny sunshine that fills your day every day (they work in UV light too – i.e fog). That’s 20 million (give or take) Residential dwellings and I-Don’t-Even-Know how many Commercial Building ALL Pumping GOOD CLEAN SOLAR ENERGY mixed with the traditional energies. Bet it would be a sight to see. Who knows, maybe even the FREE MARKET could take it over and provide a better product for the 20 million+ customers. You know: Innovation. Happens when people use something and somebody has an idea to make it better – the Gillette razor comes to mind: 1 blade 2 blade 3 blade 5!) think about it with out a right/left/liberal/conservative slant. cheers…

  • http://www.danterondo Dante Rondo

    Hey Matt ! Sorry but all the evidence out there says you are dead wrong ! And you and a lot of others may be dead period if this thing goes from bad to worse during a big quake and possible tsunami !
    The writer and activist/surfer Josh Sanders knows what he is writing about for sure ! Some people like you Matt do not embrace healthy change for our lives and the eco-systems and other life forms on this planet ! Maybe folks like you just have a “Death Wish ” going on inside yourselves !

  • SurferMom

    @Matt O’Brian You can get all the details about the California Nuclear Initiative
    at this web site
    There are a few simple to follow instructions on how to download
    the petition and all the info you need
    so that you can share it with your friends and family.
    You can also sign up to help with gathering signatures.
    There is even info on how to register to vote.
    We have until April 7th to mail in petitions.
    Good Luck.
    The folks I have been talking to are so thankful
    that voters are going to have a choice!
    I have over 50 pages of signatures!

  • JC

    Solar? Windpower? Sure, you can replace the plant by putting up 1000 SQUARE MILES of windmills. Where are you going to put them?

    You think no deaths are caused by “green energy”? Do all of those metals (particularly copper), petroleum products (lubricants), and rare earths that go into solar panels and windmills magically climb out of the earth by themselves? Or you just don’t concern yourself with those associated health hazards because they happen in other countries to people that speak a different language? Cancer? More cancer is caused from coal plants and mining than even hypothetically might worst case be caused by the extensively regulated and supervised U.S. nuclear industry.

    It’s winter. It’s not prime power consumption season. Also, how many other plants are putting off maintenance because they are supporting the grid while San O is down? Watch how noisy the protests get if San O goes away in the summer, and everyone is asked to turn their AC off. Or when your power bill doubles because more and more extremely remote possibilities must be added to the possibilities accounted for.

    SoCal is more likely to by destroyed by a meteor from space than by SanO.

    Radiation is naturally occurring. You get more going to the beach or sweeping the basement than the typical nuke worker gets going to work.

    How about digging deep and researching some facts before freaking out about the unknown?

  • bob

    It just doesn’t make sense, creating electricity for over eight million people who may have to leave their homes and lose their lives if there is a scenario like the one in Japan last year. Nuclear anything is a mess, just look what happened at Chernobyl, it just didn’t effect Russia, it radiated fifteen other countries. Waiting for something bad to happen is just not good planning. I live on Long Island, N.Y. and worked on the construction phase of the Shoreham Nuclear plant which never started up because they knew they could never have evacuated a fifty, or one hundred mile zone fast enough, by the way which included N.Y. city, and most of Southern Connecticut. Good luck with your efforts, and let’s keep this planet which we were given eternally beautiful. Peace.

  • Teacha

    I quit surfing trestles 10+ years ago when I heard rumors of a leak from San O.

    As far as it goes now, if you live on the west coast you are already cooking from Fukushima radiation, Hawaii too. Shoots pretty much the whole northern hemisphere.

    People are totally oblivious due to the media blackout of radiation levels in the air, food, and water. As well as what is going on in japan. FYI it’s way more than a 20km radius, radiation levels are way up all over Honshu and people are surfing because they have reached their breaking point and are willing to risk their lives and health to surf in it.

    It’s also funny to see the nuke industry’s shrills posting up here. You guys are all going straight to hell with all the lies, deceit, and merciless killing of the human race. What is going on in japan right now is out of control and there will be a massive die off in the years to come as well as in the US. Gotcha back but watch ur front

  • Maé Soares

    Tenho muito medo disso e tenho pena dos povos que estão cercados por esses pontos estratégicos nucleares ! O Brasil realmente é um paraíso Natural do Mundo !! tks God !

  • Cheeze

    Now just imagine a 100-300 foot wave hitting the coast after an earthquake of this magnitude in Southern California…? OMG!

  • PH

    Solar Thermal and Solar PV may be realistic alternatives to nuclear power. You arrogantly accuse others of not being factual but you present no facts yourself, just ignorance.


  • Donna Gilmore

    The reactors are shut down, but the tons of radioactive waste is still very active. It is stored in thin 5/8 inch stainless steel that is subject to cracks from our ocean environment within less than 30 years. And the NRC says there is no current technology that can adequately inspect even the outside if the containers. And they have no technology to repair cracks and no plan in place to replace cracked canisters. But the NRC says, don’t worry, they’re sure the nuke industry will figure something out eventually. Of course, there are still are leaky canisters at Washington’s Hanford nuclear waste dump and leaks at WIPP in New Mexico. Residents were promised that WIPP wouldn’t leak radiation for a thousand, but it is now shut down after only 15 years of operation, with tons of waste sitting in limbo with no place to go. Don’t let them do that to San Onofre. Sign petition at