COAST CITIES — Stressing they have no interest in joining the debate over nuclear energy policy, City Council members agreed unanimously at the April 25 meeting to send letters supporting efforts to improve safety standards at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, also known as SONGS, to members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and elected federal officials.“It is a public safety issue about one specific plant,” said Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, who, along with Councilman Mike Nichols, requested city officials address the topic.
During the past several months, members of the public have expressed concerns during council meetings about the operational safety of SONGS, especially following the destruction of the Fukushima-Dalichi Nuclear Generating Station that resulted from the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Japanese coastline in March 2011.
“It’s really about the concerns and the safety issues that could result in … any type of disaster,” Nichols said.
Before asking that the subject be added to a council meeting agenda, Heebner said at the April 11 meeting she gave the matter a lot of thought because SONGS is outside the city’s jurisdiction.
“I do think this is something that is within our purview to discuss,” she said. “Our first mandate as electeds is to uphold and maintain public safety.”
In April 2011, the NRC formed a six-person task force to conduct a near-term evaluation of the need for agency actions at U.S. plants following the events in Japan.
After reviewing NRC regulatory requirements, programs and processes and their implementation, the group, with more than 135 years of combined regulatory experience, made 12 recommendations.
In letters that will be sent to NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko and his colleagues, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and U.S. Reps. Brian Bilbray and Darrell Issa, council members say they support implementation of the short-term recommendations as soon as possible.
They say the NRC should develop a more immediate plan to execute the long-term recommendations. Council members also support expanding the evacuation zone in the event of a disaster from the current 10-mile radius to 50 miles.
About 7.4 million people live within a 50-mile radius of SONGS. Solana Beach is 30 miles to its south.
“I don’t need a plan or a study to tell me that if something bad were to happen there that we would all be in trouble,” Nichols said. “There’s only a couple of roads in and out of here.”
Heebner said during a meeting she and Nichols attended in Orange County earlier this month, Jaczko described the license renewal rule as “not a satisfactory system because it only looks at the aging of the system.”
The letters also state council members support efforts to modify nuclear plant “relicensing policies to ensure a re-examination of the basics of the design elements, including seismic and tsunami hazards, operational issues, plant security and emergency preparedness.”
At the April 11 Solana Beach meeting, nearly two dozen people addressed council. Most were from San Clemente, where SONGS is located, and many called for the plant to be decommissioned permanently.
The facility generates 2,200 megawatts of power, serving about 1.4 million homes in Southern California and providing approximately 19 percent of the electricity for the area. The plant’s two reactors have been shut down since January after leaks were discovered in the steam generators.
A few miles south of Solana Beach and within a 50-mile radius of SONGS, Del Mar City Council members are planning a presentation on the issue at a future meeting.
“If the NRC were to recommend a 50-mile evacuation radius that would lead to a very serious issue of whether that’s even practical,” Del Mar Councilman Don Mosier said. “We need to understand what the risk is, what the options are and what is the legitimate set of recommendations to make.”
Del Mar Councilman Mark Filanc, a contractor, said his company worked on a nuclear reservation. “It is an extreme set of safety regulations and rules just for contractors entering and working on the site,” he said. “The safety is not taken lightly at a … nuclear power plant. It’s taken very seriously.
“I don’t think I would categorically state that San Onofre is just an unsafe place,” he said. “I’m sure there’s some flaws in their safety protocol and safety procedures and how they operate, and I think that that definitely needs closer scrutiny.
“I’m most interested in hearing what the issues are and what the remedies are,” Filanc said. “We, as a council, have to hear the facts, not the emotion.”
“Our number one priority is protecting the health and safety of the public and our employees,” Chris Abel the community outreach manager at SONGS, said during the April 11 Solana Beach City Council meeting.