OCEANSIDE — On Aug. 7, more than 200 San Diego County residents attended the first of two public hearings on the Draft Environmental Impact Report prepared by the California State Lands Commission regarding the decommissioning of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, or SONGS. The hearing was held at the Oceanside City Hall, Civic Center.
The California State Lands Commission is the lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act, a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.
Cynthia Herzog, project manager and senior environmental scientist, kicked off the hearing that began with a short presentation of the decommissioning project and the contents of the draft EIR that included alternatives, most significant environmental impacts (hazardous radiological materials and air quality) and proposed mitigation measures.
Following the presentation, residents were given three minutes to make public comments to the commission staff. The majority of residents made it clear that they were not happy with the draft and wanted major changes to the decommissioning project.
Most of the people who spoke mentioned their concern about the dangers in burying nuclear waste in such close proximity to the ocean, not high enough above tide level to protect it from rising sea levels or a tsunami.
Some speakers supported their comments with visual props, as in the case of Charles Langley, executive director of Public Watchdogs, who held up a mobile Geiger counter as he spoke.
“The public needs to know if radiation levels are exceeding what’s safe,” Langley said. “There must be real-time radiation monitoring as the project unfolds.” Langley expressed concern that when a leak occurred at the plant in 2012, it was 17 days before the public was notified.
Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens Oversight, spoke longer than his allotted three minutes, stopping several times to compose himself as he began crying when making his comments. One of the requests he made was that the spent fuel rods be encased in a dual canister design so they would have a 1,000-year life span as opposed to the 40 years proposed in the draft.
At the end of his comments Lutz asked the panel: “Why are there no recordings of your meetings? No live-streaming? YouTube doesn’t cost anything. Don’t you believe in the internet?”
Madge Torres, also with Citizens Oversight, told the panel that she wanted the decommissioning to be seen as an emergency. “You have to find another place to put the spent fuel other than burying it on the beach. I ask you to start over and deny this report.”
When Teresa Kempner, founder of the Universal Temple of Higher Consciousness, addressed the panel she asked if they were being blackmailed or threatened in some fashion. “We all need air and water to live,” Kempner said. “This is our planet. This shouldn’t be about us and them. It’s about all of us.”
Early in her comments Angela Mooney D’Arcy, executive director of Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, talked about length of the report. “I have a law degree and I found this report to be a challenge to wade through. It would be helpful if you could come up with a shorter, perhaps two-page summary so people could better understand it.” D’Arcy said that she’s concerned that if there’s an accident and residents must be evacuated, that people who are disenfranchised in some fashion, such as being undocumented, might be afraid to go to an evacuation site.
Several of the speakers mentioned the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, expressing their concerns that if there’s an earthquake or an accident occurs as the spent fuel is being removed, the lives of the eight million people who live within a 50-mile radius of the plant, would be at risk.
The public review period of the draft EIR began June 27 and closes on Aug. 28. To read the EIR in PDF format, go to the commission’s website: www.slc.ca.gov and click on “All CEQA Documents.” For a paper copy or a compact disc contact the commission via email at CEQA.firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (916) 574-1890. The draft is also available for review at the Oceanside, San Clemente and Fallbrook libraries.