At the recent ?Disaster Preparedness? meeting held by the San Clemente Collaborative, none of the highly trained professionals on the panel ever went into any specifics about a nuclear event at San On

At the recent ?Disaster Preparedness? meeting held by the San Clemente Collaborative, none of the highly trained professionals on the panel ever went into any specifics about a nuclear event at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).  I think maybe they each assumed one of the other presenters would cover that topic. Time did not allow for questions at this information packed event, so I?m asking some questions here, and hoping they might be covered in the city?s upcoming Multi-Hazard Emergency Preparedness Expo on May 22.

Our Emergency Planning Officer had some great background information on the planning that has been put into place. She emphasized that fire is our biggest threat, and that we need to have seven days worth of supplies on hand, not just three days, as many emergency plans call for. You?ll need to remember to pack for the pets too, so when you arrive at the reception center at the Orange County Fairgrounds, the animal members of the family can be sent to other homes or facilities until the danger has passed. It would be just too chaotic to have everyone and their pets too.

The Saddleback Hospital representative explained what will take place once you arrive at a hospital, (probably not theirs since it is likely to be in harm?s way as well). The Orange County Sheriff spoke mostly about terrorism and the need to report suspicious activities. The CHP Officer reassured us that evacuation will take place in an orderly fashion and emphasized that people should not use emergency lanes when the freeway becomes backed up. And the Manager from Edison reiterated the point which previous speakers mentioned, which was that because we live near a nuclear power plant we are eligible for more grants. That is why we have had such a comprehensive emergency plan in place, which is reviewed and practiced on a regular basis.
 
The last presenter really got my attention. The Red Cross representative brought it home by realistically portraying the devastating impact of the ?big? earthquake all the experts agree will happen any time now. In fact, he said that based on historical averages, we are long overdue. He gave the following example, ?The most devastating California earthquake of recent memory was the Northridge 6.7 quake of 1994. Do any of you remember how long that shaking lasted? At most, 17 seconds?. Then he stretched out his arms and said, ?In a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, the ground could move back and forth this distance, two meters, every second, for three continuous minutes, and you?ll only have one or two steps to get to some kind of protection.? Can you even bring yourself to imagine what would be left in the wake of that kind of violent shaking?  And that?s not even an 8.0 that experts say the fault just off our beaches is capable of! (see attached map)

Unfortunately he also missed the opportunity to make the connection to the additional complications of a radiation leak at SONGS, which was designed to withstand a 7.0 earthquake. To make things worse, they need to store tons of highly radioactive waste on site in pools of water, because no one else will take it. Seismologists are now telling us to expect a 7.5 to 8.0 earthquake on a fault that is less than three miles from the power plant. What I?d like to know is what are we supposed to do in the event of a major earthquake that might cause a radiation cloud to drift over us? Will the roads be intact? Will evacuation still be a viable option? I?ve heard that you might need to shelter at home, close all vents and windows and stay in a ?safe room? (bathroom?) until help arrives, maybe seven days later. What about all of the broken windows? Do we need to store all of our food, water and other emergency supplies in this ?safe room?? Will we all be in the same room for seven days? That alone could be catastrophic!
 
The pros seem to know what to do, but I for one, still have a lot of questions. What can be done about this inadequately designed power plant? What great public benefit do we get from SONGS which provides all of its electricity to Riverside? Couldn?t Southern California Edison just lease those folks some solar panels and still make a decent profit?  It is bad enough to have the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cite SONGS for having ten times the industry standard in safety violations along with other day to day issues, but to ignore the scientific studies on seismic risk is just hard to understand. We hope to hear some critical discussion on this matter at the upcoming city-sponsored Expo. Hopefully the public will overcome their fears (or sense of futility), and attend in great numbers. It is critical for all of us to do everything we can to prepare for the worst.