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Third Thursday Newsletter: July 2022

New Tech, Old Problem: Waste

Two nuclear technologies spanning two generations only add to the conundrum of what to do with radioactive waste. Whether the electricity is generated by the aging Diablo Canyon Power Plant or modern “small modular nuclear reactors,” the deadly byproduct continues to pile up along beaches, earthquake faults and other environmentally sensitive sites. For the permanent storage of waste, which can remain deadly for millennia, our federal government has failed to find a location.

In Central California, top state and federal officials are pushing to keep Diablo Canyon open beyond the 2025 expiration date of its licensing. When the plant just west of Avila Beach went online in 1985, Ronald Reagan was president, “Careless Whisper” was a hit single and the first of 3.9 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel began to accumulate on the site less than one mile from the Shoreline Fault. Keeping the old plant running only adds to the waste pile.

Dialing the calendar to 2022, with Joe Biden as president, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and billionaire Bill Gates are championing small modular reactors, or SMRs, as the future of nuclear energy. The units might not produce greenhouse gases (that’s good), but they do produce higher quantities of deadlier waste (that’s very bad). Research by Stanford University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that the new reactors’ waste output per unit of electricity exceeds that of conventional generation by a factor of up to 30. The waste itself is more caustic because more neutrons are needed to run the reactors, which leads to higher levels of radioactivity in the spent fuel. The new tech also fails to answer that old, nagging question of where to store the waste.

In San Diego County, our nation’s stockpile of radioactive waste includes Souther California Edison's 3.6 million pounds stored 100 feet from the ocean near San Onofre State Beach.

Up the coast, in San Luis Obispo County, we are throwing our support behind Mothers for Peace. Some of the mothers have opposed Diablo Canyon for decades and, at this point, are grandmothers. We salute their campaign to “Keep the Deal to Close Diablo Canyon.”

In a notice, Mothers for Peace reports that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is meeting tonight in SLO to discuss Diablo’s decommissioning plan. Public comment on the report is open through Oct. 19.

Bart Ziegler, PhD

President, Samuel Lawrence Foundation


Support for Uniontown, Alabama

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Our friend LaQuenna Lewis treated us to photos from Pass the Mic Summer Camp. We are proud to have supported the camp to develop youth leaders in underserved communities.

Also in Alabama, we are backing Esther Calhoun's community initiative to restore New Hope Cemetery. Plagued by contamination and encroachment from a neighboring landfill, the historically black graveyard formerly known as Pitts Cemetery sits behind the Pitts Plantation. For many Uniontown residents, the cemetery provides an important connection to the legacy of their ancestors.


Barrio Botany

It's great to back Barrio Botany. Christina Abuelo gets urban kids into the garden to promote academic achievement, environmental literacy and good nutrition. Like the garden itself, programming is growing to reach more Title 1 schools in the region.


Board Member is Gathering Scholars' Voices

On a cross-country journey, our dear board member Alexis Dixon is interviewing and photographing men and women of science, technology, mathematics and the arts to add to his Notes to Our Sons & Daughters website. We can't wait to see the new work. One of his earlier installations, "My Sister's Voice," is out of this world. Great job, Alexis!


State Grant for Dance Start

Creativity is Californian! Thanks so much to the California Arts Council for supporting our Dance Start program with an Impact Project Program grant. The funding will translate into more creative movement for more preschool children throughout San Diego.


MIT Prof on SLF Video

MIT Professor Kate Brown warns that with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Chernobyl disaster remains relevant today. In a Samuel Lawrence Foundation video, Brown discusses her book, "Manual for Survival," which explores the impacts of manmade radioactivity on every living thing.


The Nuclear Threat at San Onofre

Thanks so much to Dr. Peter Andersen for presenting his talk, "The Nuclear Threat at San Onofre and Throughout America: Problems and Solutions." Dr. Andersen spoke last month during a breakfast meeting of La Jolla Golden Triangle Rotary.

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