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Third Thursday Newsletter: Sept 2022


Decommissioning at the San Onofre nuclear plant. Photo: Southern California Edison

During the past month, headlines from across the globe reflect the follies of nuclear energy. From California to Fukushima to Ukraine, news articles raise serious questions about the viability of nuclear power and the catastrophic risks it poses to the environment.

Why should we care? What does bad news at a faraway nuclear plant mean to us?

For starters, nuclear contamination can cross international boundaries and entire oceans.

In Japan, problems with removing radioactive material from a wrecked nuclear plant hint at the exposure we could face as Southern California Edison decommissions the San Onofre nuclear plant. Edison has no plan to relocate the 3.6 million pounds of deadly waste stored on site.

In Ukraine, the occupation of Europe’s largest nuclear plant by hostile forces shows the strategic value of nuclear sites to bad actors.

Here is our roundup of nuclear news from near and far.

Diablo Canyon

We are disgusted but not surprised that California lawmakers voted Aug. 31 to keep the aging Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open for five more years. The vote validates Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to loan Pacific Gas & Electric up to $1.4 billion to keep the aging plant operating beyond the 2024-25 expiration dates of its licensing. All Californians will be on the hook to pay down that loan.

In addition to our perennial questions — Will an earthquake cause a radiation release? How can we trust the corroded equipment? How will PG&E deal with still more radioactive waste? — now we wonder how far that $1.4 billion would have moved California toward meeting clean energy goals.

High Country News, Sept. 13, 2022

Los Angeles Times, Sept. 1, 2022

Los Angeles Times, Aug. 16, 2022


San Onofre

In an Aug. 24 article, our friends at Surfrider Foundation discuss their collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to test seawater at San Onofre for radioactive isotopes. Good on them.

Tapping the talents of Dr. Ken Buesseler will go a long way toward improving offshore monitoring at the shuttered nuclear plant, where demolition is well underway. We expect contamination levels to spike.

The more requirements for independent analysis and transparency we can throw at Edison, the better. In addition to Buesseler's monitoring for Cesium-137, we would like to see routine publication of measurements for tritium, a radioactive and cancer-causing form of hydrogen that cannot be filtered out of water. Also, to improve the accuracy of researchers’ sampling, Edison must publish precise schedules well in advance of its discharges of irradiated seawater.

Through the years, Edison has routinely released gases into the atmosphere and irradiated wastewater into the ocean, as presented in data compiled by Public Watchdogs.

Surfrider Foundation, Aug. 24, 2022

Public Watchdogs, September 23, 2020



Across the Pacific, Dr. Buesseler applies his expertise on radionuclides in the ocean to irradiated water stored at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Buesseler is lead writer in a Japan Times story beneath the headline, “More data needed before ocean release of Fukushima water.”

Regulators in Japan have approved the discharge of more than 1 million tons of contaminated water that is stored in 1,000 (and counting) tanks at the failed plant.

Speaking to the planned discharge, Buesseler and colleagues write: “We would argue that there is insufficient information to assess potential impacts on environmental and human health and issuing a permit at this time would be premature at best.”

Also at Fukushima, the Associated Press is reporting that the wrecked plant’s operator again is postponing the removal of highly-radioactive, melted fuel from its damaged reactors because of failures of a remote-controlled, robotic arm.

Back on our side of the Pacific, we wonder how and when Edison will move the waste it has dumped on the beach at San Onofre and whether a robotic arm, or anything else, will be able to retrieve the thin, metal waste canisters from their concrete tomb.

The Japan Times, Aug. 26, 2022

Associated Press, Aug. 25, 2022



Ukrainian workers have powered down the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant amid continued shelling and occupation of the plant by Russian forces. The International Atomic Energy Agency has documented destruction at the plant and has reported that operators are working under extreme distress. The agency is demanding that Russia withdraw. Meanwhile, the plant’s Ukrainian operators say they won’t restart the plant until the Russians leave.

The IAEA has warned: "Any further escalation affecting the six-reactor plant could lead to a severe nuclear accident with potentially grave radiological consequences for human health and the environment in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

Reuters, Sept. 15, 2022

NPR, Sept. 15, 2022

CBS News, Sept. 14, 2022


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