March 22 2011 04:03 PM

Let's stop sucking the nuclear boobs


Shut down San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant! If enough of us demand it, it will happen. Raise your voices! Send letters! Organize a demonstration! Walk like an Egyptian!

Do I really need to explain why? Well, all right then. Let's start with the big “why” on everyone's mind.

As I write this, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has managed to get a power line connected to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, the site of what is already the second worst nuclear-plant accident in history after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. At this point, though, there's no certainty they'll be able to get the pumps working to cool the reactors and cover the spent fuel rods leaking unsafe levels of radiation into the atmosphere.

Even if TEPCO prevents the partial nuclear meltdown from becoming a full-blown total meltdown, the damage will have been catastrophic for many reasons, not the least of which is how it has hampered relief efforts for the desperate people already suffering from hunger, cold, homelessness, injury, illness and grief in the wake of Japan's massive magnitude-9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami.

As I said, TEPCO's efforts to stop the meltdown may not work. Worst-case scenario: This surpasses Chernobyl, which killed dozens of workers and firefighters almost immediately and has been estimated to have caused thousands of deaths from related illnesses, as well as contaminating the environment in multiple countries with effects that will last for a century.

The Fukushima plant's six reactors were designed to withstand a magnitude-7.9 quake. San Onofre, constructed in the 1960s and 70s, was designed to withstand even less: a magnitude-7.0. We've already had a 7.3, 7.4, a couple of 7.8s and a 7.9 in California. And, oh yeah, there's a geological fault line only five miles offshore from San Onofre. And, oh yeah, the 25-foot concrete tsunami buffer wall at San Onofre is nearly 10 feet lower than the wave that hit Japan.

Think it won't happen here? Consider that the Japanese plant that's poisoning the area for miles, was granted new operating permits just a few weeks ago. Japan had expected “the big one” much further south. Could another “big one” still be coming?

Geologists don't expect an earthquake larger than 8.0-magnitude in southern California, but they don't rule it out for northern California. An up-to-7.8 temblor in the Los Angeles region, along the San Andreas fault, is likely, however, and even expected.

All of this is to say that the San Onofre plant is a potential time bomb that we can live without.

Assuming that our friends in northern California manage to get their own nuclear time bomb, the Diablo Canyon Plant, shut down and that California will rally around the idea of getting off of nuclear power altogether, how do we make up the loss of 15 percent of the energy supplying our electricity?

Argue amongst yourselves. I'm not trying to evade the issue. It's just that this is the sort of stuff that people get mired in. It doesn't help that profit-driven stakeholders spend millions to shape the conversation around the necessity of nuclear power. They'll tell you it's “green,” that nothing else works, etc.

If the will-power is there, we can make up that 15 percent easily. The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) argues that energy-efficiency measures alone can generate five times more electricity than nuclear power.

I don't have the space to go into all that here. I have confidence that if we shut down San Onofre, we can handle it. I don't think the cost will be great, but even if it were, we could handle it. I vow to use 15 percent less electricity if the state promises to shut San Onofre and Diablo down. If we all vow the same, it would render the plants unnecessary.

We have to realize that the potential impact of a natural disaster on southern California's aging nuke is potentially catastrophic. We have to realize that even if Mother Nature spares us, a plane could be flown into a nuclear plant. And that's just one obvious scenario for how a terrorist attack on a nuke could go down. We need to consider that the more we split atoms, the more we increase the likelihood of nuclear-weapons proliferation. Is everybody convinced that Iran's current regime, for example, is interested in enriching uranium only for the sake of generating electricity?

And it's not just government proliferation of nuclear weapons. The more nuclear plants there are operating in the world, the more potential for nuclear-bomb-making materials to end up in the possession of a terrorist group.

As you read this, well-paid nuclear-advocacy public-relations organs and their duped denizens are busy refuting my argument. They even have the audacity to use the threat of global warming to justify nuclear power. The Washington, D.C., Sierra Club called this “giving up cocaine for crack.”

Nuclear power is neither inevitable nor necessary. We've subsidized it to the tune of half a trillion dollars, according to Greenpeace. We're also dumping tons of money into research and development of new nuclear weapons, when we've already got more than enough old ones to blow up the world. There are better ways to spend money.

I think we should aim for a world where we're not splitting atoms. But let's start with what we can achieve here at home. Let's stop our nuclear nursing at San Onofre, go on a collective energy cleanse and find better sources for our vital sustenance.

We the people of California can do this. We have the power.    

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