It is indeed a fine mess with the steam generators at the San Onofre power plant just south of Orange County, but it is not an excuse to abandon the plant or nuclear energy. Regardless of the financial outcome, it will still be less expensive to fix or replace the steam generators, hopefully with a big contribution from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, than to build new plants of any kind or to buy power from out of state.
Nuclear plants in California do not pose a higher risk to the public from seismic activity or from being on the coast, as their designs take into account those issues. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, thorough new reviews of safety systems will assure that the risks are negligible.
Your editorial is right that nuclear energy offers clean power, and for the foreseeable future
California and the rest of the country need it to meet economic and environmental demands. Rather than giving up on San Onofre, we need to press on to solve the problem.
Corona del Mar
Nuclear power is a dangerous, dirty and expensive way to essentially boil water. More than 7 million people live within 50 miles of San Onofre, a plant that has suffered problems that, four months later, still have experts scratching their heads as to what caused them, not to mention how to solve them.
California can and should move beyond nuclear power. In fact, it already has 1 gigawatt of solar power on rooftops throughout the state, putting California roughly a quarter of the way toward replacing nuclear power with sunshine.
Other renewable energy technologies — including wind and biomass, along with proven energy efficiency and conservation measures — will enable California to keep the lights on, save ratepayers money and protect the health and safety of its residents.
Bernadette Del Chiaro
The writer is the director of Environment California’s clean energy and global warming programs.
Thanks for the editorial clearly assessing San Onofre’s future. Southern Californians must face the truth about an aging nuclear power plant in a region vulnerable to firestorms (like the one that hit Laguna Beach in 1993) and earthquakes (the weakened plant was only ever guaranteed against a 7.0 earthquake nearby).
With good planning, we need not face rolling blackouts; nonetheless, it’s far better to be a little dark or hot than to have from Oceanside to Laguna Beach a “no-go zone” because of accidents such as the ones at Fukushima and Chernobyl.
When asked recently when humans might be able to inhabit the Chernobyl site again, the nuclear plant’s director said, “At least 20,000 years.” A nuclear mistake is not an inconvenience; it is forever.
The San Onofre problem seems almost unsolvable. Not enough time remains in the approved licensing period to make a redesigned steam generator pay for itself. New baseline data make protecting against seismic risk a greater challenge. There’s still no solution for the permanent storage of toxic waste. The editorial’s suggestion to redirect funds to more renewable energy is not really a solution.
But this all assumes the demand side will be business as usual. It won’t be. Diminishing global oil production will be the new norm. That will mean decreases in economic activity, wealth and demand for electricity.
This may not sound like a desirable outcome, but it is realistic. It reflects an awareness of geological constraints. All long-range planning should be done with that reality in mind.