Commentary: Say no on San Onofre

Talk about a game-changer. Do you know the Barack Obama campaign tracked the buying, subscription and leisure habits of 29,000 voters as far back as 2008? Most presidential campaigns track about 1,500 voters for six to 12 months. It turns out this is exactly what Mitt Romney's brain trust did. Is it any wonder then why Obama was reelected?

I mention this in light of a mid-September poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth. The results indicated strong support among Southern California Edison customers for closing the San Onofre nuclear power plant. The poll surveyed 700 customers who live inside Edison's service area. It found that 58% percent, or 406 people, oppose restarting the plant, which has been shuttered since January after a leak of radioactive gas prompted the shutdown of one of its two reactors.

Given how the Obama folks conducted their surveys of voters, is it fair to say those 406 Edison customers are the nail in San Onofre's coffin? Not according to SCE. Thirty percent of those asked do not favor closing the plant. Here's what an Edison spokeswoman had to say two months ago:

"Any survey of its customers' opinions should 'accurately describe the role San Onofre plays' both in power generation and 'reliability and grid support' — that is, the fact that the nuclear plant produces power round the clock, regardless of weather, unlike wind or solar power."

Don't tell former presidential candidate Romney this, but the September survey also reports that 47% of those polled believe Edison puts profits, not safety, first. Not surprisingly, SCE says that safety is its main priority.

Believing that the plant should have been subjected to more thorough review of steam-generator design changes by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Friends of the Earth has been critical of Edison's handling of the problems at San Onofre.

They aren't the only ones. A thoughtful local elected official I have known for years, and who has attended nearly every public forum on this topic, says San Onofre has the worst safety record in the nation.

According to a story in the Register, "Regulators determined that the problems were caused by flawed computer modeling that led to design flaws. In the Unit 3 reactor, changes in the fabrication process caused more problems.

"Both units showed significant wear in some of the nearly 20,000 tubes in each pair of steam generators for each reactor unit. But because of more extensive wear in Unit 3, Edison does not foresee Unit 3 coming online in the near future. The massive steam generators, two for each reactor, were built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan and installed at San Onofre between 2009 and early 2011."

Please reassure me that's not the same company that built the Fukushima nuclear power plant. When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disabled Fukushima, a 30 kilometer evacuation zone surrounding the plant was imposed. Today, Japanese authorities have declared a 20 kilometer zone as a no-go area. Only government-approved personnel in hazmat suits may enter the contaminated zone.

At this point, the cities of Laguna Beach, San Clemente and Irvine have signed resolutions opposing rebooting the nuclear power plant. I'm not surprised, since I represented several beach cities and the Orange County Board of Supervisors in the "No on Offshore Oil Drilling" fight back in the mid-1980s.

I like to think that the combination of 22 local Republican mayors and numerous conservative business leaders all saying no to the Reagan Administration proved to be too much for the Interior Department. Okay, and O.C.'s congressional delegation at the time, too. They lobbied hard on Capitol Hill to kill the idea of drilling along our coast.

Is it possible for a host of cities in Orange and San Diego counties to shut down San Onofre for good? I don't know but I commend them for trying. What I do know is tracking the opinions of tens of thousands of voters made a difference in the outcome of the 2012 presidential campaign. If that's the new normal for polling, then Friends of the Earth better go back to the drawing board.

As powerful as the mid-September poll results were, I'm afraid the beliefs of 406 Edison customers won't be the game-changer Friends of the Earth is counting on to close San Onofre. No, there's a better way to accomplish that goal.

I realize that most people are more interested in the holidays now than politics; however, it's never too early to start working on the next phase of the "No on SanO" campaign. Who's with me?

Denny Freidenrich lives in Laguna Beach.

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