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Laguna takes stand on San Onofre

Laguna Beach will back San Clemente's appeals to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure that San Onofre works to prevent a disaster similar to the one last year in Fukushima, Japan.

The City Council on Feb. 7 voted 4 to 1 to send a letter to the commission requesting the resolution of public concerns before consideration is given to extending San Onofre's operating license, which is due to expire in 2022.

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The letter had been requested by San Clemente Mayor Lori Donchak, but the action might be moot.

"Southern California Edison (which operates the plant) has not made a decision on whether we'll apply for renewal," said Edison spokesman Christopher Abel.

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The majority of 14 speakers at the Feb. 7 meeting would be delighted if Edison immediately dismantled the plant, let alone opted not to renew the license.

Their protest came just a couple of days before the commission announced construction of two new nuclear reactors for the first time since 1978.

Speakers at the council meeting keyed in on the danger of the San Onofre plant, nuclear plants in general and on-site storage.

"There is no way the plant should be storing waste material," said Kathleen Jepson-Bernier.

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The regulatory commission is looking for off-site storage, but to date all of the country's 104 nuclear power plants store waste material is on site, Abel said.

"This is an old plant, and we need to shut it down right now," said Marni Magda. "California is sitting on a powder keg of nuclear plants on earthquake faults."

The plant sits in proximity to the active Newport-Inglewood fault, making it vulnerable to the kind of earthquake that devastated Japan.

"Whenever there is an earthquake in the area [of San Onofre], we hold our breath until we hear whether the plant has been affected," Jinger Wallace read from a letter signed by Ginger Osborne on behalf of Village Laguna. "We've been lucky for 30 years, but the recent massive earthquake at the Japanese nuclear facility reminds us that we may not always be so blessed."

Former Laguna Beach Democratic Club President Audrey Prosser said the plant shouldn't exist and argued it provides very little of California's power supply.

"We wouldn't miss it if each of us exchanged two light bulbs," Prosser said.

Another speaker suggested the plant might provide 7% of the state energy, but Abel said Southern California Edison customers and 19% of San Diego Gas & Electric customers get their energy from nuclear power.

Speakers also took exception to the published description of an ammonia leak in November as "very low safety significance."

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The leak was blamed on the failure of workers to recognize and repair degraded equipment. The commission faulted Edison for failing to follow its own procedures.

Edison announced that changes have been made to address the problem.

Laguna Beach residents and officials also expressed dissatisfaction with the commission's evacuation plan.

Drafted in 1982 without consulting the city, the plan designated Laguna as a shelter area, meaning the local population should just hang out — "shelter in place" — while residents within a 10-mile radius of the plant high-tail it.

The California Department of Emergency Services has estimated that a meltdown could contaminate 16,000 square miles.

"It is important to send a message that unless issues are resolved, there should be no consideration of an extension," said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger. "We need to get the waste off-site and an evacuation plan put in place.

"If not, the plant needs to close."

Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson voted against sending the letter to the regulatory commission until the council, or at least she, was better informed.

Twitter: @CoastlinePilot

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