Solana Beach addresses safety issues at San Onofre nuclear plant


By Claire Harlin

Solana Beach has joined San Clemente and Laguna Beach in taking a stand on safety issues associated with the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The City Council on April 11 voted 4-0, with Mayor Joe Kellejian abstaining, to write a letter to federal officials outlining demands in hopes of keeping the seaside nuclear plant and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in check. This move comes amid growing national concern over unusual wear to the plant’s tubing. The facility has been shut down for more than two months, and Southern California Edison, the plant operator, announced April 12 in a statement that even more tubing damage in the plant’s generators has been found.

The City Council, at the behest of Council members Lesa Heebner and Mike Nichols, brought the issue up for discussion in response to a growing amount of concern from community members who have emailed the council and spoken publicly at council meetings during the past several months. Citizens, unofficially led by Solana Beach resident and advocate Torgen Johnson, have expressed concerns about the operational safety of the plant, possible seismic activity and evacuation routes that are lacking or inefficient. The council heard more than two hours of public comment on April 11.

Some questions arose, however, regarding the authority of local officials to delve into such a far-reaching, national issue. Heebner said she has put a lot of thought into whether the council should get involved.

“I do think this is within our purview to discuss,” said Heebner. “Our first mandate as elected [officials] is to uphold and maintain public safety. I personally am not interested in speaking about or doing a resolution on the whole issue of nuclear energy or world peace … What I’m specifically wanting to look at from our point of view, as the City of Solana Beach, is one specific nuclear generating plant 30 miles away from us that is determined to be within a radius — that we know from Fukushima — that could impact us tremendously … This is not a philosophical issue; it’s an issue of safety at one specific plant.”

Richard Moore said nuclear is a “vital component of our energy,” and warned councilmembers that they will be inevitably drawn into a national debate about nuclear power if they take a stand on the issue.

“I’d like to see you spend your time working for us in other ways,” he said.

Mayor Joe Kellejian said he would need to see a study in order to take action on the issue, which would be hard to do in a city of less than 14,000 with a small staff.

“We need to have anchored, factual information before we make any decision on this subject,” Kellejian said. “Our staff just doesn’t have the horsepower to do that.”

Councilman Tom Campbell said he does question whether the issue is within the scope of the council’s authority, but in regard to public safety, he said he’s “convinced we should take a position on this.”

Councilman Mike Nichols said he doesn’t need a plan or a study to tell him that if something bad happened at San Onofre, “we would be in trouble.”

“There’s only a couple roads in and out of here and millions of people and what would we do?” he said.

Christopher Abel, a spokesman for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, participated in the discussion, reminding the public that “the leak did not force us to shut [the plant] down, but we did.” He reiterated that the plant will only be reopened when it is safe to do so.