The Great American Shakeout and San Onofre nuclear waste

Is the Southern California Edison prepared to handle a worst-case earthquake?

Nuclear risk, USGS map, San Diego and orange County
According to USGS, a 3.0 earthquake shook the Orange County and San Diego region on Tuesday, October 17, 2023.

Today, October 18, at 10:19am, California commemorates the “Great California Shakeout,” which encourages basic safety tips such as “Drop, Cover, and Hold On!” as a way of dealing with the inevitable effect of major earthquake of 7.0 or larger on the Richter Scale.

It also reminds all Californians that a seismic event is possible “any second of every day.”

Even though Tuesday’s 3.0 temblor off the coast of Orange County and San Diego came from a disturbance that was half a mile below the ocean floor, it barely ruffled local feathers.

However, the advocates at Public Watchdogs are most concerned about the possibility of a 7.0 or greater earthquake and how it might affect the beachfront nuclear waste dump at the failed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.  The shuttered nuke plant, which now stores millions of pounds of  eternally deadly nuclear waste is located fewer than 100 feet from the beach, in the center of a tsunami inundation zone according to the U.S. Geological Survey and the State of California.

The USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5222  (page 6), specifically mentions six  major faults near the site of the failed nuclear plant.  Each of the faults have the potential to produce a magnitude 7 or greater earthquake including the  “… 1927 Point Arguello earthquake), between Santa Monica and San Diego Bay (Catalina Fault, Newport Inglewood Fault, Oceanside thrust fault, San Clemente Fault, and San Mateo thrust fault) … ”   According to UCSD study materials, earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 7 on the Richter Scale occur about 20 to 25 times a year globally.

“A magnitude 7 earthquake or greater is of particular concern to us because the Richter Earthquake Magnitude Scale is logarithmic, meaning that a quake that measures ‘two’ on the Richter Scale is actually ten times stronger than an earthquake that measures “one” on the Richter Scale,” says Charles Langley, the Executive Director of Public Watchdogs.

According to Public Watchdogs’ Development Director, Nina Babiarz:

“Today’s ‘Shakeout’ reminds us all that a seismic event could happen ‘any second of any day.’ The awareness of those odds makes for a very high risk scenario.  Therefore, the public has a right to know specifically what emergency planning and response Southern California Edison has prepared for such an inevitable event. The public also has a right to know if Edison has not made any preparations for such an event.”

Babiarz went on to state that: “ Edison has been touting for years in their Community Engagement Panel (CEP) meetings that they have a commitment to ‘Stewardship’.  By definition, ‘Stewardship’ is: ‘an ethical value that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources’.  With stewardship then comes responsibility; a lack of Edison unpreparedness to meet such seismic risk connotates their denial of the risk and an irresponsibility to our community that borders negligence.”

The term Earthquake Bay was also used in an MSNBC report titled “A Chernobyl Waiting to Happen.”

For years public Watchdogs has expressed deep concern about the potential failure of the San Onofre Nuclear Waste Dump in the media and in public hearings in the event the site is overwhelmed with water, mud or debris.  Tsunamis can dredge up millions of tons of sediment, pebbles and rocks and deposit them in a matter of minutes over a beachfront inundation zone such as San Onofre.   This concern was amplified most recently in Public Watchdogs’ Petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in February of 2024, which expressed concern that radioactive steam could be released if the facility was flooded.

The petition also noted that Southern California Edison, the majority owner of the failed San Onofre Nuclear Power Station, had illustrated exactly how the flooding of the nuclear waste dump would occur.  The area outlined in blue from the 2013 document shows flooding in the exact location of the nuclear waste as of today (see image below).

flooding at San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant ISFSI
The source of the above image is from the August 26, 2013, San Onofre  flood analysis  submitted to the United Stated Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in response to NRC Order Number EA-12-049.

This image, from page 32 of 53 of NRC document (ML13240A130) clearly shows the ISFSI area may be “FLOODED BY TSUNAMI AND TROPICAL STORM.”

For purposes of maintaining an accurate historical record, Public Watchdogs has reproduced document ML13240A130 at its own Web site here.

For background or additional information contact
Charles Langley (858) 752-4600, or email Langley “@”

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