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After protesters turned out to a similar event in August in San Clemente, a power-plant ‘open house’ at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center leaves some visitors convinced that ‘nuclear power is fine.’ Others have concerns about their chances in a radioactive emergency

By DAVID BRO / SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO- (CA)- Southern California Edison, operator of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, visited the San Juan Capistrano Community Center on Thursday evening for an “open house” on how the power plant works, along with a primer on emergency planning and security.

About 70 people attended for a dinner buffet, children’s activities and a tabletop tide pool featuring sea creatures found in the tidal zone around the plant.

Article Tab: san-planning-emergency-pl
Mary Bierce of San Clemente and Norma Lelli of Dana Point try to locate their homes in relation to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station on an Interjurisdictional Planning Commitee map illustrating a protective zone used to determine emergency action in case of an accident at the plant. SONGS’ operator, Southern California Edison, held a public “open house” in San Juan Capistrano on Thursday evening to explain how the plant works, as well as its environmental impact, security and emergency planning.

A similar exhibit in San Clemente in Augustattracted protests from San Onofre opponents who want the plant shut down pending improvements in safety and crisis planning. Thursday’s event in San Juan had no such protests.

San Juan is about 10 miles north of the plant; San Clemente about 2½ miles.

San Juan Capistrano architect Gerald Muir, 63, who was born and raised in south Orange County, said he attended to gain more knowledge of nuclear power. He said he was impressed by the intricacy of the plant’s electricity generation.

“I’ve never been adversely concerned about it,” Muir said. “Nuclear power is fine, but I would like to see more solar.”

Mary Bierce of San Clemente and Norma Lelli of Dana Point stood in front of a map illustrating theInterjurisdictional Planning Committee‘s 10-mile protective zone surrounding SONGS. They were trying to locate their homes in the emergency planning and evacuation area outlined by the committee, which consists of many government, industry and volunteer agencies. Bierce and Lelli concluded their chances of getting out of the area would be slim in the event of a radioactive release at SONGS.

“It’s going to get real goofy in San Juan with everyone going north” from San Clemente, Dana Point and north San Diego County, Lelli said.

“We’re going to have to make friends with someone who has a boat,” Bierce said. “I think we should go down to the harbor and get started.”

San Onofre opponents also believe evacuation plans are inadequate and that the emergency planning zone should be extended to a 50-mile radius around the plant.

The city of San Clemente is seeking federal funding assistance for a planned project to extend Avenida La Pata north to San Juan Capistrano to provide another evacuation route besides I-5 and Pacific Coast Highway.

San Clemente resident Clay Gable said he felt comfortable with his knowledge of nuclear power but attended Thursday’s event to learn more. He said he’s glad he did after hearing Edison engineers describe the plant’s triple-redundant cooling system. Now, he’s more convinced than ever of the need more nuclear power, he said.

“Nuclear power is fine,” Gable said. “We need to be more energy-independent from the Middle East.”

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About 250 people turn out in San Clemente to talk to employees of the nuclear plant about its operation and safety. Some people who said they were unsure about nuclear power beforehand say they still are afterward.

By DAVID BRO / SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

SAN CLEMENTE -(CA)- Jenessa Stemke felt so strongly about attending Monday evening’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station“open house” in San Clemente that she rode her bicycle from Riverside.

Stemke, 23, is too young to remember the Chernobyl nuclear-plant accident in 1986 in the former Soviet Union but says she became aware of the dangers of nuclear energy after the damage to the Fukushima plant in Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Now she is determined to find out as much as she can.

Article Tab: R.J. Prescott, right, a licensed nuclear operator who works for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, has a disagreement with Gary Headrick, left, of San Clemente Green over Headrick's poster depicting the 30-foot-tall sea wall at San Onofre as incapable of protecting against the type of tsunami that damaged Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant.
R.J. Prescott, right, a licensed nuclear operator who works for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, has a disagreement with Gary Headrick, left, of San Clemente Green over Headrick’s poster depicting the 30-foot-tall sea wall at San Onofre as incapable of protecting against the type of tsunami that damaged Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.
DAVID BRO, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Her mission Monday, she said, was to speak face-to-face with people who run the San Onofre plant about 2½ miles south of San Clemente. The self-described fanatic for sustainable energy said she left the event unconvinced that the energy San Onofre provides to Southern California homes and businesses is safe for residents.

According to the plant’s operator, Southern California Edison, San Onofre’s two nuclear reactors are capable of generating 2,200 megawatts of power, enough to meet the needs of 1.4 million homes at a given time.

“It’s located near an earthquake fault, and (an earthquake) is coming,” Stemke said.

Edison has said the plant was designed to withstand a magnitude 7 earthquake – more than the largest quake the nearest fault (five miles from the plant) was expected to produce at the time the plant was planned. Its first reactor was commissioned in 1968.

Stemke also expressed concern about San Onofre’s documented safety violations.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission letter dated Sept. 1, 2010, stated that while SONGS passed its “regulatory response,” the NRC sited 33 human-performance issues along with 19 “problem identification and resolution” issues. The same letter cited continued concern about employees’ fears of retaliation from supervisors in reporting safety problems at the plant.

SONGS spokesman Scott Andresen estimated about 250 people attended the three-hour event at the San Clemente Community Center, where about 50 plant employees were on hand to talk with attendees about how nuclear energy is made, security, waste disposal, safety, evacuation routes, emergency preparedness and siren alerts. In addition, there was a dinner buffet as well as children’s face painting and crafts.

SEE A SLIDE SHOW HERE.

The “open house” was the third in a series of such events in the past year. Previous exhibits were held in Oceanside and at San Clemente High School. Another is planned for Oct. 29 at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center.

Dan and Tina McIntosh moved to San Clemente from Minnesota a year ago. They were wondering more about earthquakes until they signed real estate papers acknowledging their new home’s proximity to SONGS. They attended Monday’s event because of curiosity about nuclear power. Their biggest safety concern, they said, is whether the plant is secure against a terrorist attack.

“We don’t feel fearful,” Tina McIntosh said. “We wanted to see how it works.”

Jeff and Daisy Howell of Capistrano Beach said they support nuclear power and attended Monday because they wanted to find out more about how the generators work.

“I am a visual person,” Daisy Howell said. “I have to talk to someone. … I learned the new sirens have seven different sounds now.”

Gary Headrick, a leader of environmental group San Clemente Green, a vocal opponent of nuclear power, joined 10 to 15 people with similar views in lining the entrance to the Community Center to hand out information and hold up colorful placards describing their opposition to SONGS.

“I am reporting to the NRC the safety concerns of seven people at the plant because they are afraid of retaliation,” Headrick said.

Sylvia Hassard-Johnson of San Clemente said she hasn’t made up her mind yet about nuclear power. Her husband, Jerome Johnson, a FedEx pilot, said he’s in favor of it. The couple have two elementary-school-age children and wanted them to check out the exhibit for themselves.

Hassard-Johnson said that although much information from both sides of the issue is available online and in print, it’s good to see the people involved.

Still, she wasn’t relying on what she saw and heard at the exhibit Monday. “They (SONGS) are going to say what they want us to hear,” Hassard-Johnson said.

She said she’s still waiting to learn more about San Onofre’s safety preparedness, especially after Fukushima, and its effects on the environment.

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