There’s much radiation on the brain lately – whether you are thinking about it or not. Fukushima radioactive particle releases are continuing despite being ignored by a majority of the population, and despite the reactors existing in some Fantasyland version of “Cold Shutdown” – a term which is soon to be redefined by the Japanese government after last week’s temperature increase (of course, breaking the thermocoupler is also an option).
In Hawai’i we get our fair dose when the jet stream cruises a more Southerly path, and becomes a mash-up of the worst kind, as it coalesces with tropical rain. On top of that, Surfrider and local residents are on the lookout for potentially radioactive debris that will eventually invade our shores. And we really don’t know how bad our imported sushi or locally caught fish (which like to cruise Japan and Alaska) actually is, because no one here tests it. The fact that Hawai’i milk post-311 tested the highest in the country for radioactive particles only insured that the EPA would discontinue testing of Hawai’i milk. (Don’t even get me started on Republican surfer / state senator Fred Hemmings’ campaigns to bring nuclear power to Hawai’i!).
When I went to visit the mainland late January on a work/vacation – as we collect new material to push this ol’ blog into a new-fangled online magazine – I watched the buoys and checked the reports to see when I should schedule interviews and when it was more appropriate to head to the beach. Surfers always have their priorities in order. Though most of my stay is North of Los Angeles, I regularly hook up with my Redondo Beach surf cohort to carpool all the way down to San Clemente, in South Orange County, to enjoy Trestles, one of my favorite Southern Cali waves – crowded or preferably not.
So shortly after arriving, I hear the news that Reactor Three at the San Onofre nuclear plant is leaking. Immediately after the accident Edison issued a statement that said: “There has been no release [of radiation] to the atmosphere”, but that changed the following morning. And the reports set off the Spidey senses, as it’s reminiscent of the convoluted manner with which Japanese and U.S. officials have twisted data and minced words to make everything appear “safe” – no matter what, every single accident or incident is always declared “safe”. In this case the terminology regurgitated by the media was very scientific. In regards to how much radioactive particles were released via steam, the standard no threat/no harm vocabulary included: “tiny”, “very, very small”, and “minuscule”. Uh huh. So, since no amount is safe, we will have to figure out the math for that ourselves.
And while the one plant is leaking and SCRAMed, they find during a two month, 674 million dollar “face-lift” inspection of Reactor Two, that a huge number of brand new tubes, running between the heating elements and the turbines, were showing significant wear. Some 800 thinned by 10%, 69 thinned over 20%, and a few would have to immediately be replaced. These were tubes that were supposed to last 30-40 years. We won’t even get into how a worker falls into the reactor water, drinks the water, and is also immediately deemed “safe”.
A stupid way to boil water
Sporting the title of “worst safety record” of all U.S. nuclear plants, San Onofre sits just next door to Trestles. I used to do “surf safaris” and camp there as a teen, and the main thing we were concerned about was the rumor that tiger sharks liked to breed in the warmer waters around the plant. Honestly, I never really worried about the contamination levels in the air or water (though I would hold my breath as a kid as we drove by on the way to Sea World). It was only after Fukushima that I started looking at how a release from San Onofre might spread through Southern California, and how many of my friends could be affected.
“Charlie don’t surf, he’ll never learn.” –The Clash (“Charlie” still being slang for “the enemy”)
The issues in San Clemente have bred a community of hardcore activists, who over the years have rallied against numerous threats besides the nuclear plant, including military bases occupying the beaches, potential off-shore oil drilling, and other paved encroachments. The most famous protest though was/is from the perpetual threat of an illegal (as per CA Coastal Commission) Toll Road (see Save Trestles/Surfrider). A whole other story that doesn’t ever go away, despite seeming victories. When it comes to activists from that area, the term “no rest for the weary” certainly comes to mind. Let’s just say this: if you are heading to surf San Onofre or Trestles, on a nice off-shore day, and there is a steam release, I advise you not putting too much faith in the nuclear industry’s reports of “safe” or “tiny”. (Do they make surf dosimeters yet?)
San Onofre is a wash. The old plant, like many, is worn down, cracking, and things are only going to get worse. The cost of this temporary shutdown is $600,000 to $1 million per day. So why don’t they work to decommission the plant? Do they need the power that badly that it’s worth risking the population between San Diego and Los Angeles? Edison, the power company that owns the plant, has even stated they have “ample power reserve” without the plant operating.
San Onofre’s 2 reactors provide somewhere between 5 and 7% of California’s electricity, and each of them consumes somewhere close to 250 megawatts of electrical energy from the grid on a constant basis just to operate. Nobody ever seems to factor that in when they talk about why we need these monster nukes to supply the “demand.” –Daily Kos
Is there anything to learn from Fukushima? Duh!
The surfers in Japan treasured their Fukushima waves: “famous for clean water and uncrowded breaks.” As any surfer will tell you, surfing is how we make a connection with the ocean. It’s an intimate relationship. Today the surfers from Fukushima are sad for many reasons, but one of them is they will likely never connect with the ocean there again.
It’s curious that the accident at Fukushima has had relatively little influence in bringing about awareness and making serious efforts to shift away from nuclear power. Sure, Germany announced they would phase out their nuclear by 2022, and hopefully they’ll replace it with alternative, renewable power instead of relying so much on coal and oil. Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, and Israel may follow suit. But at the same time we have nuclear protesters getting beaten in India where five plants are planned; 21 new nuclear plants are being built in China; more planned for Korea, Poland; as well new-timers who were not deterred by 3/11 including Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Belarus (with Jordan and Saudi Arabia likely following suit in 2013); people in Japan are being shunned for protesting nuclear or speaking/blogging about the negative side-effects of radiation exposure; and President Obama, elected with the help of serious financial backing by tritium-lovin’ Chicago nuclear, is paying them back by opening the door for the first time in over two decades (since Three Mile Island) to the U.S. building new nuclear reactors (the new build in Georgia is already up to its neck in controversies). This after making a public address during the height of the Fukushima fears, that his Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future would set the goal of 80% clean energy by 2035. Oh crap, in his plan nuclear IS clean energy! Well, that and drilling the Arctic. Great Jehoshaphat!
After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Vietnam suspended its nuclear plans for more than a decade, but after the Fukushima Disaster, Vietnam is pushing ahead with plans to start construction of its first reactor in 2014. –Enformable
Just weeks after receiving a federal construction license and now being challenged in federal court – by a lawsuit boosted by this week’s revelations about the Fukushima disaster – the first US nuclear power project in decades is suffering persistent problems that have already caused eight months of delays and are driving up costs. Meanwhile, contractors are arguing between each other and the plant’s owner about who should absorb millions in cost overruns – giant corporations or taxpayers and electricity customers. –NCWarn.org
Obama’s actions are reprehensible not only after seeing the worst-case scenario play out courtesy of Fukushima, but also after witnessing numerous technical difficulties in just the past year at aging U.S. reactors. Isn’t it a better moment to upgrade, safeguard, and enforce stricter regulations at the plants we already have? The pro-nuclear stance always seems to ignore the sticky realities of nuclear including: the very high cost; the broken-down plants that need billions to get back online; the NRC granting extensions to every plant that applies, regardless of their condition; the need for better contingencies regarding emergency back-up power; their potential inability to withstand large earthquakes or flooding; and finally the fact the industry still hasn’t figured out how to deal with the associated nuclear waste (only 4,000 tons of high-level, radioactive waste is stored at San Onofre though, so no worries there!). Have you watched the French documentary Nightmare Nuclear Waste? It’s a few years old, but believe you me, little has changed.
“We know we face extinction if nuclear war ever begins. But we face the same extinction even if the bombs never fall. The production alone of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons is initiating the death crisis of our species.” –Dr. Rosalie Bertell
So for many surfers, it was a bummer to hear that they wanted to build a nuclear power plant at one of the best waves in the world, Jeffreys Bay. Would it be too much to ask to at least try decentralized power via solar first – I mean, if South Africa isn’t prime for some self-sufficient power alternatives, where is? Check out this short flick on the situation, J Bay Nuclear Plant, featuring Kelly Slater. And check out pro-surfer Kyle Theirmann’s Surfing for Change, which is devoted to fun and activism – nothing wrong with that!
“Authorizing construction of new nuclear reactors without first constructing a radioactive waste disposal facility is like authorizing construction of a new Sears Tower without bathrooms.” –Dave Kraft, director of Nuclear Energy Information Service
People who care, including every surfer in the world (um, there are a lot of us), should devote a small part of their lives towards protecting wetlands, shorelines, surfing and camping spots, from pesticides, herbicides, run-off, concrete… and definitely from the insanity of nuclear plants, especially those on fault lines, in tsunami/tidal wave/hurricane zones, and at our treasured surf breaks.