Is Trestles the Next Fukushima?

Matt Rott

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Updated 79d ago

Nuclear power is a paradox. On the one hand, it appears to produce electricity much more cleanly than traditional fossil fuels. While mining uranium and other radioactive materials is hardly eco-friendly, the actual process of producing power seems at first glance to be cleaner, at least when it comes to air pollution.

But whenever there’s a “one hand,” there’s always another, and in the case of nuclear power that other hand involves containing radioactive material, and storing radioactive waste. And if Fukushima taught us anything, it’s that when nuclear power goes bad, it goes bad in a big way.

Mainstream media has largely forgotten about the Fukushima disaster, distracting us with enough political controversies and celebrity hijinks that our focus has gone elsewhere. But that hasn’t changed the situation in Japan, where radiation from Fukushima continues to filter into the ocean.

After all, the nuclear waste at the plant in Japan has to be cooled to keep it from melting down, and the water that is used to cool it has to go somewhere.

And although the online chart that was so popularly used to depict the spread of radiation from Fukushima a few years ago turned out to be misleading (what that chart actually showed was the tsunami propagation from the earthquake), there are still a lot of people in the US who are concerned about the spread of radiation across the Pacific toward the western seaboard—and rightly so.

Seen this one knocking around? Not everything turned into a pretty graphic is going to be correct.

Seen this one knocking around? Not everything turned into a pretty graphic is going to be correct.

But what many people don’t realise is that another potential Fukushima sits squarely in the middle of the California surf scene. The nuclear power plant in San Onofre has been an eyesore and a potential danger for surfers at Trestles and San O for decades, but is one that most of us have become desensitized to.

The plant was decommissioned a few years ago due to potential issues with safety, and since then our attention has drifted elsewhere.

But the plant has been brought squarely back into the public eye over the past few months as a proposed interim storage facility for radioactive waste has been constructed approximately 100-feet from the shoreline.

Although this plan has been in the works for a few years, recent satellite images demonstrating just how close that facility is to the ocean has a lot of people concerned—especially when they consider that San Onofre sits right between two active seismic fault lines. Superior Court Judge Judith F. Hayes has agreed to hear arguments at San Diego’s Central Courthouse on April 14thWith these concerns having been raised over the past few months, Superior Court Judge Judith F. Hayes has agreed to hear arguments at San Diego’s Central Courthouse on April 14th.

Alternative storage sites have been proposed, and activists such as The Surfrider Foundation (which is headquartered just down the road in San Clemente) have spoken up. “The Surfrider Foundation is opposed to permanent or long-term storage of radioactive waste at the San Onofre site due to its proximity to the coastline, geological instability and location within a densely-populated area,” stated the organization recently. “We are actively engaged in advocating to remove the waste as quickly as possible.”

This isn’t the first time that community members and activists have mobilized to “Save Trestles.”

The ongoing battle to stop the expansion of the 241 toll road through the San Mateo Creek watershed was finally resolved last year, when a deal was announced that the expansion would not encroach on the coastal region around Lower Trestles. But now the area finds itself facing another environmental threat, and it is uncertain how this situation will play out.

San Onofre power station closed in 2013. But what about the nuclear waste? Plans are to store it close to Trestles sparking fears that should it be disturbed by an earthquake, waste could spill into the sea.

San Onofre power station closed in 2013. But what about the nuclear waste? Plans are to store it close to Trestles sparking fears that should it be disturbed by an earthquake, waste could spill into the sea.

Regardless of what ends up happening on April 14th, the reality is that a lot of people live in Southern California—a lot of people who consume a lot of power. And as much as we try to dress it up, electricity is never clean.

While the community looks for ways to mitigate this most recent threat to it’s beloved coastline, we also need to be looking at ways to minimize our consumption of and dependence on manmade power.

After all, as much as we might hate the idea of radioactive waste or other pollutants near our playground, we consumers are the reason that the San Onofre Generating Station was built in the first place.


Matt Rott

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