Hundreds showed up to the annual Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting Thursday night to hear an assessment of how safely the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station operated in 2010.
Residents—dozens of whom carried anti-nuclear energy placards—expressed their increased concerns that a disaster similar to the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima plant in Japan could cause a meltdown at San Onofre.
"We want to decommission San Onofre as soon as we can," said protest organizer and San Clemente Green founder Gary Headrick. "We realize it's a process, but we want the decision to be made right away."
Headrick cited , and other safety problems.
One of San Onofre's on-site NRC inspectors, Greg Warnick, told residents at the meeting that the plant's record was improving. He said that after 14,000 NRC man-hours of inspection over the course of 2010, he was confident that "San Onofre operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety."
, the plant's chief nuclear officer, told the public that plant officials are committed to keeping residents safe, though he acknowledged that there is still a way to go to before all of the NRC's requirements would be met and regulatory violations fixed.
Warnick said the commission focused on potential personnel problems throughout 2010 and found no major issues. More than a year ago, the NRC issued an inspection paper stating the programs San Onofre was implementing to address the problems were not working.
Plant Manager Tom McCool said detailed procedures are now in place to make sure workers feel comfortable reporting concerns, could easily identify errors and address them and using proper protocol.
Though there has been a sharp drop in the number of safety concerns reported by workers over the from the beginning of 2011 to now, Warnick said the NRC still got too many reports from San Onofre.
“San Onofre is the leader still in safety concerns reported to the NRC,” Warnick said. “So far we have not closed the human performance issues.”
But, he said, the plant has made progress even since January.
“When people feel free that they can raise concerns through all available avenues, especially their direct supervisors, that’s a sign of a healthy organization,” Warnick said.
Some 40 residents and plant workers signed up to speak during the public comment period, but only about 25 got to speak.
, who has been spearheading an effort by the City Council to get a seat at the table when it comes to decisions about the plant, outlined concerns about spent fuel stored at the plant site. She also asked for help paying to connect Avenida La Pata to the arterial street system in San Juan Capistrano.
would add a third escape route from town in the event of a nuclear disaster; the only evacuation routes now are the 5 freeway and Pacific Coast Highway.
Other residents were adamant that they wanted the plant shut down. Even the tiniest risk of meltdown, they argued, was too much.
"We want to shut down the San Onofre nuclear plant," said Nancy Nolan of San Clemente. "All nukes are unhealthy and dangerous to civilizations around the world."
Dana Point resident Jeffrey Scott agreed.
"As a resident in the area, I'm taking the risk and I don't feel like I've had a voice in the decisions regarding San Onofre," he said. "This is in a critical location near several earthquake faults."
Dietrich cited science that suggested the Christianitos Fault off the coast of San Onofre was called a "strike slip" fault, which is less risky than a "subduction" fault like the one off the coast of Japan.
Other speakers were plant workers who, themselves, attempted to assure the public their safety was in good hands. About six or eight speakers expressed their faith in nuclear power and the skilled workers at the plant.
Check back late Friday morning for video of the meeting.