Shouts and heckling broke out frequently at a public meeting the city of San Clemente hosted Tuesday to hear from nuclear officials about lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Many residents and out-of-town anti-nuclear advocates came to the meeting officials representing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and a local emergency response group.
A second meeting will be held Oct. 11 to host the experts, brought in by San Clemente Green in coalition with other local environmental groups.
About a dozen audience members walked out early in the meeting, calling it a "circus" and other epithets. Others sat in the front row with red duct tape over their mouths in protest of the meeting's agenda.
An official from the, an emergency response group, also addressed San Clemente City Council and the public about disaster planning and evacuation concerns.
NRC Lessons Learned from Fukushima
Elmo Collins, regional director for the NRC, talked about .
Collins said the recommended evacuation zone will remain 10 miles from around a plant, rather than the 50 miles suggested for a short time during the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. He said the 50-mile advisory came as the disaster unfolded, when it seemed the spent-fuel pools—water tanks keeping fresh waste cool before more permanent storage—had been compromised.
If water levels drop, the pieces of waste fuel can react with each other an spew heat and radiation.
That was not the case in Fukushima, however. But as a result of the confusion, the NRC has recommended the installation of monitoring gauges in the pools so operators aren't working blind as they had to in the Fukushima disaster.
Also, Collins said that reviews conducted after Fukushima showed that extra security and redundancy implemented after the 9/11 terrorist attacks would have been useful in an emergency similar to Fukushima's.
Collins also said that the magnitude of a potential earthquake was less important that how close it was to a plant.
"A smaller earthquake a mile from the plant would have more effect than a larger, more remote earthquake," he said.
The real measure on which to base design standards was potential ground-speed acceleration in the immediate vicinity of the site. San Onofre plant is built to withstand a ground-speed acceleration of .67 Gs (referring to the surface shaking at .67 times the force of gravity). This is more than the ground acceleration measured at Fukushima.
SONGS Officials' Lessons Learned from Fukushima
The plant's chief nuclear officer, Pete Dietrich, said that the Fukushima disaster indicated that SONGS' placement of a seawall and the elevation and protection of its emergency backup equipment were crucial in preventing a Fukushima-like disaster.
"I think it's important to point out that there has to be a significantly larger number of things to fail in U.S. reactor design as opposed to the Japanese reactor design," he said.
Dietrich said the top of the San Onofre seawall measures 30 feet from sea level at low tide (though opponents point out that it's only 14 feet above the footpath, making the elevation shorter at high tide).
Furthermore, he said, during the construction of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, a natural 45-foot seawall had been removed to install the large components.
He pointed to the protected Onagowa plant north of Fukushima.
"Where the wall was left intact, the plant survived and, in fact, became a gathering place for people where there was electricity," Dietrich said. "Onagowa was closer to the epicenter than Fukushima."
Dietrich also pointed out that the worked as anticipated
He called the event a "full-load reject," meaning the plant is operating at full capacity, and then the grid fails, and the heat in the reactors has no place to go.
During this event, automatic cooling water systems hooked up to the plant's diesel generators started their chain of events for what is called a "cold shutdown," which happened within 24 hours, as planned. The plant was up and running within the next couple of days.
SONGS officials also talked about a
Gary Headrick, head of San Clemente Green, and other anti-nuclear power advocates often interrupted and shouted questions to the officials as they made their presentations. Headrick was once scolded by Mayor Lori Donchak.
"Gary, you're an opinion leader in this city, and I need you to set an example," she said.
Headrick said in an interview during a break in the meeting, "I feel compelled to be a little rude," because, he said, there should be experts brought in by his and other environmental groups to debate the NRC and nuclear plant officials.
"It's really important for people to know that there are close calls happening all the time," Headrick said.
He cited a recent San Onofre incident in which an I-beam dropped into one of the spent-fuel pools, striking the racks that hold the fresh nuclear waste.
Dietrich said that the racks were not damaged and that the device did not strike spent fuel. Collins said earlier in the meeting that not only do spent-fuel pieces have to be cooled, but they also have to be held in the pools at a certain distance apart from other pieces of spent fuel to prevent adverse reactions.
But it was the official line that Headrick hoped his experts would rebut with arguments demonstrating the level of danger the I-beam incident caused—one of the reasons he said the residents and anti-nuke advocates were frustrated the meetings were split up.
The meeting was a reaction by council to the