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Nuclear storage plan at San Onofre beach leaves out tribal voices

Beachfront Nuclear Wasteland in Southern California? Nuclear storage plan at San Onofre beach leaves out tribal voices, Indian Country Today  Dina Gilio-Whitaker • May 15, 2017

A controversial plan to temporarily store more than three million pounds of spent nuclear fuel 100 feet from one of Southern California’s most popular beaches, San Onofre, is meeting with fierce resistance from local communities, including tribal members. The problem for the Native population is that while the formal decision-making process systematically involved a wide variety of stakeholders including local and state governments, community groups, environmentalists, academics, military, and business, education, and labor leaders, tribal governments were excluded.

The Backstory

Halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, and with eight million people living within a 50-mile radius, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) looms above what is otherwise a pristine stretch of coastline. It is surrounded by San Onofre State Park, one of the state’s busiest parks, which sits within the Camp Pendleton Marine Base. San Onofre is the traditional territory of the Acjachemen people, who know the area as Panhe. Prior to colonization, San Onofre was also territory shared by the San Luis Rey Band of Mission Indians (Luiseño). Both are state-recognized tribes. All these factors mean there are many different people with strong opinions about nuclear waste storage near their communities.

The aging “nuke plant,” as local residents call it, is owned primarily by Southern California Edison, and was permanently shut down in 2013 after a discovery that it was leaking radioactive gas. It is scheduled for full decommissioning; at issue is how and where to store the accumulated radioactive waste in the short term before a long-term plan can be worked out.

“To the best of our knowledge, our tribal government was never contacted by Edison,” Rebecca Robles, Acjachemen tribal member and co-director of the United Coalition to Protect Panhe, told ICMN. Other local tribal leaders declined to comment……

Spent fuel rods currently stored in cooling pools in SONGS’ two reactors need to be removed to dry storage, which according to studies is safer. SONGS planned to move more than 100 steel casks encased in concrete containers and bury them onsite just 100 feet from the high-tide mark in an area already plagued by erosion. In addition, ocean levels at that site are rising faster than expected, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey. Google Earth images highlight the reason that residents are so alarmed by the location of the storage, as the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

With increased awareness of the issue has come increased public criticism. Critics believe burying the waste so close to the beach in an earthquake-prone region is a recipe for disaster, in light of the 2011 Fukushima catastrophe, according to the Orange County Register.

They also believe that the 5/8-inch steel casks that SONGS plans to use are far too flimsy, according to a report by the citizen group San Onofre Safety.

Because SONGS is in the coastal zone it is subject to California Coastal Commission rules, and was granted a permit by the commission to temporarily store the waste for 20 years. In November 2015 the community watchdog group Citizen’s Oversight filed a lawsuit against the Coastal Commission, demanding that the permit be revoked and another site found, Reuters reported. Citizen’s Oversight and the state are now negotiating a settlement, Fox 5 News reported on April 7.

Decisions Made Without Tribal Input……. State law AB 52 requires consultation with tribal governments before it issues permits for development-related projects, prompting questions about why local Native nations weren’t consulted in this case……

It remains to be seen if or how the lawsuit negotiations will affect the location of the waste storage site. No matter what happens, however, this is only the beginning stage of the interim storage at SONGS and there will be a need for the Community Engagement Panel for years to come to monitor the issue. That means there is still plenty of reason for a tribal appointment.https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/environment/beachfront-nuclear-wastelandsouthern-california/

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May 22, 2017 - Posted by | indigenous issues, USA, wastes

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