Advancing waters, receding beach: Swimmer Meghan at post once buried in sand up to top of concrete. San Onofre in background
Basilone Road, San Clemente, CA
Dave Franta lives your California dream. He surfs pretty-much full time. He can, because after 29 years as a firefighter, he has retired. He’s 59, looks 39, and doesn’t seem to have a worry in the world.
But the place we meet is San Onofre beach. San Onofre, where Southern California Edison had a “near-miss” event while in the process of storing a spent nuclear fuel canister by this beach last August 3. It was one of 73 canisters scheduled for burial, loaded with material that could be radioactive for as long as 250,000 years.
I came up here to see what people thought about this. Except, nobody wants to talk about such unpleasant possibilities. “We come here because it’s away from the world and its worries,” says this lady who’s stretched out in her bikini. “No boardwalk. No noise. Just the cliffs, the birds, and the ocean.”
Pristine and unpopulated, true. But she doesn’t mention the two domes just around the corner, and the maybe 20 blue-wrapped, upright, spent fuel containers standing nearby, waiting for burial. They look like Stonehenge.
Dave is cleaning up after a session on his surfing foil. Is he worried to be surfing so close to the equivalent of 700 nuclear warheads?
“Look, we have surfed here forever with the power plant working, with nuclear fission going on. And they’d have the alarms go off all of a sudden. Then they’d go ‘Well that was just a test.’ That could be freaky. But now the whole thing is turned off.”
Stonehenge? No: Unburied canisters storing “equivalent of 700 nuclear warheads.”
Maybe his sangfroid is because he has lived his life facing crises as a firefighter. “Where are you going to run to?” he says. “It’s one of those things that comes with the territory. If you’re worried about it, then don’t be here. That’s how I look at it.”
But as we talk, worries surface. “See these different rocks [in the cliff], the stripes, the different layers?” he says. “That’s one of the fault lines. There’s actually a San Onofre fault that runs through here. If you drive down to Trails, near the weigh station, as you walk Trail Three, you can actually see a line of where this [area] is cracking. Since the high tides, and the rains, about three years ago, everything is starting to pull apart.”
And this is where Southern California Edison chooses to bury their radioactive rods, with each waste container holding (says the San Diego group Public Watchdogs), “more radiation than was released at Chernobyl”?
Outflows: used to be buried, till cliff near power station collapsed
“Am I wild about where [Edison] are putting the [radioactive waste, 100 feet from this beach]?” Dave says. “No. I don’t think it should be there. Climate change? I don’t know, but we’re losing our beach. See this volleyball net? There used to be a whole ’nother volleyball net out there. All these rocks used to be covered with sand. I’m a very trusting person. I kind of have faith that whoever’s running that place knows what they’re doing. And yet see those drain pipes sticking out of the cliff? They used to be covered. The whole cliff face collapsed, two years ago. And this is where they want to bury nuclear waste?”