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Nuclear Power in the Wake of Japan: 2,452 Spent Fuel Assemblies Stored at San Onofre

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Southern California's San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has plenty of spent fuel on-hand, Fukushima-style.

There are 2,452 spent fuel assemblies from three reactors (one is being used only as storage) there, we're told, versus 4,685 at the ailing, radiation-spewing, six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan

Daniel Hirsch, a nuclear policy lecturer at the UC Santa Cruz, says the storage of spent fuel at nuclear power stations is not good news for folks in Japan or America:

"The meltdown occurring at Japanese reactors can happen. ... San Onofre is near (earthquake) faults that could trigger such an event," he tells Scripps Howard News Service. "The risk is not trivial."

The nuclear waste at Fukushima might be its biggest problem, as spent assemblies at its number four reactor might be producing more radiation than anything else there. The leftovers heat up and release hazardous material as a result of a lack of cooling, which must be constantly in place regardless of whether the fuel is in storage.

Cooling was disabled by power outages to primary and backup power caused by the quake and tsunami.

Could it happen here? Maybe.

The spent-fuel debate came to Sacramento today as the Senate Select Committee on Earthquake and Disaster Preparedness took on nuclear safety in the wake of Japan's earthquake-and-tsunami-triggered radiation crises.

As the New Yorker notes in a commentary for next week, Fukushimi was built to withstand a big earthquake and a major tsunami, but not both. Yet earthquakes are what trigger tsunamis.

And both could happen to San Onofre, just across the line from Orange County, too.

A study found a fault five miles offshore from San Onofre that could produce a quake greater than what the plant is rated to withstand (a 7.0). Not to mention the San Andreas fault to the east, which could do worse (although it would not produce a tsunami).

Not good news.


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