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San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. File photo
Community CommentaryOpinion

Commentary: The oil spill is bad. So is deadly contamination you can’t see or smell

By Bart Ziegler

On the topic of environmental disasters, could you imagine trying to deal with contamination from a far deadlier kind of waste that you can’t see or smell and that remains toxic for hundreds of thousands of years?

As details of the Orange County oil spill continue to unfold, globs of tar are washing onto San Onofre State Beach beneath the shadow of a shuttered nuclear power plant where Southern California Edison is storing 3.6 million pounds of radioactive waste 100 feet from the ocean.

Reporting on the oil spill has us drawing comparisons and thinking about the state of nuclear waste safety.

Take corrosion, for instance.

Investigators suspect a ship’s anchor damaged a pipeline serving the oil platform Elly off of Huntington Beach but blame corrosion for weakening the steel and contributing to the failure.

About 40 miles to the south, the waste stored at San Onofre is packed in 123 thin-walled, steel canisters. Some of the canisters suffered gouging when lowered into storage. The scratches will only hasten corrosion, cracking and leakage.

In Orange County, investigators are blaming Houston-based Amplify Energy for waiting 15 hours to report the oil spill. Later, the company’s CEO was evasive and offered conflicting information to the press.

At San Onofre in 2018, we will never forget the near-miss accident at the nuclear waste facility, which came to light only after a whistleblower reported it.

Obfuscation by Southern California Edison and Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher comes from the same playbook, which puts profits ahead of people, ignores advances in renewable energy and refuses to acknowledge damage that mishaps from oil extraction and mismanagement of nuclear waste could inflict upon our environment and economy.

At the Amplify facilities in Orange County, years of emergency response planning failed to avert the catastrophic release of at least 126,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean.

At Edison’s seaside nuclear waste dump, how can we trust that an emergency response plan — to the extent that one exists — will reliably protect the environment and people from a radiological release?

Rep. Mike Levin, who has introduced a bill to ban new offshore drilling leases along the Southern California Coast, estimates that ocean-related industries in Orange and San Diego counties account for nearly $7.7 billion dollars in economic activity and support more than 140,000 jobs.

Whether or not you can see or smell the contamination, it’s time to rethink oil drilling and nuclear waste storage on our coastline.

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Bart Ziegler, PhD, is president of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation.