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Jon Foreman, the co-founder, lead singer and guitarist of San Diego band Switchfoot, plays a brief set at the Belly Up’s “Songs for S.O.N.G.S.” event. Photo by Lexy Brodt
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Nuclear waste takes stage at Belly Up event

SOLANA BEACH — The Belly Up was alive with singing, cursing and crusading at a three-hour Oct. 8 rally meant to raise awareness about safe nuclear storage at the now-defunct San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

About 500 people attended the free Monday night event.

Drawing its theme from 1960’s rallies and protests, the event brought together musicians and speakers from far and wide to comment and lament on the 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste currently being held at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), which was closed in June of 2013. Concerns escalated in August after the occurrence of a near-accident involving the movement of a canister containing spent nuclear fuel.

Chris Goldsmith, the president of Belly Up Entertainment, became aware of the plant operator’s ongoing plan to relocate and bury waste about 100 feet away from the shoreline after seeing a Facebook link posted by Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nonprofit that focuses on issues of nuclear safety.

“I thought when San Onofre closed the game was over,” Goldsmith said. “But when I saw (the post), I realized it was really half-time.”

Speaker Leona Morgan, an activist and representative of the Navajo Nation, speaks against nuclear waste dumping in the southwestern United States. Photo by Lexy Brodt

After teaming up with the Samuel Lawrence Foundation to host the rally, labelled “Songs for S.O.N.G.S.,” Belly Up had no problem finding people to speak or perform, Goldsmith said. The event coordinators were looking to host a night that would be “fun and entertaining and informative,” emulating an “old-fashioned protest style,” he said.

Goldsmith spoke at the start of the event in solidarity with the 11 invited speakers, many of whom urged increased public awareness and political involvement. For Goldsmith, the bottom line is: “We don’t want (nuclear waste) sitting right on the beach.”

“There are alternatives,” Goldsmith said. “That’s what tonight is about.”

The diverse group of speakers included city council members from Solana Beach and San Juan Capistrano, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a Fukushima evacuee and a representative of the Navajo Nation.

The seriousness of the discussion was punctuated by rallying calls (“this is bullsh*t!”) prompted by the event’s host, Chris Cote, and performances by about nine different musicians and musical groups, including Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman. The Shift, a local band out of Oceanside, penned the night’s theme song, “San Onofre Blues.”

Several speakers voiced concern about how nuclear waste might be affected by projected sea-level rise, as well as potential natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Ian Cairns, a former champion surfer from West Australia, is worried about the quality of the canisters being used to store the spent waste.

Artist Jimmy Ovadia, from National City, works on a piece throughout the “Songs for S.O.N.G.S.” event in the hopes of bringing additional awareness to the storage of nuclear waste at San Onofre. Photo by Lexy Brodt

“Every one of those canisters is a Chernobyl waiting to happen,” he said. “It’s on our electrical bills … If I’m paying for it, buy a Rolls-Royce canister.”

Although the event attracted its fair share of surfers, Becky Mendoza, with Changing Tides Foundation, urged that “this is everybody’s problem. It’s a global problem,” she said.

Speakers discussed possible alternatives to storing nuclear waste near the beach, such as transporting it to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, or to “the mesa,” a site just across the freeway on higher ground.

Tom Packard, a North County resident since 1987, heard there would be live music at the event, and was on his way. But he also came to get updated, and find out how to become more involved.

“The nuclear power plant at San Onofre has been an ongoing issue,” Packard said. “But it doesn’t get a lot of daily attention.”

For attendee Farley Ziegler, the event is “for anyone that lives in a beach metropolis with no exit plan,” she said.

“The S.O.N.G. situation is a nonpartisan issue,” said Ziegler.


Gino October 12, 2018 at 11:04 am

Folks who missed the live event can watch the entire show at

Liz shear October 11, 2018 at 3:36 pm

Great article. It was an inspiring night! 322 attendees signed up to take further action. Check out for ways to get involved. One correction: The Yucca Mountain National Repository site took 27 years to get ready, then was closed, because Nevadans don’t want it. As Chris Goldsmith says, “it’s like waiting for a unicorn.” There is no real alternative, but to store the waste locally. “Move it to the Mesa!”

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