San Onofre Nuclear plant
© Courtesy of SONGS
Laguna Beach will back San Clemente's appeals to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure that San Onofre doesn't replicate last year's disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 4 to 1 to send a letter to the commission requesting the resolution of public concerns before any consideration is given to extending San Onofre's operating license due to expire in 2022.

The letter had been requested by San Clemente Mayor Lori Donchak, but the action might be moot.

"Southern California Edison has not made a decision on whether we'll apply for renewal," said Edison spokesman Christopher Abel.

The majority of 14 speakers at Tuesday's meeting would be delighted if Edison immediately dismantled the plant, let alone opted not to renew the license.

Abel verified that 4,000 tons of high-level, radioactive waste are stored there.

"There is no way the plant should be storing waste material," said Kathleen Jepson-Bernier.

The regulatory commission is looking for off-site storage, but to date all of the country's 104 nuclear power plants store waste material on-site, Abel said.

"This is an old plant, and we need to shut it down right now," said Marni Magda. "California is sitting on a powder keg of nuclear plants on earthquake faults."

The plant sits on the coast in proximity to the active Newport-Englewood fault, vulnerable to the kind of earthquake and subsequent tsunami damage that devastated Japan.

"Whenever there is an earthquake in the area [of San Onofre], we hold our breath until we hear whether the plant has been affected," Jinger Wallace read from a letter signed by Ginger Osborne on behalf of Village Laguna.

"We've been lucky for 30 years, but the recent massive earthquake at the Japanese nuclear facility reminds us that we may not always be so blessed."

Former Laguna Beach Democratic Club President Audrey Prosser said the plant shouldn't exist. She claimed it only supplies 5% of California's energy and isn't needed.

"We wouldn't miss it if each of us exchanged two light bulbs," Prosser said.

Another speaker suggested the plant might provide 7% of the state energy.

Laguna Beach residents and officials also expressed dissatisfaction with the commission's evacuation plan.

Drafted in 1982 without consulting the city, the plan designated Laguna as a shelter area, meaning the local population should just hang out - "shelter in place" - while residents within a 10-mile radius of the plant high-tail it.

The California Department of Emergency Services has estimated that a melt-down could contaminate 16,000 square miles of land, which doesn't bode well for Laguna, speakers said.

"It is important to send a message that unless issues are resolved, there should be no consideration of an extension," said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger. "We need to get the waste off-site and an evacuation plan put in place.

"If not, the plant needs to close."

Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson voted against sending the letter to the regulatory commission until the council, or at least she, was better informed.

Abel asked the council members to tour the plant and hear a presentation before sending a letter to the commission but did not sway the council majority.