Categoria: climate

As San Onofre Comes Down, Bill Would Allow Small Reactors To Go Up

It was mid-December. The truckload of demolition debris was all loaded up and ready to depart the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

But before it could be released into the wild, radiation levels had to be checked several times to ensure they weren’t above “normal background.”

The needle on the hand-held meter twitched. Radiation levels were slightly above normal background.

“Material and equipment shall not be released from radiological controls if they are contaminated with plant-related radioactive material that is distinguishable from background,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in its most recent inspection report for San Onofre. “This two-step survey process was implemented, in part, to help prevent the accidental release of contaminated material.”

The truck returned to a restricted area for offloading. Workers found contaminated “radwaste discharge piping” that had been improperly marked. The remaining debris was scanned for radioactivity and cleared, while the recovered piping was “properly dispositioned as radioactive material,” the inspection report says.

The tear-down of a nuclear plant is a sensitive thing, and redundant checks are built into the process. They worked exactly as they were supposed to here, the NRC said. Southern California Edison’s demolition contractor completed a “condition report” to pinpoint the causes of the error and figure out how to keep it from happening again.

SOURCE: Southern California Edison As San Onofre comes down piece by piece — the reactor vessels are being sliced up, the turbine buildings demolished, the racks removed from spent fuel pools and pressure-washed to remove “gross contamination” — the nuclear industry is positioning itself as the bridge from a fossil fuel past to a renewable energy future.

It comes a bit late for San Onofre and Southern California.

Nuclear bridge The need for a better energy transition strategy has been driven home by skyrocketing natural gas prices in California and painful monthly bills.

Nuclear energy is “absolutely critical” to addressing climate change, the U.S. Department of Energy insists, and the NRC recently gave the thumbs up to a small modular reactor (SMR) design that has many in the industry excited for the “nuclear renaissance” that always seems just around the corner, but never quite arrives.

Why? Partly because many states ban the construction of new nuclear plants — including California, which says “no new nukes!” until the feds figure out where to put all that radioactive waste. Millions of pounds of spent fuel will remain on San Onofre’s bluff, entombed in concrete and steel, long after the last pieces of its reactors are carted away.

Pacific Gas and Electric’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant in Avila Beach. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant, File) But, as Diablo Canyon gets a life extension to help bridge this nettlesome energy transition (it’s the Golden State’s only operating nuclear power plant), California may join the states that are reconsidering.

Bills to allow new nuclear construction have been introduced all over the country, including in West Virginia, Connecticut, Oregon, Minnesota and Illinois. Here in California, Assembly Bill 65 would exempt small modular reactors from the state’s ban.

Folks in Orange County are inclined to agree. Fifty-seven percent of residents said we should revisit nuclear energy in the last Orange County Annual Survey out of Chapman University — but, of course, they don’t want those nuclear plants near their homes.

Small is beautiful? “Under existing law, it is the policy of the state that eligible renewable energy resources and zero-carbon resources supply 100% of all retail sales of electricity to California end-use customers and 100% of electricity procured to serve all state agencies by December 31, 2045,” says the Legislative Counsel’s digest of the bill.

If the state is to meet its ambitions goal, California must step up its game, a fact sheet on AB 65 says.

“Currently, California has a reliance upon imported energy production. In fact, California imports more electricity than any other state – about 30%, much of which is generated from harmful and unsustainable sources, such as coal-fired plants….

NuScale VOYGR™ SMR power plant (SOURCE: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission) “To address these challenges, AB 65 would both expand the current energy portfolio by authorizing the development of SMRs within California, as well as require the Public Utilities Commission to adopt a plan to increase the procurement of electricity generated from nuclear facilities and to phase out the procurement of electricity generated from natural gas facilities.”

Small modular reactors offer advantages over conventional nuclear reactors and fossil fuel plants, it asserts: They have a smaller physical footprint, allow for greater flexibility in energy production, are cheaper and have enhanced safety and security designs. The PUC would have to adopt a plan to get more electricity from nuclear, and to phase out the procurement of electricity from natural gas, on or before Jan. 1, 2026.

Similar legislation was introduced in 2008, and 2019, and 2022. It never got far. This bill — by Assemblymember Devon Mathis, R-Porterville — is in committee. We aren’t holding our breath. But after $300 and $400 gas bills, Californians might be willing to take a look at next-generation nuclear.

Add to this the DOE’s renewed push to find temporary sites to store nuclear waste — it has set aside $26 million to help communities learn more about “consent-based siting” and management of spent nuclear fuel while it figures out the long-term solutions (which will have to involve deep geologic burial) — as well as a worldwide flirt with the possibility of clean fusion energy, and we find ourselves firmly in the 21st century.

So last century Meanwhile, the 20th-century technology that created San Onofre continues to disappear.

“While the decommissioning work may not be visible to passersby, for us at the plant, the site changes weekly,” said a recent update by Edison Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Doug Bauder.

Demolition work at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. (Image courtesy Southern California Edison) To wit: More than half of the buildings on site — 33 of 62 — have been demolished. More than 144 million pounds of waste has been shipped off-site. Cooling water intake systems have been isolated, drained and cleaned out. Racks have been removed from the Unit 2 spent fuel pool.

Once all the racks are removed from that pool, work will start on the racks from the Unit 3 pool, according to the NRC. Then the remaining water from the two pools will be drained, processed “and released in accordance with the Offsite Dose Calculation Manual.”

Meanwhile, the contractor doing the demo work will do a better job of clearly marking potentially contaminated pieces and parts, said Edison spokesman Dave Eisenhauer. The piping had been identified as potentially contaminated, but could have been better marked, he said.

The marking color for radioactive and potentially radioactive pieces: Magenta.

Striking color or no, it would be hard for a contaminated piece to slip off-site unnoticed. In the initial check, a radiation tech uses a handheld monitor to sweep the truck the load. That’s when the above-background level was found in this instance, Eisenhauer said.

Trucks are also scanned as they drive through a large truck monitor, and are scanned again by a handheld monitor before leaving the site, he said. Once they arrive at recycling centers, loads are scanned again before they’re accepted.

“There are several checks, and those systems worked as intended,” he said.

But, going forward, expect more generous use of magenta.

SOURCE: Southern California Edison

Climate Action Corps Expands, Paying More Californians To Fight Climate Change

Inside a small warehouse, tucked behind a shuttered pawn shop in the heart of Hollywood, Crystal Lipps took the handle of a large black rolling cart loaded with donated boxes of carrots, bananas and other fresh food that once would have been destined for a landfill.

The 25-year-old guided the cart into a refrigerated room, where the food would be stored until one of 40 local nonprofits swung by her Hollywood Food Coalition site to “shop” for ingredients to help feed hungry people throughout Los Angeles.

Lipps is part of the second cohort of 112 annual fellows in the California Climate Action Corps, which is the first such state-level initiative in the nation. The program uses a combination of state, federal and private funds to pay $30,000 in stipends and $10,000 toward college tuition or student loan debt to state residents who help lead climate-focused efforts in communities throughout the state. Lipps is about halfway through her 11-month stint, which she described as a “gap year” of sorts, after graduating from UC San Diego. She’s said the work is helping her bank experience, network and narrow down what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

California Climate Action Corps fellow Crystal Lipps sorts food in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb 21, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

California Climate Action Corps fellow Crystal Lipps sorts food in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb 21, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

California Climate Action Corps fellow Crystal Lipps sorts food in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb 21, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

California Climate Action Corps fellow Crystal Lipps sorts food in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb 21, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“I feel like I’ve gained so much valuable knowledge,” the Riverside native said. “I think it’s a great opportunity, especially if you’re not sure what you want to do.”

California Volunteers, a team in the governor’s office that runs the program, is now recruiting people to serve summer and full-year positions that will start in the fall. And with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed January budget calling to double the previously announced $4.7 million in funding for California Climate Action Corps — even as funds for other climate efforts may shrink as inflation strains state revenues — the team aims to offer positions to even more fellows for the upcoming terms.

“We’re living in the middle of an existential crisis with climate change,” said Josh Fryday, chief service officer for California, who oversees service projects for the state.

“People want to take action. They just need to be given the opportunity to do that.”

Newsom created the program by executive action in 2020, and the first teams were recruited, trained and deployed in 2021.

California modeled the initiative after the federal service program AmeriCorps, which places more than 200,000 people each year to support a broad range of organizations across the nation. The climate corps similarly partners with government agencies, nonprofits and colleges, but it focuses on placing fellows where support is needed for programs that can have a positive impact either on slowing climate change or lessening the climate crisis’ impact on Californians.

That includes food recovery efforts, like the one Lipps champions to ensure viable food makes its way to hungry people or to compost piles instead of adding climate-warming methane to the atmosphere as it rots in the landfills. Other climate corps fellows are supporting wildfire prevention and recovery projects, efforts to boost green spaces in urban communities, and programs to educate their communities about climate issues.

Interest so far has been solid on both ends. California Volunteers reports 1,726 applications to date, with about five applications for every position available in the past two full-time terms. And Fryday said they got about three to four times as many requests from organizations wanting help as they had workers to fill the slots.

Phil Meister, who oversees the Hollywood Food Coalition site where Lipps and another fellow work, said the pair have helped his team think more about how diverting food waste from local restaurants, grocery stores and warehouses not only helps needy residents but also how it can positively affect climate change.

“It was truly a night and day difference once they started,” Meister said. And — standing in front of a chalkboard with sketches of produce and Star Wars characters and words of encouragement for supporters — he said they’d jump at the chance to get more fellows for the year ahead.

In Southern California, 180 fellows so far have served with 42 host partners in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, from the Koreatown Youth and Community Center to the city of Long Beach.

Together, fellows in those four counties so far have planted, maintained or given away 141,860 trees, per data from program leaders. They’ve diverted more than 1 million pounds of food or organic waste, helping to get 732,110 pounds of recovered food to people in need. They’ve also worked with more than 4,000 community volunteers to put in 18,424 hours of climate action work and helped launch Long Beach’s first Climate Ambassador Program.

Kali Krishan, 22, is serving this year as a fellow with University of Redlands doing work focused on urban greening. That’s included planting trees in lower income parts of Redlands, which tend to have less shade and therefore are more vulnerable to health impacts during increasingly severe heat waves. Krishan said she’s also enjoyed talking with people in the community, sharing information about native plants and public gardening. And she’s particularly proud of efforts to turn part of the university’s garden into a space that pays homage to local Native Americans.

Krishan said she wasn’t quite sure what direction to head when she graduated last spring from UC Riverside with a dual-major degree in environmental science and applied mathematics. She thought about going directly into a masters program, but felt she first needed to take a step back.

“It’s only experience that can help show what kind of roles I prefer vs roles I don’t like as much,” she said. “Schooling doesn’t necessarily do that.”

Plus, Krishan said she finds the work fulfilling.

It’s not, however, going to fill anyone’s bank account.

“You certainly don’t do the program to get rich,” Fryday acknowledged.

Finances are tight for Lipps. She has two roommates at her place in East L.A. But once she finishes the program, she’ll get $10,000 to help pay off her student loan debt. She owes about $22,000, and the money from the state will take a big weight off her shoulders. She said she never would have been able to pursue this sort of work without the climate corps stipend.

With cost of living in mind, Fryday said his team pushed to make both the annual stipend and school scholarship a few thousand dollars higher in California than the federal payments for AmeriCorps volunteers. They also try to place fellows in their home communities, so they can tap into support from family and friends if needed.

That’s what Krishan does. Since she’s able to live with her parents, she said she’s been comfortable on payments that work out to about $1,400 every two weeks.

Year-long fellows also get health insurance and may be eligible for child care and food stamp benefits. They also can receive training and professional development. And Fryday said it’s been exciting to see that experience translate into new careers for former fellows.

During a recent Climate Action Day in San Diego — where the corps brings hundreds of volunteers together to tackle a big project at the request of local cities or organizations — Fryday said a young man tapped him on the shoulder. He told him he participated in the pilot program back in 2021, then got a job with the Audubon Society.

President Joe Biden tried to champion a new federal Civilian Climate Corps, which would have paid tens of thousands of young people to help fight climate change. The concept was in the version of the Inflation Reduction Act passed by the House, but it was stripped away before the bill got through the Senate and become law in late 2021.

Other states are following California’s model, though, with similar climate corps programs taking off in more than a dozen other states from Maine to Colorado.

For Californians, applications are open online for all ages interested in serving 1,700 hours between Sept 18, 2023 and Aug. 15, 2024. California Volunteers also is taking applications for a summer program, which includes a $5,294 stipend plus $1,374 school award for anyone who serves at least 300 hours between June 5 and Aug. 4. Applications received by May 15 will get priority consideration, though agency spokesperson Shaleeka Powell said they’ll accept them on a rolling basis until every slot is full.

The California Climate Action Corps also offers tips online for climate action that anyone can take at home and it helps connect residents with one-time or recurring volunteer opportunities. Options can be filtered and searched by ZIP code on their website,

Tree Warriors Halt LA Plan To Destroy Up To 13,000 Trees For Sidewalk Repairs

Trees of Los Angeles can let out a deep breath of fresh oxygen after a recent court ruling halted the City of L.A.’s plan to chop down as many as 13,000 shade trees citywide, in the name of sidewalk repairs.

The Los Angeles Superior Court Mitchell Beckloff sided with tree advocates and declared the Environmental Impact Report for the city’s proposed repair program “fundamentally flawed” in late January.

The lawsuit was filed by advocates from Angelenos for Trees and United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles who were distressed by the plan to kill thousands of trees without considering alternative repair methods that would preserve trees.

“We saw that they were proposing to remove over 12,000 trees and we felt that that was excessive. Other cities manage their sidewalk tree conflict easily and for whatever reason L.A. does not,” said said Jeanne McConnell of Angelenos for Trees.

The city argued that its sidewalk repair program and associated tree removals was a justified effort to comply with the Willits settlement — a 2016 class action settlement that requires the city to spend $1.4 billion to improve its sidewalks and walkways for those with disabilities.

“The city decided to prepare a new ordinance, the Sidewalk Repair Program, to protect the urban forest as much as possible while streamlining procedures so as to not hinder implementation of the Willits Settlement,” wrote then-City Attorney Mike Feuer in a July 2022 response to the petition filed against the city.

“As the comprehensive EIR is more than amply supported by substantial evidence, none of Petitioners’ claims have merit,” said the city’s attorneys.

Judge Beckloff, however, disagreed. He ruled that the EIR failed to thoroughly examine the impacts to wildlife and the environmental consequences of trading mature trees for young replacement trees.

His ruling grants trees a temporary reprieve from the chopping block.

Advocates say it’s a good thing for residents, too. The presence of trees in a neighborhood helps cool the temperature, lower electricity bills, clean the air, increase biodiversity and has even been shown to reduce crime, said McConnell.

The city may now appeal the court’s decision, create a new EIR to address the problems identified, or return to the drawing board with a new sidewalk repair plan.

Attorneys Jamie Hall and Sabrina Venskus, who represented the advocates, said they recognize the dire need for sidewalk repairs and hope the city opts to redo the plan.

“They can say ‘You know what? These things that we said were infeasible alternatives, we have now determined that they’re feasible’,” said Hall. “Like maybe meandering the sidewalks (around trees), building sidewalks out of different materials that are more flexible, using more root pruning.”

Tree advocate Joanne D’Antonio pictured with one of the oak trees she helped to preserve near Magnolia Blvd in North Hollywood, CA, Friday, February 10, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG) McConnell said Santa Monica, Pasadena, Ojai, Portland, Seattle, New York are all cities where local governments have managed to balance sidewalk repairs and tree preservation.

In addition to the environmental benefits, advocates also say that there is an economic and racial justice imperative to save trees.

“In low-income communities, street trees play a more important role than they do in communities that have high canopy cover,” said Hall. “If you look to South L.A. or other areas, you’ll see far less green and that’s because there’s more apartment complexes, there’s multi-family units, and also where there are single-family homes there’s not as many trees.”

Environmentalist and tree advocate Lynetta McElroy has been fighting for years to draw attention to the shortage of trees in predominantly Black communities in Los Angeles like her own.

“I am huge on planting trees in every community, especially here in South L.A. where we really need it,” she said.

While this was seen as a victory for trees and community members in South LA, McElroy said the problem has only worsened since then as new apartment complexes replace single family homes and their mature trees and greenery.

“We’ve seen how our State legislators along with developers are working hard to destroy communities and to put up lots of apartments, put up more concrete, thereby removing trees and greenery, which will make South LA a very hot, unlivable and unnatural area,” she said.

Trees play a major role in mitigating the urban heat island effect, in which buildings and paved surfaces trap heat and increase the temperature of a neighborhood.

“It’s been shown that under a tree canopy it can be 30 degrees cooler than the surrounding area,” said McConnell.

Jeanne McConnell with oak trees in North Hollywood, CA, Friday, February 10, 2023. McConnell participated in a lawsuit against the city of LA seeking to halt the planned removal of 13,000 trees in the name of sidewalk repairs. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG) The cooling effect of trees is especially valuable in the San Fernando Valley where McConnell lives and temperatures can be blistering during summer heat waves. Their presence can also help residents decrease their electricity bills by using less air conditioning.

Trees are also helpful in times of intense rainfall like Los Angeles experienced in January.

“When you have trees you’re less likely to have flooding as they capture vast amounts of water in their roots and then give it back to their leaves,” said environmentalist Joanne D’Antonio, adding that these leaves in turn will help clean the air.

D’Antonio is not a formal party in the lawsuit, but is a representative on the City’s Community Forest Advisory Committee. In this role she helped write a letter on the environmental impacts of tree removals, which the court cited in its decision.

CFAC members are particularly worried about the effects of tree removal on local and migratory birds.

“When a tree is removed it’s not ‘mitigation’ to plant two trees, because the birds don’t have the same services of a mature tree while those two trees grow,” said D’Antonio.

The letter from CFAC pointed out that the North American bird population had declined by 30 percent since 1970 and explained that because Los Angeles is “on the Pacific Flyway and trees provide nesting and foraging habitat, preserving (the) urban forest will have a profound impact on attempts at stabilizing bird populations.”

D’Antonio is also a supporter of using alternative sidewalk repair methods to preserve trees.

While the city has shied away from some methods — such as meandering sidewalks around trees — due to their price tag, D’Antonio pointed out that money could be secured for this under the urban forestry program of the new federal infrastructure bill.

“Street trees are the only city infrastructure that actually increases in value over time,” said attorney Sabrina Venskus in a written statement. “The (city’s) EIR pits mature street trees against repaired sidewalks, yet that is a false choice: other cities are able to preserve their mature street trees while ensuring safe sidewalks, and Los Angeles can too if it will make its urban forest infrastructure a priority.”