Del Mar resident Cathy Iwane was elated when she learned Southern California Edison would permanently shut down the San Onofre nuclear power plant.
Iwane has fought the effort to restart the plant since she and her family fled Japan last year to escape the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Three days after Iwane signed a lease to a Solana Beach home, however, a small quantity of radioactive gas leaked inside one of the buildings at San Onofre.
“I thought, ‘Are we going to be living like gypsies?’” recalled Iwane, who now lives with her 13-year-old daughter in Del Mar. “Rather than running away from everything, I decided to see what’s available. Little did I know there was such a strong community of activists that devoted their lives to this.”
Iwane joined San Clemente Green, a grassroots group that advocated the permanent closure of San Onofre, and frequently shared her story during city council meetings and other events.
For 25 years, Iwane lived in Wakayama, Japan, which is 380 miles away from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. While her city wasn’t devastated from the nuclear accident, Iwane grew concerned for her family’s health when the Japanese government began burning radioactive debris in garbage incinerators around the country.
Iwane joined other concerned citizens to petition against the burning of waste in Wakayama. Although the petition was successful, Iwane said the government began burning debris in Osaka — about an hour away from Wakayama.
“Although it’s low-dose, this stuff goes into the air, it gets blown around by the wind and it rains down onto the people, onto crops,” Iwane said.
Iwane began testing her family’s food with a Geiger counter, a tool that measures ionizing radiation in the atmosphere. She found high levels of contamination in fish and trace elements of contamination in milk.
After discovering her younger daughter’s school lunches contained ingredients from northeastern Japan, Iwane began preparing homemade lunches. The school administrator, Iwane said, told her not to alert the other parents of her findings.
“My daughter was forced to tell her classmates that she had a food allergy,” said Iwane, who worked as an English teacher and volunteered as a PTA member at the school. “For me, that was like a stake in the heart. We’ve worked together, you trusted me, I entrusted my children to you, and now you’re telling me to suppress my research?”
Although San Onofre is now closed, Iwane’s activist work is far from over. Safely decommissioning the plant is next on her list of priorities.
“Shutting down San Onofre is so wonderful, but our work has only just begun,” Iwane said. “Let’s try to decommission this plant so that we do not end up with a nuclear waste dump.”