Californians Consider a Future Without a Nuclear Plant for a Neighbor via The New York Times

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. — Residents of this quiet Orange County beach community often all but forgot about the hulking nuclear plant just south of the city limits.

But reminders, while infrequent, were jarring. The governor’s office mailed residents potassium iodide pills, to take in case of a radioactive leak. Emergency sirens occasionally sounded in the middle of the night (false alarms, residents were told). And anyone who drove south out of town was confronted with the plant’s looming twin domes.

But after nearly half a century living with a radioactive neighbor, San Clemente is now adjusting to a future without the San Onofre nuclear power plant, whose proximity has long shaped life here in ways big and small.

Last month, Southern California Edison announced that the nuclear plant, which was closed in January 2012 when a problem with its new steam generators led to a small leak of radioactive steam, would shut down for good.

Many residents rejoiced at this news, but San Onofre’s closing raises some uncomfortable questions for nearby towns that had relied on it as a source of cheap energy and jobs.

Worries about radiation poisoning, which increased here after the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, have suddenly been supplanted by more mundane concerns, like how much the cost of electricity will go up.

“For most residents, I think San Onofre was out of sight, out of mind,” Tim Brown, a San Clemente city councilman, said. “They took the power it generated for granted. Now that it’s gone, well, we’ll see how much it really does affect our lives.

“I anticipate it’s going to be tough for some folks,” he continued. “The plant was a large employer in town. It brought a lot of money and activity to our city. And the new normal is going to be ever-increasing power rates.”


Last week, when the power went out at Lily Tally’s home in San Clemente, she worried that erratic electricity service — especially in the summer, when demand for power is highest — would become more common. She said she and her husband were now planning to put solar panels on their house.

Still, she said she was relieved that San Onofre was closing. Interstate 5, the only road out of town, runs beside the plant’s trademark twin domes. So Ms. Tally and her husband kept their S.U.V. ready in case they needed a different escape route. They planned to drive with their two young sons through the nature preserve east of town.

“It was always in the back of my mind, especially with the earthquakes here,” Ms. Tally, 35, said. “Safety-wise, I do feel better now. But then there’s the ambivalence about having other sources of power that will cost more.”

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