The San Onofre Nuclear Plant Is a Disaster

How an ‘ancient landslide’ keeps threatening a railroad, homes in San Clemente


This is the second in a series of three stories about how the San Onofre nuclear plant has been threatened by an earthquake-like threat that could make it the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history.

SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. — When the San Onofre nuclear plant closed in 1986, it seemed a permanent, if distant, fate to many residents on the winding streets of this seaside community.

A series of tsunamis, once almost annually to the west, sent a torrent of water into San Clemente Creek, which runs down the middle of the island and into the ocean. The waters were so high that when they receded, they left behind a few dead fish, including a few that had washed up on the beach.

But the problem did not go away. The waters from the Pacific Ocean kept rising, washing inland and flooding the community even as the waters receded.

The plant, built in 1957, had been the largest single source of the nation’s electricity by 1965, and by 2000, it supplied nearly 25 percent of the power for California. It was a main source of electricity on the island of Oahu when a destructive earthquake struck on April 18, 2011.

Now the plant has been re-opened, but some here say they have lost faith in its ability to continue to work. More troubling, at night, some residents see a flash of light like a burst of lightening and hear a dull roar like the aftermath of a nuclear blast, and they hear nothing else.

At first, the plant seemed to be functioning normally at the start of summer, when the wind blew consistently from the same direction as it had when the plant was first ordered up. But in the last couple of weeks, the plant has been plagued by a series of seismic “moons,” which have been detected on the seismic sensors.

On May 23, which was exactly 18 years after the plant first opened and exactly one year after the last major quake, there was a series of seismic moons on the sensors; there were up to five in a row.

On May 26, there was a second series of 5 seismic moons, and on May

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