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San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is jointly owned and operated by Southern California Edison, the City of Riverside, and San Diego Gas and Electric. San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has two working reactors that currently generate over 2250 megawatts, providing sufficient energy for one million residential and business customers. A third reactor (actually Unit 1) was shut down and decommissioned in 1992, and dismantled in 2008.

The facility is located near the beach for which it is named, next to the U.S. Marine Base at Camp Pendleton.

Safety Concerns

Although earthquake damage is a concern, unlike the Diablo Canyon facility SONGS is not situated near a fault line. Nonetheless, the building has been designed to endure an earthquake of at least 7.0 on the Richter scale.

In 2006, water near San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was found to contain tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Authorities at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission attempted to assure the public that the tritium did not pose a threat; however, the NRC also believed that SoCal Edison was aware of reactor leaks.

Health and Legal Issues

During the mid-1990s, SONGS was a named defendant in three cancer-related lawsuits. In the first two cases, it was workers themselves who had contracted cancer; in the third, the plaintiff claimed that his wife had contracted cancer as the result of radioactive material brought into the home on his person.

The third suit resulted in the assessment of a $100,000 fine against SONGS for failure to comply with safety regulations. None of these legal actions involved asbestos exposure, however.

Asbestos Risks

SONGS was only one of many industries that prior to the 1980s utilized asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in order to insulate machinery and structures. In power plants, much of the ACM was likely to be in the form of crocidolite, a bluish-colored type of asbestos that is particularly deadly and strongly implicated in the development of mesothelioma.

This particular form of cancer is aggressive, deadly and particularly difficult to diagnose. Not only does it have a long latency period, its early symptoms are similar to those of many other respiratory illnesses as well. It is not known if radiation exposure can exacerbate the effects of asbestos or not, but anyone who has him/herself been employed at SONGS or family members of an employee are advised to discuss this with a primary care physician and be checked whenever possible. New diagnostic tools now enable pathologists to detect the markers of such cancer at an early stage when it is most treatable and mesothelioma prognosis is most encouraging.

During much of the last century, it was typical for many industrial facilities to be constructed with the naturally occurring, fibrous mineral known as asbestos because it excelled at blocking fire. Although using asbestos was intended to reduce the risk of injury, it unfortunately often had the opposite effect: exposure to asbestos at jobsites has resulted in illness and death for untold numbers employees. The reason is that strands of asbestos, if inhaled, damage internal organs, leading to life-threatening health conditions including asbestosis and cancer. Also, job-related exposure to asbestos can lead to the deadly cancer known as mesothelioma disease, which affects the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma).

Because statistics have demonstrated the link between asbestos exposure and conditions such as lung cancer, 21st-century employees are protected by government regulations that prescribe how asbestos is handled. People who worked around job sites constructed with asbestos before such rules were implemented, on the other hand, usually spent their shifts in sites where asbestos fibers were prevalent, and they typically were offered very little guidance regarding how to work safely with the mineral. Family members were also exposed to asbestos when workplaces didn't provide ways for employees to wash off asbestos fibers, as employees carried asbestos dust to their homes in their work garments.

People who were employed at this site at any time in their job history, as well as their spouses and children, should learn more about these health conditions and tell their healthcare professionals about their history of contact with asbestos, because the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma can be mistaken for those of other, less serious conditions.


Business Wire (1995). James V. Southern California Edison Trial Begins.

Business Wire (1995). Children File Lawsuit for Wrongful Death of Father against Southern California Edison.

Energy Information Administration (2008). “San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, California.”

Lau, Angela (2006). San Onofre Shuts Down Reactors: Backup-Tank Gaskets Faulty. San Diego Union-Tribune.

McDonald, John and Pat Brennan (2006). “San Onofre Reactor Added to List. The Orange County Register.

San Diego Suburban News (2009). “Work Continues on San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.” Del Mar Times.

Southern California Edison (2009). Power Generation San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

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