Southern California environment news and trends

No nuclear leak at San Onofre isn't necessarily no problem

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David McNew/Getty Images

Steam rises between reactors 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, Calif.

Authorities say there is an ammonia leak at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Southern California, and San Diego County's emergency operations center has been activated.

Officials quickly said the ammonia leak posed no threat to the public, and stressed that no radiation has leaked. An alert, under federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission designations, is the second lowest of 4 designations for unusual events at nuclear plants in the United States. 

But an ammonia leak that's being contained still could create respiratory problems for people in the area. That's likely why SoCal Edison workers in the vicinity of the spill evacuated the area. Among the acute health impacts: Dizziness, skin irritation, and nausea. 

The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is a "polluter" under federal and state law; it tells local regulators how it operates normally, and receives permission to do that. When something not normal happens, the power plant's operators must tell regulators. 


Is fee amnesty a business boon, or free air pollution?

You may have never heard of it, but Rule 310 - from the South Coast Air Quality Management District - lets businesses come in from the cold when they increase their emissions and don't report themselves to the AQMD. It's a suspension of fees and requirements for certain businesses for equipment it installs that relates to air pollution.

Depending on what equipment a facility adds - the cost savings could range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The AQMD's release points out that businesses "must pay the regular permitting fee with their application and comply with all other applicable air quality rules and regulations, including the requirement that new facilities use the cleanest air pollution control technologies available."

AQMD did this last year, too, from February through August. At the time, AQMD chair William A. Burke said, "It's important that we continue efforts to meet clean air goals and protect public health during these financially challenging times," Burke said "We want to work with businesses to make sure they are operating in compliance with air quality regulations without facing any additional financial burden at this time."