Coastal Commission approves more nuclear carriers in San Diego Bay over community objections

by Laura Hunter


n December 8, 1999, the Navy cleared a major hurdle in their efforts to locate two additional nuclear aircraft carriers in San Diego Bay. Led by Commissioner Christine Kehoe, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) voted to find the location of additional nuclear carriers here consistent with the Coastal Act. This action by the CCC was a disappointment, since a large majority of the Commissioners stated that they did not think that the Navy had met the standards of performance adequate to protect community safety and the environment. Unfortunately, Commissioner Kehoe asked the Commissioners to support the project based on the Navy's "responsiveness" and to trust them to bring back plans in the future. This was a serious setback to community efforts to get environmental and human health protections from the Navy, who, for the past five years have been completely nonresponsive on these issues.

The CCC has broad authority and responsibility to protect coastal resources of California. During the hearing, the Commissioners raised significant questions about the lack of emergency planning and response, the impacts of polluted runoff into the Bay, and lack of characterization of impacts from the heated water from the nuclear reactors on board the carriers. The emergency shutdown of the Stennis' reactors last month due to an intake of silt further fuels these concerns. The CCC ordered the Navy to provide additional plans and information before they will be allowed to proceed with construction. The next hearing is expected in April.

Even though the CCC requested that the Navy take additional steps to protect human health and the environment, Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) is very concerned that the Navy will use its considerable political influence to pressure elected officials and regulatory agencies, once again, to back down from their commitment to these important issues. It is important that members of the public concerned about the impacts of more nuclear carriers on our health and environment speak up and demand adequate protection for neighboring communities and the environment.


Emergency planning and response


In the event of a nuclear release, the Navy has a plan to shelter its base personnel within 5 minutes and evacuate the base in two hours. They have no comparable plan for the neighboring downwind communities of Coronado and downtown San Diego. The Navy stores potassium iodide (a drug that can protect against thyroid cancer in the event of exposure) for emergency personnel on the navy vessels, but refuse to supply it for the neighbors who might also be exposed. San Onofre has 51 warning sirens located in the community and has specific plans for outreach and training for downwind communities. The downwind neighbors of North Island Nuclear Megaport have none of these prudent, protective measures.

The Navy says it is the public's responsibility to plan for response to an accident caused by an naval reactor. We disagree. The Navy is bringing the threat into our community and it is incumbent on the Navy to provide for adequate, site-specific emergency response plans and notification systems for the public they are putting at risk. The CCC should demand that the Navy provide comparable emergency planning, warning systems, and protections for people living adjacent to naval nuclear reactors to those provided for neighbors of San Onofre.


Polluted runoff

  Unlike all of the commercial vessel-related industries around the Bay, the Navy still does not have a facility discharge permit under the National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) for operational discharges. The General Industrial Storm Water permit that does cover North Island is grossly insufficient and was never intended to be the only permit for as large an industrial operation as a Navy base. Commercial ship and boat yards around San Diego Bay have to meet requirements of diversion for the most toxic runoff and test for toxicity in order to protect San Diego Bay. Again, there are no such equivalent requirements for the Navy and they have, so far, refused to voluntarily comply with equal standards. The CCC should require the same standards of protection for the Navy as for private industry, including diversion of polluted runoff and toxicity testing.


Thermal impacts of cooling water

Each nuclear carrier has two nuclear reactors on board. Each reactor is approximately equal to 20 percent of a commercial reactor. The heated water from each carrier ranges between 4,000 and 170,000 gallons per minute, depending on its level of power generation. The impact of this heat on marine resources in San Diego Bay is unknown. Land-based commercial power plants in our region are heavily regulated. They are required to produce impact analyses and are held to discharge limits for both flow rates and heat level. But again, the same is not required of navy power plants. The CCC should demand an analysis of the impact of heated discharges from three or four carriers when in port at North Island, and set enforceable limits for both heat and flow rate of these discharges.

The theme is as clear as it is troublesome -- San Diego's environment is afforded less protection because it is host to nuclear Navy vessels. As more nuclear carriers come to San Diego Bay, the problem will get worse.

Please contact Chairman Sara Wan and the Coastal Commissioners, 45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94105; fax (415) 904-5400; and strongly urge them to demand that the Navy produce these protections in the next hearing and before construction is allowed to proceed. Contact Environmental Health Coalition at (619) 235-0281 for more information on how to get involved in this issue or email Also, check out our website at