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Initiative effort to close California nuclear plants faces Monday deadline; over 500,000 signatures needed

California Senator Barbara Boxer told the chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission she wants public hearings and an investigation before any restart of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The San Onofre nuclear plant has been offline since a radioactive leak from a damaged steam generator tube January 31, 2012. Southern California Edison has submitted a restart plan to the NRC.
Grant Slater/KPCC
The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is seen on April 6, 2012.

Sponsors of an initiative campaign are facing a Monday, April 16 deadline to qualify a measure for the 2012 November ballot, which, if approved, would shut down California’s two nuclear power plants. It's called the Nuclear Waste Act of 2012.

It would mandate that no nuclear power could be generated in California until the federal government can permanently dispose of high-level nuclear waste.

“One of the primary reasons to close nuclear power plants in California and anywhere is because of this poisonous waste they create," said Ben Davis Jr., sponsor of the initiative.

Davis said since there’s no waste repository, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant (in San Luis Obispo County) would be shut down if voters approved the measure.

But first, the measure needs slightly more 500,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Davis said he drafted the initiative that led to the closure of the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in Sacramento, which was closed in 1989. Now, he is spearheading another effort to close the only two nuclear facilities operating in California.

But the outcome hinges on getting the measure on the ballot. The grassroots campaign faces an uphill battle.

Davis said the group hasn’t accepted any donations or outside financing.

“It’s not looking as hopeful as I thought, but we had a great influx of interest due to the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster and the problems at the San Onofre nuclear plant,” said Davis.

Davis faults the state legislative analyst for hurting the signature-gathering effort.

“The legislative analyst said if the San Onofre nuclear plant went down, there would be rolling blackouts in Southern California and it would cost the state tens of billions of dollars."

Davis said he’s considering legal action over the LAO report.

“The fact that it was completely disproven wrong and had such a negative impact on the democratic process is scandalous,” Davis said. “I hope it serves as an example to Californians that this process needs to be reconsidered and democracy really needs to be ensured by making sure there are safeguards to keep this sort of thing from happening again.”

Despite the lack of a law degree, Davis has spent more than 20 years becoming what he calls a “legal scholar” by studying in public law libraries and making court appearances.

He said he will have a better idea before the end of the weekend how close the campaign is to getting the required 504,760 signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.