Carlos Martinez Rogel, 16, didn’t know what to expect as his school bus pulled up near the San Onofre nuclear plant in San Clemente on a recent field trip. He was about to become one of the few members of the public to ever enter the facility with the iconic domes, which closed in 2013.

“The one piece of information I did know was that nuclear power plants … are not a place to mess around in,” said the Norte Vista High School student. “I truly had no idea that the nuclear power plant would be like it was.”

With about 100 of his classmates and a handful of teachers, Rogel toured outdoor areas of the plant to learn about nuclear energy and the decommissioning process. The guided tour and educational presentations included information on how the plant works, safety, the environment, fuel storage and radiation protection. The students also viewed the plant’s switchyard and various buildings. 

As members of Norte Vista’s Green Construction Academy, the students are currently learning about clean technology and renewable energy careers in a classroom setting. But teachers like Elizabeth Velarde wanted to continue their learning in a real-world setting.

“We thought it was important to visit a nuclear power plant because of our curriculum focus on alternative energy and the intricate science of power and physics,” she said. “Additionally, it was extremely valuable to hear professionals from different sciences discuss all topics related to the plant.”

Velarde learned about the San Onofre tours through the nuclear plant’s website. Since last fall, the plant’s staff has conducted regular guided tours so community members can get a first-hand view of the plant.

The tours are held in addition to quarterly education fairs held so the public can get information on the decommissioning process and nuclear energy in general. The next education fair is scheduled for June 11.

In June 2013, Southern California Edison (SCE) announced the closure of the San Onfore nuclear plant. Currently, the plant is undergoing a 20-year decommissioning process.

“The community is now able to get up close and learn how everything works,” said Andi Murray, SCE program manager. “When people come and talk to us, they walk away feeling much more informed. Safety is always our top priority and underlines every interaction with the public.”

Rogel now has a better sense of what it takes to run a nuclear plant and the impact renewable energy has on Southern California.

“The most memorable aspect I learned about [the nuclear plant] was that it takes everyone working in harmony in order to have a working system,” he said.

“The tour was very well received by both teachers and students,” said Velarde. “The teachers that toured the plant stated repeatedly that they enjoyed the talks about measurement and safety.”