As a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that flooded and damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, Ashley Serbus was enjoying a pleasant Southern California day working at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.


A month and a half after the Fukushima nuclear accident, Serbus is confident that the plant, which was commissioned in 1968, is safe.


"We have a design basis for anything that could happen," Serbus said from her home in Dana Point. "We're learning from the Fukushima event. We're safe where we're at."


While Serbus was quick to point out that she is not an official spokesperson for the facility, she shared general information about the structure and function of the plant.


Owned by Southern California Edison, the San Onofre nuclear plant uses nuclear energy from split atoms to create energy. The heat that's generated produces electricity, Serbus explained.


Nuclear plants such as San Onofre and Fukushima must have access to ocean water so that accompanying heat can be rejected "to satisfy the thermodynamic law."


"It's a close-looped cycle," she said. "We don't actually dump radioactive water."


In fact, nuclear plants are much more efficient than coal- or natural gas-fueled power stations, which are common in the United States. And San Onofre has been operating safely for 43 years. It has produced 2,200 megawatts virtually emission-free and saved 180 million metric tons of carbon emissions, according to Serbus.


"We don't put out any emissions," she said. "There's no carbon monoxide. The only thing we have to deal with is the nuclear waste."


Serbus attended Ranchero Middle School in Hesperia before going to Sultana High School, where she played basketball, volleyball and softball. She was a class valedictorian. Afterward, she attended the University of Redlands, where she majored in physics and played on the softball team. She transferred to Cal Poly Pomona, where she majored in mechanical engineering.


"I was liking physics, but I wanted to get more hands on."


Now, she says, "I like what I do. It's interesting. We're always upgrading and making things better."


During college, Serbus took a class in nuclear power. She tried to get a summer internship at the plant, "but they never looked my way."


Then after graduation, while working for another employer when she got out of college, "They ended up calling me out out of the blue."


Today she is extremely happy that she landed at San Onofre.


"It's something I always wanted to do in college. It's better than I thought it would be. I get to work on cool projects."


And the beach-area lifestyle isn't shabby, either.


"It's nice. It's a little expensive, but I like it a lot. And I'm not that far from home. It's just a toll road away. I think my mom (banker Dawn Serbus) likes me living down here more than I do because she can visit."


Father Dean Serbus, a Sultana coach and special education teacher, and brother Zachary also get to enjoy the perks of their daughter's new job.When family or new friends aren't around, she goes for an old standby.


"I get some beach volleyball every once in awhile," Serbus said.