“You see one earthquake fault, you’ve seen them all” — NRC, PG&E

PG&E, the monolithic private energy utility, has been dragging it’s heels on updating the seismic mapping of the area surrounding the Diablo Canyon power plant, 2 years after the discovery of the Shoreline fault, convincing Schwarzenegger to veto legislation mandating the survey on a faint promise that they will be forthcoming with the study. Instead, they apply for a license renewal from the NRC, 14 years ahead of the current license expiration, and are not doing the study in a timely manner such that it could be part of the federal license process.

In lieu of an updated study, the NRC is quite willing to accede to PG&E’s assertion that a generic earthquake risk assessment would be adequate.

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7 thoughts on ““You see one earthquake fault, you’ve seen them all” — NRC, PG&E

  1. I think there is an important lesson to be learned from the two recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. The earthquake in Haiti demolished just about everything near the epicenter. The earthquake in Chile, which was an order of magnitude larger than the on in Haiti, did not do nearly as much damage or claim as many lives. In fact, it was mostly Chile’s older structures that were destroyed, because they were not designed to withstand a large earthquake. Diablo Canyon, on the other hand, is designed around the largest earthquake postulated in the area. Due to the conservative nature of seismic analysis and retrofitting, it would likely withstand an earthquake larger than what it is designed for.

    That said, this new fault line isn’t the biggest fault line around. They can take all the pictures they want in as many dimensions as they want, it wont change a thing. The safest place to be during a big earthquake is at the Diablo Canyon power plant. Every thing else will crumble before that plant does.

  2. Quantifying risk is the responsible thing to do, especially for stockholders, if not for the neighboring public, which assumes the risk. If a new fault structure is discovered by the survey which increases the risk, then that should be factored in. Your characterization of the Chile & Haiti damage is superficial at best and brings nothing to the discussion.

    As far as the structural integrity of the plant infrastructure, it’s good to keep in mind that earthquake standards are meant to protect the public, to ensure some residual level of structural integrity to minimize injury.

    My concern would be the integrity of the mechanical systems and the ability of the engineers to maintain system stability in the event of a 7.5 quake. Pipes, fittings, valves, wire, clamps, bolts, etc by the thousands all must be able to withstand the forces. Not just individually, which would be easy to test, but also as pieces of assemblies and subassemblies, which would have their own dynamics. This structure was designed prior to the newer building codes. I would not want to be on the grounds of the plant during a 7.5, not to mention a 9.0

  3. Diablo Canyon seismic requirements far exceed the California Building Code. You would not want to be inside of any building built to the CBC during a 7.5. Bottom line is that is silly to fear the consequences of an earthquake destroying DCPP in such a manner that a significant amount of radioactive material would be released. People engage in activity everyday that puts their lives and the lives of others at serious risk of death (driving those missiles we call cars). People should break out in sweat every time they get on the road. But people have accepted the risk because of a large benefit driving provides. Similarly, DCPP provides us with a ton of clean energy, and the risk of a catastrophe is insignificant. Everything in life carries a risk. DCPP carries an insignificant risk and a very significant benefit.

    • Thanks for the correction. I meant to say that this plant was designed before the Northridge quake, which precipitated the redesign of codes.

      My point was that the damage from a 7.5 (or whatever large size) quake would not need to be catastrophic to the overall structure in order to put the safe operation of the plant at risk.

      Comparison to driving a car is what is called a straw man argument. Please do better.

  4. The plant would not be “operating” during a 7.5 earthquake. The plant is designed to trip if there is an earthquake larger than a certain magnitude (I’m not sure about the setpoint, but I know it’s way below a 7.5). The plant would be shut down before you even realized an earthquake was occurring. Once it is shut down, all that residual energy must be dissipated somehow. The equipment and structures necessary to accomplish this are “safety related.” The safety related equipment and structures are conservatively designed to survive and continue operating in the event of a 7.5. Everything else may crumble, but the plant will be safely shut down.

    My family lives in the area, there are a thousand workers at the plant, many with families of their own in the area. Why would we live around here if we thought our families were in any danger? I used the car example because I worry about my kids driving a car. There is a real danger that they could be injured or killed while driving a car. However, I do not worry about about them getting hurt as a result of a problem at DCPP.

  5. Welcome back, Russ. I wondered when you’d surface again.

    Was the newly remembered threat of impending nuclear doom the goad? As a former foot-soldier in the Abalone Alliance’s disheveled infantry, I recall being nearly discharged dishonorably for suggesting our “No Nukes!” movement might actually shut Diablo Canyon Power Plant down, but nuclear power itself was here to stay.

    Sure enough, it’s suddenly baaaack! http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/15/world/europe/15iht-nuke.4.8354697.html

    Look on the bright side: endless opportunities for snark and derision.

    Cheers,
    Jay

  6. Thanks for the nudge, Jay.

    “… nuclear power itself [is} here to stay. …”

    —and stay, and stay, and stay.

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