East Coast earthquake reveals regional nuclear dangers

A nuclear power plant that was shut down after an earthquake struck central Virginia Aug. 23 had seismographs removed in the 1990s to save money. Officials said that the North Anna Power Station, which has two reactors, lost offsite power and switched to diesel generators to maintain cooling operations after the 5.9 quake. The North Anna plant, which was near the epicenter of the quake, is reportedly located on a fault line. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) rates the plant as the seventh most likely to receive core damage from a quake, although it says the odds are very low. According to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), the Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory (VTSO) removed all seismographs from around the plant in the 1990s due to budget cuts. In February, Dominion Virginia Power announced plans to add a third reactor at the plant. (Raw Story, Aug. 23)

Exelon Corp. said that four of its nuclear power plants declared “unusual events” following the earthquake. Exelon’s Limerick plant near Philadelphia; Oyster Creek plant near Toms River, NJ; Peach Bottom plant near Lancaster, Pa.;, and Three Mile Island Unit 1 near Harrisburg, Pa., all declared “unusual events,” the lowest of four emergency classifications used by the NRC. Plant operators are inspecting facilities and equipment to check for any damage or impacts, an Exelon spokesperson said. (Dow Jones, Aug. 23)

Oyster Creek was in local news last month, when pumps that cool discharge water at the plant shut down, causing a temperature rise and fish kill in a canal. Electricity stopped due to a problem with the Jersey Central Power & Light grid, and the pumps shut down at 8:05 PM on July 29, the NRC said. Exelon said in a statement that 300 fish were lost due to the temperature rise.

Oyster Creek had been criticized by environmentalists for years for leaking tritium-tainted water and other issues at the plant. After Oyster Creek was approved for 20 years more service in 2009, environmentalists appealed. (Newark Star-Ledger, July 29)

See our last posts on the nuclear threat.

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  1. Did fracking cause earthquake?
    We just narrowly avoided a nuclear disaster on the Missouri River indirectly sparked by global climate disaster. Now we may have just narrowly avoided on in Virginia due to another dangerous technology—hydrofracking. Dr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall writes for Op-Ed News Aug. 23:

    Did Fracking Cause the Virginia Earthquake?
    Earthquakes in the nation’s capitol are as rare as hen’s teeth. The epicenter of Tuesday’s quake was in Mineral, Virginia, which is located on three very quiet fault lines. The occurrence of yet another freak earthquake in an unusual location is leading many anti-fracking activists (including me — they have just started fracking in Stratford, which is 40 minutes from New Plymouth) to wonder whether “fracking” in nearby West Virginia may be responsible.

    Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of initiating and subsequently propagating a fracture in a rock layer, employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy. The fracturing is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas and coal seam gas.

    How Fracking Causes Earthquakes
    According to geologists, it isn’t the fracking itself that is linked to earthquakes, but the re-injection of waste salt water (as much as 3 million gallons per well) deep into rock beds.

    Braxton County West Virginia (160 miles from Mineral) has experienced a rash of freak earthquakes (eight in 2010) since fracking operations started there several years ago. According to geologists fracking also caused an outbreak of thousands of minor earthquakes in Arkansas (as many as two dozen in a single day). It’s also linked to freak earthquakes in Texas, western New York, Oklahoma and Blackpool, England (which had never recorded an earthquake before).

    Industry scientists deny the link to earthquakes, arguing that energy companies have been fracking for nearly sixty years. However it’s only a dozen years ago that “slick-water fracks” were introduced. This form of fracking uses huge amounts of water mixed with sand and dozens of toxic chemicals like benzene, all of which is injected under extreme pressure to shatter the underground rock reservoir and release gas trapped in the rock pores. Not only does the practice utilize millions of gallons of freshwater per frack (taken from lakes, rivers, or municipal water supplies), the toxic chemicals mixed in the water to make it “slick” endanger groundwater aquifers and threaten to pollute nearby water-wells.

    Horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking (which extend fractures across several kilometres) were introduced in 2004.

  2. Hurricane Irene reveals regional nuclear dangers
    Another “unusual event” at an East Coast nuclear plant was sparked by Hurricane Irene. One reactor at Matyland’s Calvert Cliff plant automatically shut down after a transformer was hit by a large piece of aluminum siding that was dislodged. (Reuters, Aug. 28)

    Hurricane Irene prompted officials at New York’s Indian Point plant to take a variety of precautions—but not to shut down the reactors. A recent federal inspection of Indian Point found “a number of potential vulnerabilities regarding firefighting,” including equipment in areas that are “not seismically designed, which could result in a loss of portions of the fire protection system.” (Daily Hastings, NY1, Aug. 27)

  3. Is seismic activity increasing?
    You would think so from the ominous flurry this week, form Turkey (CSM, Oct. 24), Indonesia (Jakarta Globe, Oct. 30), Peru (AP, Oct. 20) and California (Berkeleyside, Oct. 27). The slightly wacky website Truth is Treason takes it for granted, writing: “Planet Earth has experienced a very noticeable up-tick in earthquake activity and intensity over the last five years.” It goes on the note five possible explanations for the phenomenon: solar and lunar activity, magnetic pole shift, HAARP, shifting icecaps, and gas fracking.

    This last hypothesis is noted above. As for the others…

    Solar and lunar activity: The site notes that this year’s devastating Japan earthquake occurred just a week before the “Supermoon”—a full moon in which the orb is considerably closer to Earth than usual. Natural disasters had been predicted for the Supermoon by the pseudo-science set, but National Geographic (of course) assures us there was no connection. (We do note with trepidation, however, the spate of rare oarfish sightings by Japanese fishermen in the prelude to the quake—held in Japanese folklore to be a harbinger of earthquake…)

    Magnetic pole shift: It does seem the North Pole is moving towards Russia, and perhaps becoming unstable. A report on NaturalNews back in January speculated that month’s massive bird die-off in Arkansas (and perhaps other such anomalies) may have been caused by “poisonous space clouds” usually repelled by the magnetic field getting through due to fluctuations. This is food for thought, but we fail to see what it has to do with earthquakes.

    HAARP: The conspiranoids were convinced this not-so-secret high-tech military project in Alaska was behind last year’s Haiti earthquake too. Spare us.

    Shifting icecaps: OK, could be. But Truth is Treason, of course, dismisses global warming, and tells us that contrary to the claims of “alarmists,” polar ice is actually growing. Well, as of last year, the reverse was true—Greenland and Antarctica were shedding ice at a terrifying clip. If you go the page that TiT links to for their claim, you will find that it is ice thickness, not surface area, that is growing; it is not growing consistently, with ice getting thinner off Labrador; and the effect may be due to a La Niña cycle—in other words, a temporary phenomenon countervailing the general trend.

    Finally: Go to the USGS page entitled “Are Earthquakes Really on the Increase?” You will find that they actually aren’t:

    We continue to be asked by many people throughout the world if earthquakes are on the increase. Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant.

    A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications. In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 8,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by electronic mail, internet and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate earthquakes more rapidly and to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years. The NEIC [National Earthquake Information Center] now locates about 20,000 earthquakes each year or approximately 50 per day. Also, because of the improvements in communications and the increased interest in the environment and natural disasters, the public now learns about more earthquakes.

    According to long-term records (since about 1900), we expect about 17 major earthquakes (7.0 – 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year.

    Of course that doesn’t explain why it seems like there are more devastating earthquakes… We certainly hope it is just our imaginations…

  4. Did fracking cause earthquake —again?

    From AP, Dec. 7:
    A magnitude-4.5 earthquake in central Oklahoma shook residents Saturday, just weeks after the two-year anniversary of the strongest earthquake ever recorded in the Sooner state, and was followed by two smaller temblors later in the day.
    The shaking is increasingly commonplace in the state, so after the initial surprise, customers at a central Oklahoma restaurant near the epicenter of the first quake returned their attention to an in-state college football rivalry game…
    Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said no injuries or damage were reported from any of the quakes.
    Oklahoma is crisscrossed with fault lines that generate frequent small earthquakes, most too weak to be felt. But after decades of limited seismic activity in the region, earthquakes have become more common in the last several years.
    The strongest earthquake on record in Oklahoma was a magnitude-5.6 earthquake on Nov. 5, 2011… That temblor…toppled castlelike turrets at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, some 40 miles east of Oklahoma City.
    Since 2009, more than 200 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater have hit the state’s midsection, according to the Geological Survey. Scientists are not sure why seismic activity has spiked, but one theory is that it could be related to wastewater from oil and gas drilling that is often discarded by injecting it deep into underground wells.