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Earthquakes and Nukes

by Michael Steinberg Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 at 8:23 AM

Most of us associate earthquakes with California. But what happens when there's a shaker on the East Coast?

Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the decline and fall of the nuclear power industry in the US and beyond, and highlights the efforts of those working to create a nuclear free world. Here is our November 2020 report.

When we think of earthquakes ans nuclear plants, it's usually in Cali and nuke plants in the Southland.

In the 1980s, a mass antinuclear movement named the Abalone Alliance opposed the construction of the Diablo Canyon nuke plant on the state's central coast near San Luis Obispo.

In 1981 almost 2000 protestors, including members of Mothers For Peace and musician Jackson Browne, were arrested over a two week period for committing civil disobedience to stop the plant from opening..

This movement was dramatized in the movie China Syndrome, starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon.

Nevertheless the plant's two nuclear reactors were completed and opened later in the '80s.

One of the key issues in opposition to Diablo Canyon was its proximity to earthquake faults and being in a tsunami zone.

During the same period the Clamshell Alliance in New England mounted a no nukes movement opposing the building the Seabrook nuke plant on the coast of New Hampshire. Again there were mass arrests and Jackson Browne raised his singing voice in opposition.

So it was something of a surprise when a 3.6 shaker struck off New Bedford, Massachusetts, on November 9th. Not much by Cali standards, it nevertheless was felt in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York's Long Island.

The Boston Globe reported that the quake left 22 homeless in New Bedford and caused structural damage like chimney cracking. in the former whaling center of the US near Cape Cod.

The Globe also reported that in 1755 an earthquake estimated to have been a 6.0 hit Cape Anne in MA.

Fortunately there are only two still operating nuke plants in New England, Seabrook and Millstone in CT.. Others in Maine, Cape Cod, and Western Mass are history.

A new twist to this story arose in an October 22 Reuters story, "US nuclear plants in South Carolina, Missouri face the worst quake risk." An analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists asserted,"The US reactors facing the highest risk of meltdown are not in earthquake prone California, but states including SC and Missouri."

The analysis, conducted by Edwin Lyman director of nuclear safety for theUCC, using utility and government data, found that the H.B. Robinson nuke in SC has a 1 in 17,000 chance annually that a quake would cause a meltdown there. That risk is five times higher than Diablo Canyon's.

Meanwhile, back in Cali, an 8-20-20 report by Pasadena educational radio station KPCC, 89.3 FM, reported that a dissenting report on the seismic safety of Diablo Canyon has been collecting dust for over a year.

The report, filed withthe Nuclear Regulatory Commission by former NRC Diablo Canyon inspector Dr. Michael Peck, challenges the conventional wisdom that Diablo Canyon has no serious seismic challenges.

Located on the Pacific shoreline of central CA, Diablo Canyon has multiple fault lines within striking distance, including the San Andreas, Shoreline and Hagari.

Following the 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima nuke plant, opposition to the Diablo Canyon nuke reemerged. In 2016 its owner, San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric, now itself facing bankruptcy, agreed to shut down the plant's two reactors, on in 2024 and the other the following year.

If they last that long.

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