NRC: New Earthquake Risks for Nuclear Plants

According to a new study released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nuclear reactors in the central and eastern U.S. face previously unrecognized threats from big earthquakes.

Earth_Cracked_Cropped_SmallThe Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced it would require nuclear-plant operators to conduct new seismic studies for all 96 reactors in eastern and central states to determine if the plants could withstand the shaking predicted by the government’s new seismic model.

The NRC plans to give nuclear-plant operators four years to re-evaluate risks by running complex calculations for all structures, systems and components. By law, nuclear plants must be able to withstand earthquakes “without functional impairment of those features necessary to shut down the reactor, maintain the station in safe condition and prevent undue risk to the health and safety of the public.”

The seismic model could influence new seismic maps the U.S. Geological Survey is expected to issue next year, and could affect building codes and insurance rates.

The new model was jointly developed by the NRC, the U.S. Department of Energy and an industry-funded research group, the Electric Power Research Institute. The model incorporates information on about a thousand earthquakes that previously weren’t cataloged. Those were determined through written records, geologic data, carbon dating and other methods. The research brings the total to nearly 3,300 quakes in the region since 1568. For example, it indicates that the single worst earthquake likely to happen in a 10,000-year period in Chattanooga, Tenn., would be nearly twice as damaging to structures as previously calculated.

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Source: Rebecca Smith | The Wall Street Journal