New Seismic Data Could Raise Earthquake Protection Bar For US Nuclear Reactors

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's estimate of the risk each year of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to the reactor at Oconee was 1 in 23,256, according to an NRC study published in August 2010.

The NRC wants Oconee and all nuclear power plants in the eastern and central states to re-evaluate earthquake protection using new seismic calculations.  New seismic data could raise the earthquake protection bar for Oconee Nuclear Station and other nuclear plants in eastern and central states, and some experts say costly fixes could force some plants to close.

The three Oconee reactors are among 27 in the nation that didn’t meet upgraded NRC earthquake standards in 1996, said Dave Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project for the Union of Concerned Scientists. The standards were meant for new plants and existing plants weren’t required to meet the new standard, Lochbaum said.

Several mild tremors in recent years rattled the dishes in the cabinet at Bob Swank’s home on Lake Keowee within two miles of the nuclear plant but haven’t shaken the retired engineer’s confidence in the plant’s protection against earthquakes and other natural disasters.  Oconee has the third-highest risk in the nation of damage from seismic activity beyond what the plant was designed to withstand, according to a Union of Concerned Scientists analysis of former NRC data.


The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects the calculations will show a higher likelihood of earthquake-caused greater ground motion than previously thought.

“The odds are a little worse than we thought,” said Mark Cooper, a senior fellow economic analyst at Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. “It costs a lot of money to fix it. Some reactors, the owner will look at the cost and say it’s not worth the cost.



Cooper said the cost in terms of risk is no longer affordable, especially after Fukushima. Nuclear power could be replaced with mountain-top wind-generated power in the Carolinas, he said. “Cost will go up somewhat, but the risk will go down,” he said.



Source: Greenville Online

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