Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nothing can go wrong . . . go wrong . . . go wrong

Earthquakes are in the news, of course, and some attention is being paid to the San Andreas fault and the overdue Big One. The linked Reuters article provides a terrific example of why just listening to nuclear experts on the safety of nuclear power is a really bad idea.

Here's the operators of nuclear electric generating facilities near the fault:

The quake scenario for the southern San Andreas does not foresee damage to the nearest of the state's two nuclear power plants, the Southern California Edison-owned San Onofre station between Los Angeles and San Diego. 
Both Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric, owner of the Diablo Canyon plant to the north at San Luis Obispo, say their facilities are built to withstand quakes far greater than nearby faults are capable of producing. 
And unlike Japan, California faces little if any risk of tsunamis from its own quakes.
This is really reassuring news, isn't it boys and girls?

Well, it is until you recall that it wasn't the earthquake or the tsunami that did the reactors in. It's the lack of electric power (go figure) and lack of water to cool the shut down reactors.

What are the things most likely to be affected by an earthquake? You can probably guess. Here are the projected effects from the Big One:
Such a quake could be expected to topple 1,500 buildings, badly damage another 300,000 and sever highways, power lines, pipelines, railroads, communications networks and aqueducts. Property losses of more than $200 billion are projected. 
The hypothetical quake also would ignite about 1,600 fires, some growing into conflagrations that would engulf hundreds of city blocks.
Experts predict the biggest long-term economic disruption would come from damage to water-distribution systems that would leave some homes and businesses without running water for months. [emphasis added, but probably not needed]

It's a forest and trees kind of a thing that engineers are famous for.

Photo from the Guardian, or the blogs at Forbes, or somewhere

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