From the Editor: We Dodged a Quake

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We Dodged a Quake

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The 50 mile evacuation zone of the North Anna nuclear power plant includes half of western Albemarle. Courtesy Google Maps and psr.org.

The August 23rd earthquake at Mineral should put an end to Dominion Virginia Power’s plan to add a third reactor at the North Anna nuclear power plant. We have all carried around the assumption that an earthquake like the one we felt was not really possible here. The builders of the North Anna plant assumed likewise, and the plant was constructed to withstand a 5.9 to 6.1 Richter Scale earthquake. We got one at 5.8, just 11 miles from the power plant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires two evacuation zones to be set for each nuclear plant, one 10 miles out and the other 50 miles out. The 50-mile radius tracks along Crozet Avenue. (See map page 12) According to the Physicians for Social Responsibility, 21,135 people would have to be evacuated from within the 10-mile zone and 1,594,124  would have to evacuate from the 50-mile zone.

After the accident at Fukushima in Japan, the evacuation zone was ultimately set at 30 miles. That accident, despite reassurances to the public from the Tokyo power company and the Japanese government, was eventually ranked as a Level 7 accident, the highest possible severity, on the International Nuclear Event Scale. We should assume our authorities would be just as ready to conceal the complete facts from us.

For all advantages nuclear power has, it has one insurmountable problem: what to do with the radioactive waste? It’s radioactive for 10,000 to 1 million years and an average nuclear plant produces 12 metric tons of it per year. It’s piling up at North Anna now and the plan to move it to Yucca Mountain in Nevada is dead. It has to be kept cool, and that means pumping water over it. So when earthquakes happen and the power fails, how is the water being pumped? After a few minutes, by a generator. That happened on the 23rd. Are we comfortable with that? Major national newspapers, who believe they have picked up a scent, are tracking the plants and the events of the earthquake day to see what more needs to be known for public safety.

After Fukushima, Germany announced it will wean itself from nuclear power, as will Japan now that it has experience with radiation on the loose. We must face this prospect, too.

Crozet is a likely destination for refugees from natural disasters or terrorist acts affecting Washington, D.C. or Hampton Roads. Where would those 1.5 million people from Central Virginia, Richmond and Fredericksburg go? Where would the folks in the east side of Crozet go?  When we talk about our area’s future water supplies needs, we should remember that possible demand.

America’s energy needs present enormous challenges that will be met only at great cost and probably great inconvenience. But the consequences of nuclear accidents are simply unacceptable. Remember the American Indian rule of thumb that an action should be taken only if one can be assured that it will be good for the seven following generations? We have to give up on nuclear power as a meaningful source of electricity.

The 50 mile evacuation zone of the North Anna nuclear power plant includes half of Crozet. Courtesy Google Maps and psr.org.
The 50 mile evacuation zone of the North Anna nuclear power plant includes half of Crozet. Courtesy Google Maps and psr.org.