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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Earthquakes and Rocket Fuel

The large earthquake in Japan and the melting down nuclear reactors has had me thinking about Kodiak's own rocket launch facility. Like Japan Kodiak is one of the few places in the world where REALLY large subduction type earthquakes take place. Our large earthquakes can be up to 1000 times worse than anything that'll ever hit Southern California where the faults are of the strike and slip variety. Kodiak and Japan are perched on the edge of subduction zones where oceanic plates slide under continental margins (Seattle and Chile are other such places).

Anyhow, a few years ago I was at a Kodiak Island Borough Assembly meeting where Rocket launch VIPs were making the case to store highly unstable, toxic rocket fuel out at Narrow Cape (see my blog post from February 2009).

After the meeting I asked the head guy if they knew about the fault that is literally right next to the facility (you can see it both of the Google earth images I've posted - it shows up quite clearly from the air). The head guy assured me that the Vandenburg rocket launch is also built near faults and that Kodiak has already withstood a 7.0 earthquake. I pointed out that said 7.0 occurred over 50 miles away and far under the earth's surface and not on the fault that lies just 10's of meters away from the rocket launch. He got mad and stressed that these things are built to withstand earthquakes - END OF STORY.

Now with the melting down nuclear reactors in Japan I wonder if they too were built to withstand earthquakes. I bet that the officials that built them assured everyone that they could withstand anything nature threw at them. They were wrong. And I know that the rocket launch VIP is wrong about the Narrow Cape facility too. Nothing built by man can withstand a nearby 9.0 earthquake or even a 7.5 earthquake that is on a fault less than 10 meters away (a 7.5 that close would probably shake worse than a 9.0 whose epicenter is 30 miles away). And that is why nuclear reactors should not be built in subduction zones or on top of earthquake faults - END OF STORY. Nor should we be storing highly unstable and toxic rocket fuel in such places. Because in such places there will eventually an earthquake and the best laid plans WILL GO AWRY. Patrick


Jowers Inc. said...

Well put. Unfortunately it will take such catastrophic events, hundreds of disfigured and or dead humans before anyone will even "think" about moving shop.

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

I'm actually pro nuclear power - it's a pretty clean energy source actually (far better than oil, bio fuels and coal). And i am a little worried that this disaster might set back the nuclear industry. I hope people do not overreact. We should be building nuclear plants, but we should also be putting them in very safe places! Patrick

jenny said...

Wow--that's incredible. I had no idea. Thanks for sharing. And I totally agree with you.

philip sims said...

It is my understanding the problem was not with the earthquake but with the wave that followed, causing the failure of the backup power to cool the reactor. The place to put these things is where the back up systems will not be destroyed by a pile of water.

philip sims said...

Lets make sure we understand what happened. The ongoing problem with the reactors was not caused directly by the quake of 9.0, but by the huge wave that followed which eliminated the back up power for the cooling pumps. The obvious answer is to not have these reactors in the way of a potential tsunami. Certainly the rocket fuel would be a environmental problem if ever it got away, but nothing like the radiation which is being released because they lost the ability to turn on the cooling pumps. peace

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

Philip, You're right about the tidal wave doing the damage in Japan. But I still sort of doubt a reactor would hold up every time to a nearby 9.0 quake. And a 7.5 on a fault less than 100 yards away would probably be worse than a 9.0 (situation at Narrow Cape).

But whatever, the point I am making is that we should not be building things that can leak nasty stuff in places where HUGE earthquakes can occur. Patrick