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