New Seismic Fault Discovered One Mile From Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

photo: Mike Evans

When the subject of earthquakes is brought up here on TreeHugger, most of the time it takes the form of the intersection of green building and earthquake resistant housing or in the case of the recent quake in China, the environmental damage caused afterwards. This one’s about earthquakes yet to come.

A new study, reported on in Science Daily and appearing in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, shows that not only is New York City at a greater risk for earthquakes than previously thought, but the Indian Point nuclear power plant 24 miles north of the city sits nearly on top of a previously unknown active seismic zone.

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant at Greater Risk Than Thought
I’ll cut to the chase: According to this new research, Indian Point sits one mile south of a newly discovered active fault, the Stamford-Peekskill line. This structure runs about 25 miles from Stamford, Connecticut to Peekskill, New York and is parallel to previously know faults located as far south at 125th Street in Manhattan. Researchers say that this fault is capable of producing at least a magnitude 6 earthquake.

The paper describes the fault and the risk to Indian Point:

Indian Point is situated at the intersection of the two most striking linear features marking the seismicity and also in the midst of a large population that is at risk in case of an accident. This is clearly one of the least favorable sites in our study area from an earthquake hazard and risk perspective.

Earthquakes Catalogued from 1677 to 2007
In conducting this study researchers catalogued the 383 known earthquakes occurring from 1677-2007 in the a 15,000 square mile region surrounding New York City. Based on this the determined that earthquakes large enough to cause damage (magnitude 5 or greater) occurred in 1737, 1783 and 1884. Due to the lower population density at the time, there was little damage caused, but today the researchers say that such a quake could cause billions of dollars in damage and collapse brick buildings.

Small earthquakes have occurred in the region at least five times since the 1980s: two (of unspecified magnitude) in 1981, a magnitude 2 quake in 1989, and a magnitude 4.1 quake in 1989. The most recent one in the metro New York area occurred on July 28th of this year, measuring 2.1, in Milford, New Jersey.

Chance of Magnitude 6.0 Quake 7% Every 50 Years
Because these more frequent small quakes occur with predictable frequency to large ones, the researchers say that they can use these to predict when the damage-causing quakes are likely to happen. The say that a magnitude 6 quake (about 100 times stronger than the 1989 quake) is likely to occur every 670 years. An even stronger magnitude 7 quake could occur once every 3400 years. In any 50-year period there is a 7% chance that a 6.0 quake will happen, a 1.5% chance for a 7.0 quake.

We need to step backward from the simple old model, where you worry about one large, obvious fault, like they do in California. The problem here comes from many subtle faults. We now see there is earthquake activity on them. Each one is small, but when you add them up, they are probably more dangerous than we thought. We need to take a very close look. The probability is not zero, and the damage could be great.

Indian Point Up For Relicensing
For those not following it, Indian Point’s owner Entergy is currently trying to relicense the two operating plants on the site, which have a combined capacity of about 2000 MW, for an additional 20 years. A move which has been opposed by the surrounding community and the New York State Attorney General.

This study is obviously more ammunition to support their arguments. Though these arguments could be made even stronger if opponents of relicensing came up with a plan to replace the 2 gigawatts of power produced by the plant.

via :: Science Daily
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Tags: Natural Disasters | Nuclear Power | United States