The 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked the East Coast Tuesday and sent two nuclear reactors in Virginia offline has refocused concerns about the safety of nuclear plants in the U.S. and prompted reviews of plants in at least six states. Interestingly, the federal government has run exercises of how a doomsday earthquake-nuclear disaster would play out, as Noah Shachtman at Wired notes. Are we prepared for the worst? Experts around the web are highlighting the strengths and vulnerabilities of America's nuclear plants.
The nightmare scenario In May, the federal government ran a simulation of an earthquake disaster called National Level Exercise 11, which involved a quake hitting the Midwest leaving 7 million people homeless and the death of 100,000 Midwesterners. Shachtman explains the details:
National Level Exercise 11, or NLE 11, was, in essence, a replay of a disaster that happened 200 years earlier. On Dec. 16, 1811, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake hit the New Madrid fault line, which lies on the border region of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.
In that seismic zone, there are 15 nuclear power plants. Paul Stockton, the Defense Department’s senior homeland security official, explains what could happen. “Electric power would go out, not for days, but for weeks and months in the four state region,” he said. “Municipal water systems, they all run on electricity, don’t they? Well, people are gonna get thirsty. You need water for firefighting, don’t you? Second, all gasoline pumps run on electric power. Same with diesel fuel. So in terms of road mobility, of getting the relief forces in, and evacuating people out — no gasoline? The cascading failures go on and on.” Here's a video of how it would play out: