August 24, 2011
The Virginia Earthquake generated a lot of media coverage and interest because of both the magnitude of the seismic event (5.8) and the fact that it happened in an area that historically does not have large earthquakes. It was felt up and down the East Coast of the US, and even shook our offices here in Pittsburgh, PA.
One of the other parts of this story is that the epicenter of the quake was within a few miles of a major nuclear reactor, known as the North Anna Power Station, which is operated by Dominion. According to Reuters, the plant lost power and three diesel generators were required to cool the reactor, while according to the report, “a fourth diesel unit failed“. This caused me to immediately think about the Fukoshima nuclear disaster which also started as a result of an earthquake.
Given the failure of one of the diesel generators, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where others also failed and cooling of the reactors was not possible (as happened at Fukushima). To understand the potential impacts of this, I find it useful to turn to data visualization. I used our Rhiza Insight software to import the previous 24 hours of seismic data from the USGS and then overlaid another dataset that we already had in our system for the location of nuclear reactors in the US. The result is below:
Some interesting things that I see in this map:
- There have already been a bunch of fairly sizable aftershocks. The 5.8 earthquake is not an isolated event. It will be interesting to see how this data evolves over the next several days.
- Richmond and Charlotte are two major cities that would, under a similar evacuation scenario as Fukoshima, would have to be evacuated. According to the US Census Bureau, there are over 200,000 people in the city of Richmond, VA alone.
- If you zoom out on the map a bit, you’ll see there are a lot of other nuclear power plants in the region. What other seismic surprises will the earth have for them, and will we be prepared for a Fukoshima-like catastrophe?