Get Ready Kern County
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Continuing our coverage on disaster preparedness, we examine a very different threat coming from outside Kern County. It's a story gaining so much attention, it's been covered by Rolling Stone magazine. It's not rock stars, but rocks that have everyone talking. The kind of rocks that grind against each other and cause unthinkable destruction.
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Just over 100 miles west of downtown Bakersfield sits Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. The plant is situated right next to two fault lines. Both faults are "strike slip faults," which are very common along the California's Central Coast. Two of these "strike slip faults" lie on the ocean floor near the nuclear power plant. The first, named the Shoreline Fault, is a mere 2,000 feet from Diablo Canyon's reactors at it's closest point.
"A strike slip fault occurs when blocks of the crust move past each other laterally, they move basically parallel to the surface of the earth," explained Rob Meyer, associate professor of geology at Allan Hancock College.
Meyer has spent his career studying geology on the Central Coast. We asked Meyer to review PG&E's nearly 400 page report on the fault risk.
"To say there is a threat, of course there is a threat. But the risk is low based on the length of the fault, the depth of the fault and what they've found," said Meyer.
PG&E's report was prepared, in part, for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A team of geologists spent years studying the Shoreline Fault and they concluded it is capable of producing a maximum 6.5 quake. Meyer agreed, saying, "I believe that an estimated magnitude of maximum 6.5 is reasonable, it's probably going to be less."
Here's the good news, Diablo Canyon is engineered to withstand a 7.5 earthquake, built that way to survive a magnitude 7 quake which could be generated by the nearby Hosgri Fault. The Hosgri Fault is three times bigger than the Shoreline Fault. So, in theory the plant could withstand an earthquake generated by either the Shoreline or Hosgri faults.
It is important to note that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has two resident inspectors who work at the plant and live in the area. According to the NRC, those inspectors serve as the agency’s eyes and ears at the facility. The NRC also claims to have done their own seismic research on local faults and are applying lessons learned at Fukushima to their work at the plant.
But what about the threat of tsunami, like the one that cause a melt down at the Fukushima Power Plant in Japan? We asked the professor to explain the likelihood of this kind of disaster.
"The earthquakes in Japan are very different," the professor said. "So the tsunami risk is very low, if it exists at all, for the Shoreline or Hosgri faults."
What if there was a release of radioactive material from Diablo Canyon? All food, including livestock, crops and water, within a 50-mile radius would be immediately quarantined by the government. What about the Central Valley? Could the fallout be carried here?
"Kern County is No. 3 in agriculture production in the state," said Manuel Villicana, deputy director of Kern County Agriculture and Measurements. "Radiation contamination goes out about 50 miles (from Diablo Canyon), and they determined that is the furthest the radiation contamination would go in the event of a disaster."
A report by California Department of Public Health contains emergency information and procedures for farmers to follow in the event of nuclear fallout. It also contains map of the area most affected by potential fallout. That area stretches into Kern County by 6 miles.
"This is kind of a rural area of our county, so there are no crops there, so we wouldn't really be concerned about crops. There is grazing land there, so there might be some cattle there, so the ranchers would have to be notified," said Villicana.
It would appear that, despite some concerns, the risk of a nuclear emergency at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is relatively low. However, there are unknown threats; like other faults silently lurking underground. Perhaps, larger faults with undiscovered potential for destruction. PG&E points out that from a seismic research standpoint, the part of the Central Coast where the plant is located is one of the most thoroughly analyzed areas in the nation, due in large part to their ongoing study of the region to ensure the safety of Diablo Canyon.