Nuclear Industry Receives New Earthquake Data for Central and Eastern U.S.

The majority of American nuclear plants will draw from a new and extensively revised dataset detailing the earthquake risk across much of the U.S. And although the research began in 2008, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the Central and Eastern United States Seismic Source Characterization Project will inform decisions about plants’ seismic risks under safety changes ordered following the earthquake-triggered Fukushima Daiichi accidents in Japan.

Seismic Risk Map. Source: Central and Eastern United States Seismic Source Characterization for Nuclear FacilitiesThe seismic data project took nearly four years to complete and updated studies used for earthquake preparedness since the late 1980s. The peer-reviewed research draws from historical earthquake and geological data dating as far back as 1568. It cost about $7 million to complete, with funding from the Electric Power Research Institute, the Department of Energy and the NRC.

Seismic studies have long been part of the licensing process for nuclear facilities, although the new and more extensive data may confront some plant owners with earthquake risks higher than previously thought. According to an NRC release announcing the study Tuesday, “Calculations with the new model are expected to result in a higher likelihood of a given ground motion compared to calculations done using previous models.”

Plant owners will still weigh other factors like plant design and safety features in assessing the overall risk specific to their sites as they begin to implement the NRC’s post-Fukushima task force recommendations. Five DOE nuclear facilities and 96 commercial power reactors reside in the region studied. The research reported the largest predicted ground motions could occur in the vicinity of “repeated large magnitude earthquake sources, such as New Madrid, Mo., and Charleston, S.C. Other RLME sources are Charlevoix (lower St. Lawrence), Cheraw Fault (High Plains in southeastern Colorado), Meers Fault (southwestern Oklahoma), Reelfoot Rift – Marianna (Marianna, Ark., 75 km southwest of Memphis, Tenn.), Reelfoot Rift – Commerce Fault Zone (Tamms, Ill. to Qulin, Mo.,) and Wabash Valley (Indiana and Illinois).”

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