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Tremblor Revives Debate Over Nuclear Plants’ Quake Defenses With Am-SF Quake, Bjt

October 19, 1989

Tremblor Revives Debate Over Nuclear Plants’ Quake Defenses With Am-SF Quake, Bjt. Also moved on general news wires.

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The San Francisco Bay area earthquake revived a debate over whether 16- year-old federal seismic standards for nuclear power plants are tough enough.

Tuesday’s quake caused no damage to the five active nuclear reactors in California, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The three that were operating at the time are still running normally, said Frank Ingram, an NRC spokesman.

The five reactors are in Southern California: two at Diablo Canyon, 12 miles southwest of San Luis Obispo, and three at San Onofre, five miles south of San Clemente. One reactor at each site was shut down for normal refueling when the quake hit.

Under the 1973 standards set by the NRC, each nuclear power plant must be built to quake-resistance specifications that differ according to local seismic conditions. The standards for Diablo Canyon are the stiffest in the country, Ingram said.

The risk of nuclear plant accidents from earthquakes was a major point of contention between the industry and environmentalists during the 1960s and early 1970s, when site planning was done for most of the 110 plants now operating in this country.

The chief danger is that a quake would cause a crack in the piping that carries cooling water to the reactor core. A rapid loss of coolant could cause the fuel rods in the core to melt, possibly allowing radioactive material to escape into the atmosphere.

Although the seismic issue has faded in recent years, the environmental group Public Citizen, founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader, said Wednesday the Northern California quake underscored a need to reexamine the nuclear construction standards.

″Federal regulators should at least view (the) earthquake as a final warning that seismic standards and testing for all nuclear reactors as well as evacuation planning needs to be substantially upgraded before the next quake hits,″ said Ken Bossong, director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project.

Bossong said at least two nuclear plants are ″perilously close to known fault lines.″ He cited Diablo Canyon, which is near the Hosgri fault, and Millstone, near the point at which the Honey Hill and Lake Char fault lines intersect in Connecticut.

Bossong also noted that the Energy Department has acknowledged that its three active nuclear reactors at the Savannah River weapons complex in South Caroline, which make materials for nuclear warheads, need to undergo seismic upgrades.

Some specialists, however, say the seismic standards for commercial nuclear reactors are adequate.

Larry White, an environmental engineer with the consulting firm Roy F. Weston Inc. in Washington, said the standards are ″pretty conservative,′ ′ although he acknowledges there is ″a lot of uncertainty″ in attempting to predict how structures such as nuclear plants would respond to the worst possible quake.

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