At California Nuclear Plant, Emergency Response Plans Don’t Include Earthquakes

Diablo Canyon plant is a mile from off-shore fault-

I recall there was a long fight against this plant a generation ago. It generated a case that went to the Supreme Court.

One of the chief arguments was that there was a fault nearby. The larger San Adreas fault is not far either. They say the maximum quake possible at Diablo Canyon is 7.5.  The plant is supposed to have been built to withstand that.

I thought everyone knew the San Andrews fault has produced many 8 + quakes over the last thousand years.

Diablo Canyon reactor. Huffington Post.

Related. Congress wants to cut tsunami warning centers? Really? By

GOP budget targets agency that warned of tsunami. By Matthew Daly. AP


  1. Rusty Avatar

    I received a report yesterday that showed Diablo Canyon was designed for .75 g. The Japanese plants were designed for .18 g. The Japanese earthquake measured .35 g at the epicenter. Seems like Diablo Canyon’s design is for a much bigger earthquake than a 7.5.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I sure hope that is true. As you know, the Japanese plants were, before the quake, paraded as highly earthquake resistant.

    Do you have the report, or a URL?

  3. Wyo Native Avatar
    Wyo Native

    The earthquake was not the problem for the Japanese plants, it was all the water from the Tsunami that actualy disabled all of their safeguards for backup power and cooling systems.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Wyo Native,

      I think the quake did not damage the reactors directly, although we may not know that ever for sure, but the quake by direct shaking and the tsunami took down the power to the pumps. I’m not sure if the tsunami washed over the plants even though they are on the coast.

      Do you know?

      Yes, then when the power was gone, the water began to heat, boil off, and it was downhill from there.

      As for Diablo Canyon, there too, any danger could come from damage that is critical, but not directly to the reactor vessel or the reactor.

      1. Rusty Avatar

        I believe WYO Native is correct. The reports I have seen show that their primary containment was intact after the earthquake. The problem arose from the flooding and subsequent loss of power that was unable to be restored. Apparently their vital electrical busses were on the lowest levels and not protected from flooding. Their emergency diesel generators had no fuel because the tsunami washed the tanks out to sea.

  4. Rusty Avatar

    It was a work report that I would rather not share so I am looking for the information. This is the discussion about San Onofre.

  5. Rusty Avatar

    Sorry I can’t find it published anywhere. What I would like to point out is you do not need a plan for an earthquake at a nuke plant. The seismic requirements are part of the design. What I’m sure they have in their emergency plans are things that could be caused by an earthquake such as: Loss of coolant accident, loss of AC/DC power, steam generator tube rupture, fire, flooding and the last being the Severe management guidelines (SAMG). The SAMG is for all events which were not fully analyzed such as two or three of the above at one time in which the procedures are not adequately addressing the issues. Due to the apparent lackluster design at the Japanese plants they were in the equivalent of the SAMG procedures immediately. That is why you see them trying anything and everything to remedy the situation.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      I read your link and the Huff Post article again.

      I can’t tell. I can see there was a great political struggle over the construction of the plant and information was contested. The Supreme Court was closely divided with Scalia providing the majority vote. Putting it mildly, I think he is a rascal who always sides with bureaucratic power (corporate or governmental).

      Additional quake related information has developed since the plant went into operation. Has it been incorporated?

      Now I see the danger after a big earthquake, extrapolating from Japan, as loss of circulating coolant from lack of electrical power from outside the plant, rather than direct damage.

      1. Rusty Avatar

        New earthquake data has most likely not been incorporated into the design. The NRC actual ranks plants that are most likely to have a severe accident from an earthquake. They take into account new earthquake data when they rank the plants. The plants at the top of the list are in the northeast due to a minimal design with regard to earthquakes and new data that shows earthquakes in the northeast are not as rare as previously thought. The California plants are well down the list.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    One thing that occurs to me is that a thorough review of these plants and their power supply needs to be conducted.

    I have read, and fully expected, that the budget crisis would cause confusion in the regulatory and safety agencies of the federal government. All talk about huge cuts in the discretionary part of the federal budget by people who don’t even know what the Nuclear Regulatory Agency is, and shutting down the government, should cease at this point.

    It is ideological Russian roulette.

    1. Rusty Avatar

      The NRC hasn’t chimed in yet but the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations sent out a memo this morning requiring plants to review their designs in four major areas and provide a response back to INPO. I would imagine this review will be coupled with lessons from Japan and could require a plant or two to shutdown and make some design changes. Time will tell.

      1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

        One thing that surprised me about the Japanese disaster is the danger of badly placed and poorly served (compared to the reactor) storage of spent (depleted) fuel rods.

        These need to be looked at, at every plant. It appears these can be as dangerous as a melting reactor core.

  7. Salle Avatar

    I think it was in a BBC article where I read that the diesel generators were in one of the lower levels and were flooded mostly due to placement more than anything else…(yes the location was washed over by the waves.) I’ll have to research that but it makes sense that one could guess that it may have been a “Titanic” syndrome decision to place them in a lower level location. That in addition to the fuel tanks being washed away.

    1. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
      Peter Kiermeir

      Guess we are talking here of really substantial and heavy diesel generators, more of the size you put into ships, rather than your ordinary portable backup generator. It´s not so easy to put these monsters on upper levels.

    2. WM Avatar

      It does not seem it would have been that difficult or costly to put large generators and water pumping accesories and an adequate emergency fuel supply on over-engineered, reinforced elevated concrete pads (above any tsunami wave) that could withstand nearly any geologic event that threatened the ability to pump cooling water to fuel rods.

      I was under the impression nuclear plants were by design over-engineered to prevent this kind of stuff, with all kinds of redundancies for nearly any scenario. Can’t cool the core? Oops, missed this one! And where is that radiation headed?

      1. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
        Peter Kiermeir

        What I saw this morning on a graph of the layout, they did indeed put the generators above the level of a 15ft high concrete tsunami wall. Too bad the tsunami wave was significantly higher….

      2. Peter Kiermeir Avatar
        Peter Kiermeir

        And I just read a few minutes ago, that the tsunami wave was about 23meters, nearly 70ft !! No chance!

      3. WM Avatar

        Thanks for the details, Peter. That was one tall wave! I suppose the alternative to putting the generators up high could have been some kind of reinforced waterproof concrete bunker enclosure. Not alot of added cost, when one looks at the overall cost of nuke plants, and a few extra hundred tons of cement. We all have the benefit of 20-20 rear view vision, when speculating what could have been done. There are no doubt some teachable moments that will result in major design changes for future plants, and much retrofitting.

        I am not a fan of nuclear power, but for countries like Japan there are, unfortunately, limited energy generation alternatives. So, the question seems to be how do they, and others do it safely in the future – for themselves and the rest of the world.

        Whatever radiation pollution is created in Eastern Asia and Eastern Europe will make its way through weather patterns to the United States. And likewise, whatever the US does will make its way to Western Europe for the same weather patterns. Indeed it is a small world and radiation fallout does nobody any good.

  8. WM Avatar

    A skeptic might believe the GOP desire to cut the West Coast tsunami warning center funding is just a thinly veiled attempt to kill off liberal voters along the left coast when the “big one” rolls onto our shores with no warning. They woudn’t do that would they?

  9. WM Avatar

    On a tangent to the thread, but nonetheless relevant and interesting. Compare the outrage if the nukes in the US had this problem and our multi-cultural and likely empassioned criticism and outrage from no food, water, or ELECTRICTY because the power generation source is out.

    The Japenese take it in stride, with complacency.

  10. DB Avatar

    Yesterday Andrew Sullivan’s blog linked to a story about how Wikileaks revealed a U.S. Embassy cable that experts expressed concerns that guidance on how to protect nuclear power stations from earth quakes had only been updated three times in the past 35 years, and that “the Japanese government had oppossed a court order to shut down another nuclear power plant in western Japan because it could not withstand a powerful earthquake.”

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      Thanks. I’m not surprised.

      Wikileaks was supposed to be this awful release of top secrets. Yes, of government coverups and corporate malfeasance.

  11. WM Avatar

    A Japan cartoonist’s version of the power plant meltdowns for the kids in words they can understand: “It had a tummy ache just farted, but didn’t poo.” Something the kids can relate to. Gotta watch this video.

  12. BryantO Avatar

    I think the point and lesson to learn from this situation is that you can plan and prepare all you want,but nature has no regard for your plans and can never be fully predictable. Nuclear power is not clean or green energy,it creates extremely toxic waste that can kill for a billion years after wards. Here in Utah we have been fighting being the dumping ground of the worlds nuclear waste for years now. Even if you bury it underground, who knows what can happen in a billion years,and there is no guarantee it will never be discharged again. People just shouldn’t be f***ing around with this stuff!


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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