This article explains strategies for preserving life and enhancing public safety in the event of a random earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The last earthquake and tremors in 1811-1812 lasted over a month and resulted in the loss of life and extensive property damage in states from Illinois through to Mississippi.
The difference between 1811 and now is that a greater population lives in this area alongside a considerable nuclear power plant infrastructure. Therefore, strategies to preserve life and property need to be formulated and put into practice on a continuous basis. 1)
The states along the New Madrid Seismic Zone include Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. 1) Impacted reactors in these states are the subject of public safety oversight and regulatory review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (NRC) These reactors include Nuclear I and II in Arkansas; Braidwood 1 and 2 belonging to Exelon Generation in Joliet, Illinois; Dresden II and III belonging to Exelon Generation in Joliet Illinois; LaSalle I, II belonging to Exelon Generation Company in Ottawa, Illinois; Quad Cities I, II in Moline Illinois and Grand Gulf I Nuclear Station near Vicksburg, Mississippi among others. 2)
There are numerous implications for an earthquake along the San Madrid Earthquake Fault Line. These implications include civil, electrical and mechanical engineering for the infrastructure, the power grid, public safety and emergency shut down of nuclear reactors. The infrastructure includes all of the relevant roads leading into the nuclear reactor, as well as the coolant, drinking water wells, monitoring wells and piping infrastructure under the nuclear power plant.
The drinking water is a life preservation issue which impacts the local population
and ecosystem directly. Monitoring wells are in place to verify that tritium levels are within predefined legal limits. In addition, the operability of these monitoring wells is a continuous concern because the public needs to be informed of unsafe tritium levels on a continuous basis both before and after an earthquake event.
The NRC’s regulations are aimed at enhancing public safety by setting forth standards for systems necessary to operate the nuclear power plant or shut it down in case of an emergency or natural exigency. These safety systems’ buried piping is subject to rigorous routine inspection and testing requirements set forth in the NRC agency regulations, as well as from standards of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The most recent buried pipe leaks have involved water with above-normal levels of tritium. Tritium is a mildly radioactive isotope of hydrogen which is normally measured in picocuries (trillionths of a curie) per liter. 3)