3-15-11: Maryland’s Emergency Nuclear Plans

March 15, 2011 at 8:12 am 6 comments

In Fukushima, Japan, dangerous levels of radiation are escaping into the air at the nuclear plant after an explosion occurred.  Leaders there are telling people within 20 miles of the nuclear plant to stay indoors.

Despite these events, the Obama administration has said it’s not backing away from pursuing nuclear power as an energy source.

Yesterday, we asked Governor Martin O’Malley’s office about whether he would like to move forward with plans for Calvert Cliffs 3.  A spokesman for the governor, Shaun Adamec, wrote back in an email:

The short answer is yes.  Calvert Cliffs is built to withstand an earthquake of the magnitude that is possible in our area. State emergency response exercises yearly, and have used an earthquake scenario before. We have plans that deal specifically with the plant and immediate population (as required by federal law) and there are warning systems in place and pre-determined evacuation plans. We have identified 10 mile plume zones and ingestion zones. Annual outreach with community is done and they are familiar with the plans. All this is to say that the Governor would expect and insist that such plans also be in place for Calvert Cliffs 3.

Sheilah discusses emergency preparedness in greater detail with Richard Muth, director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, and Susan Shaw, President of Board of County Commissioners for Calvert County.  She lives in Huntingtown, about 20 miles north of Lusby, where the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plants are located.

A note on the conversation:  Director Muth told us that the biggest earthquake recorded in Maryland was a 3.0 magnitude one, around the turn of the last century… and that Calvert Cliffs was designed to withstand a 4.5 magnitude earthquake.   Earthquakes are measured in logarithms, so according to the U. S. Geological Survey, a 4.5 earthquake is 31.622 times bigger than a 3.0, and 177.827 times stronger.

Entry filed under: Energy, On Air. Tags: , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Wayne Curtis  |  March 15, 2011 at 9:51 am

    The issue is not whether Calvert Cliffs can withstand a major earthquake. We simply don’t have them. But, we do have the potential for a similar “nightmare” sequence of events as what took place in Japan which might rob the reactors of the ability to cool. Call it the “Katrina scenario” where a category 4 or 5 hurricane hits us with major rains right before a direct strike at the Chesapeake… at high tide. With main power out from the wind and preliminary flooding, and a massive storm surge that — like the tsunami — would knock out backup systems, and with roads blocked and bridges out, is there anything we can plan that would protect the onsite spent fuel rod storage, and keep the cooling system running to prevent the type of human and environmental catastrophe that Japan may be experiencing? THAT is the question that this episode begs us to ask… and unfortunately, you didn’t.

  • 2. John Logue  |  March 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Is it too late to ask a question like that? What combinations of multiple simultaneous negative events have been considered? Since rare (multiple simultaneous) events are happening all the time somewhere, I, for one, would like some assurance that there are some efforts to think about them when the consequences are so high.

  • 3. Sheilah  |  March 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Fascinating scenario. You’re right, would have been a good question. I e-mailed it to both Richard Muth at MEMA and Mark Sullivan, spokesman for Constellation Energy’s nuclear activities, and haven’t gotten a real answer back from either.

  • 4. tom  |  March 22, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    In the event of a major hurricane, let’s not forget that this is a power plant. No doubt they have the capacity to generate enough electricity to power cooling pumps at the site, even if the backup generators fail. One of the major problems in Japan is that all these plants shut down (as planned) and their backup generators got ruined by the tsunami. Calvert County is not generally prone to flooding, except in some localized low lying areas. A tsunami would have to wipe out the Eastern Shore before getting to the Chesapeake Bay, and I think that would take a lot of punch out of it. I just don’t seem much sense in worrying about something that will probably not happen in our lifetime. The forces of nature ultimately will rule and no amount of planning can change that.

  • 5. Alexander  |  March 30, 2011 at 1:44 am

    I heard you read Mark Sullivan’s letter on the air Tuesday morning. Would you kindly post or better yet forward me directly his email? Thanks.

    • 6. mdmorn  |  March 30, 2011 at 9:43 am

      Here’s what we read:

      “We cannot speculate on what might happen, but the point is that international standards require that nuclear power plants be designed to withstand the effects of natural events as big as would be reasonably expected to occur, with some extra safety margin built in. We also have plans for response to even greater events if warranted. Nuclear power sites are considered among the most-secure industrial facilities.

      “The founding principle of nuclear safety is the protection of employees and the public.”


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