Missouri nuclear power plant quakeproof, officials say

The plant’s radioactive material is surrounded by concrete walls four feet thick.

Amid growing concerns over the safety of nuclear energy use in the United States, Missouri officials say the nuclear power plant in Callaway County would remain safe and operational in the case of a natural disaster.

Callaway Nuclear Development Manager Scott Bond believes the Callaway County nuclear plant would not be affected by an earthquake in the way three of Japan’s plants have been affected in the last couple weeks.

“The plant there successfully withstood the earthquake," Bond said. "It was the tsunami that compromised their safety equipment.”

Bond said the Callaway plant is built 300 feet above the Missouri River, which would ensure it could not affect the plant.

The Callaway plant is built to withstand the natural disasters prevalent in Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. said.

“Our reactor at the Callaway plant is a different kind of reactor than Japan,” McCaskill said in a radio conference call Wednesday. “We believe that ours is much safer because of that, and it has been built to withstand earthquakes.”

The New Madrid seismic zone is located partially in southeast Missouri. This fault system was responsible for large, destructive earthquakes in 1811 and 1812. There has not been any major activity since then, but scientists are unsure if activity along the fault could resume.

Most earthquakes take place along the boundaries of tectonic plates. Eric Sandvol, MU Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences, described tectonic plates as moving jigsaw puzzle pieces which make up the Earth.

Missouri is in the middle of the North American plate, making it a very strange location for an earthquake. According to Sandvol, scientists are unable to use many of their usual methods in order to predict when an earthquake is going to occur.

“When you have reputable scientists, who are publishing and actively studying in the field, and if there’s a very vigorous debate, you know probably, we don’t understand it all that well,” Sandvol said.

This lack of knowledge makes it hard to know how much, if any, precaution should be taken.

“It probably wouldn’t be, in my mind, the most prudent thing to say that we’re done with earthquakes and that we don’t have to worry about them,” Sandvol said. “But it’s a balance, because preparing for earthquakes costs money, lots of money,”

The radioactive material at the plant is stored with three separate levels of protection.

The material itself is stored in metal tubes which are contained in a reactor vessel that is 8 inches thick and can withstand more than 2,200 pounds of pressure. That vessel is contained in a concrete building with walls 4-feet thick.

“It’s actually designed to hold pressure as well, the most pressure that could ever be generated in an accident in that building,” Bond said.

According to Bond, the plant was designed to fit the rigorous guidelines put in place by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in order to withstand worst-case natural disasters.

“On top of that, employees have detailed procedures to deal with those type of events and events that would be beyond the design basis of the plant to ensure that the public is protected,” Bond said.

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