Editor’s note: This story was written before the April 9 7.4 aftershock in Japan. The aftershock caused further damage to the Fukushima plant, which resulted in explosions in several reactors and currently is threatening a nuclear meltdown.
The Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami has caused much harm and damage to northeastern Honshu, Japan. The double hit by Mother Nature caused Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Satsumasendai to have fires, and damages done to the reactors have caused a worldwide scare.
But how much relation does the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant have to Eastern Washington’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation? According to spokesmen for Energy Northwest Michael Paoli, not much.
“Don’t jump to that comparison stage. First of all, those plants in Japan did withstand the earthquake. It’s that one-two punch of the tsunami that started them down the road they are on now,” Paoli said in an interview for Northwest Cable News.
Hanford wouldn’t have to worry about tsunamis being located in Richland, Washington. But what if the Columbia River flooded? Or what if the Grand Coulee Dam ruptures upstream? Paoli said that Hanford was built to withstand that scenario. The plant was also built five miles from the Columbia to avoid that scenario.
There aren’t many relations between the two plants. One comparison is the type of reactors used in each plant. They both use boiling water reactors. Boiling water reactors use heat created by nuclear fission to boil the water and create steam to power the turbines to create power.
However, Paoli said that Hanford has one advantage over the Japanese plants which is its own backup power source, a steam generator. Hanford is also 15 years newer than Sendai’s plants
The issue faced in Japan isn’t related to the production of power. It deals with whether or not Hanford will have the same issues as Sendai in terms of structure stability.
After September 11, 2001, the United States had all their nuclear plants inspected to make sure their structures are stable. Hanford was found to be able to withstand the impact of a passenger jetliner.
Hanford was built to withstand the magnitude of a 6.9 earthquake. The earthquake in Japan was a 9.0 with an aftershock of 7.4 nearly a month later. If Washington faced a similar magnitude as experienced in Japan, the plant has ways to protect itself from fires or overheating in the reactors.
Hanford has three additional emergency-cooling systems. These systems provide a cushion that the plants in Japan lack, according to Sandi Doughton’s article in The Seattle Times.
But can Hanford hold up to a magnitude greater than 6.9 since the earthquake was a 9.0. According to Rochelle Olson, spokeswoman for Energy Northwest, in theory, yes it can.
The plant was originally built to withstand a 6.9 but over the years, there have been modifications to the foundation to allow it to withstand earthquakes greater than that magnitude.
It’s important to understand and to have concern about Washington’s own nuclear plants since it’s a part of the Ring of Fire. Off the coast of Washington there is the Juan de Fuca Plate that is in motion and will cause a future earthquake. With this in mind, there have been checks made to maintain structure stability at Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
But to simply compare it to Sendai’s crisis isn’t something Washington’s citizens need to worry about. All that can be done is to watch and learn from the lessons Sendai Nuclear Power Plant.
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