Controversy over mapping of an earthquake zone to measure vulnerability of a nuclear power plant: public safety vs. environment. I wonder who’s right? Locals, environmental groups, and a Coastal Commission are opposing a project that will use a type of high-powered sonar under water to help create a map of any potential earthquake zones. The map will give planners and emergency managers (and the state of California) a snap-shot of how vulnerable this power plant is, and what the potential damage could be in case of an earthquake.
Those that oppose the mapping say that the methods used - high powered air-cannons - will harm wildlife.
It’s an interesting question, and one that will come up many times over the next few dozen years or so as states begin to inventory their vulnerabilities to environmental harms.
In my opinion, the opposition must meet a high-burden of proof - both scientifically and in public opinion. Sometimes opposition groups (especially environmental activists) need to weigh their actions vs disenfranchising themselves.
Here, a few groups are arguing against a risk assessment of a nuclear power plant’s vulnerability to earthquakes. The argument, it seems to me, is the short term, unproven potential affects on an unknowable number of marine animals vs. the long-term safety of an energy source that provides electricity to tens of thousands of people (hundreds of thousands if you count temporally). In other words, it’s 12-days of mapping off-shore, underwater vs 23,000 days of safety and clean energy onshore.
This is not a case of “finding a fair balance”. It’s a case of context and short-sightedness not being included in the opposition’s calculations. So, who’s right? What can be done to resolve this situation?
PG&E plans to use underwater ‘air cannons’ emitting 250-decibel blasts every 15 seconds for 12 straight days to map earthquake fault zones near Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.
photo: The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo, Calif. PG&E was ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission to conduct the risk assessment. (Phil Klein, Associated Press / April 26, 2001)
Over objections of Central Coast residents and environmental groups, Pacific Gas & Electric plans to map earthquake fault zones near its Diablo Canyon nuclear plant by blasting high-decibel air cannons under the surface of the ocean.
PG&E’s plan calls for towing a quarter-mile-wide array of underwater “air cannons” that emit 250-decibel blasts into the ocean every 15 seconds for 12 straight days. The sonic reflections would be picked up by underwater receivers and analyzed to provide detailed 3-D images of the geometry, relationships and ground motions of several fault zones near the Diablo facility, which generates enough energy to meet the needs of more than 3 million Northern and Central Californians.
“What we’re after with this survey is the geophysical equivalent of a CT scan — a combination of imagery and information that we could slice and dice and scrutinize in great detail,” said Jearl Strickland, director of nuclear projects for PG&E. “These kinds of surveys are being performed right now around the world with no problems.”
Opponents say the method threatens sea creatures from Central Coast rockfish to whales, and they dispute PG&E’s claims that there are no alternative, less harmful technologies available for the job.
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