Which nuclear plants in the US are at highest earthquake damage risk?


(U.S. Geological Survey map based on 2008 data that shows earthquake damage risk in the United States. The highest risk areas are purple, red and orange.)

MSNBC's Bill Dedman publishes a list that shows the "10 nuclear power sites with the highest risk of suffering core damage from an earthquake, showing their NRC risk estimates based on 2008 and 1989 geological data." Sites in NY, MA, TN, PA, CA, VA, SC, and FL are on the top of the list; which goes on to detail estimated risk at the 104 total nuclear power reactors located in the United States. Article includes many links to source data, and the list is available in this Excel spreadsheet.


  1. I think it’s interesting we’re limiting the scope of the data to just earthquakes. Living in Houston, I would be more worried about if the South Texas Project reactors are at risk from damage due to a strong hurricanes or storm surge following a hurricane.

    Is there good information on the complexes and to what standards they are built to? I’d like to know how the most likely local disasters are taken into account in their architecture and design.

    1. Well, good heavens! What damn fool put a nuke plant in Texas in a hurricane zone?

      Even so, I doubt either a tsunami or a storm surge could reach there. It wasn’t the earth quake that damned Fukushima; it was the tsunami.

      1. I’m not saying anyone is a fool. But I’d like to hear hard facts about local nuclear plants and their safety.

        An I found an article addressing my concerns in today’s paper after hunting. According to the article:

        “The South Texas Project is about 29 feet above sea level, spokesman Buddy Eller said, and appears capable of withstanding extreme storm events that are most likely for the region.

        A study looking at the possible impacts of a combined Category 5 hurricane storm surge and a 100-year flood on the Colorado River that runs adjacent to the plant site found water levels would rise to just under 28 feet.

        The plant also has three separate, redundant diesel back-up systems to run all of its onsite systems, including the reactor cooling. They’re located in steel-reinforced concrete buildings designed to withstand hurricanes and storm surges, said Eller.”

        So, now I feel much better. Anyone else find any articles on the safety of their local plants? It might be nice for BB to start compiling them as a resource.

  2. The scariest thing about this map is that mid-continental faults are generally the most unpredictable, and rarely strike the same fault twice, as suggested from a recent study of non-plate boundary earthquakes in China.

    And they can be big.

    Someone once said something about known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. I think maybe they were on to something. At least known knowns can be designed for.

    1. As far as planning goes, and speaking in general terms, you do what you can, and that’s all you can do.

      i mean, what else can you do?


  3. I’m sorry to mention things that people on here may think are “on the fringe”… BUT just suppose that the reason that a lot of the wealthiest people on earth have suddenly gone to New Delhi where they have nice new safe nuclear – holocaust proof shelters is because they have information about an impending threat to the planet from a celestial body. Also suppose this celestial body is the reason why we are experiencing such an increased amount of tectonic turbulence, then it follows that it isn’t really very useful to base assumptions about the safety of nuclear power stations precariously balanced on moving plates on data from 1989 and 2008 geological data is it?

    1. Sapa: You have links for that conspiracy? I can’t even find anything on Google. It sounds kind of fun.

      I certainly wouldn’t think New Delhi would be the safest place on Earth to ride out a massive disaster.

    2. “Nemesis” or “Niburu” is the favorite apocalyptic conspiracy topic of the late-night Coast to Coast crowd.

      Leaving aside the lack of evidence for an as-yet undiscovered large body interacting with the Solar system in any significant way, you really can be certain that there isn’t an astronomical body large enough and close enough to cause seismic events that could be kept secret. There are too many millions of amateur astronomers to miss that.

      As to the separate issue of an impending encounter with something from outside the solar system, Brown dwarfs are not invisible, they just radiate in the infrared spectrum. The recent WISE (wide-field infrared survey explorer) project scanned the infrared sky from orbit with very sensitive detectors, and the survey data was widely disseminated to be used by thousands of researchers.

      Certainly there could be some risk known only to a privileged few, or there could be a general contingency plan for all unknown, but I would suspect that nuclear-hardened bunkers built in India are more related to the known risk of a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

      1. Thank you I’m obviously out of my depth with this. I explained earlier in this thread how I had come across all this stuff.

        coaxial, I would have accepted this except that right at the start I looked at “Ask an Astrobiologist” and found a sentence written by David Morrison on 1st March saying that it was not to be taken seriously that predictions of an influence of this kind happening around 15th March shouldn’t be taken seriously.This is one of the things that set me off on this tack.

        I stand corrected that there is no more activity than usual and can accept that it is communications that have improved drastically which make it appear so. Looking at data from USGS I am even more shocked that nuclear power stations are placed in these areas.

        1. No problem… the memes are out there because they make great, convincing stories. Whenever a crisis like this happens, those preexisting archetypal narratives get adapted to fit.

  4. The spreadsheet does not correlate well with the map.

    May indicate that the plants in the seismically active areas have addressed the issue with earthquake resistant designs.

  5. I don’t know much about rogue celestial bodies, but I do know that our weather here in the Upper Midwest keeps out the earthquakes *AND* the riff-raff.

    1. I was looking through many Internet sites to put my son’s mind at rest about a new “comet” called Elenin Comet C/2010 X1, I sort of skewed off to looking at a brown dwarf called several different things including “Planet X” which did have quite a lot of investigation by Nasa. It is in 19 46 48.71, -22 49 14.56 area on Google Sky as a green smudge, I also looked at a you tube vid http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRRKWjg9QOs I now think that we are experiencing some kind of outside pressures. I tried to avoid the alarmists and also those in denial and stick to what seemed reasonable. I have thought for a long time that the theory of a binary sun is more reasonable for explaining precession.

  6. I wouldn’t put too much stock in that chart; they show the island of Hawai‘i as being at high risk. Yet when you consider that there are no nuclear plants anywhere in the state, and indeed that they are forbidden outright by the state’s Constitution, I just don’t think that risk is very significant. Perhaps a slightly lighter shade of red would be warranted there.

    1. …and I just reread the fine print under the chart; I see that it’s not meant to imply that all the red areas have nuke plants to be threatened.

      1. Correct – it’s a risk correlation estimate. The map shows the riskiest seismic places, and what we need are the dots of the reactors ON THE SAME MAP so that we draw the correct conclusions. If I had the time, I’d draw the damn map the way it’s supposed to be drawn: seismic zonage and reactor dots together.

        I can see how you’d formulate the mistaken conclusion you did. That’s because we weren’t presented with ALL the information, just half of it.

        1. You’d still draw the wrong conclusions if those dots were on the map. The article makes the point that the reactors in those red areas were built to higher tolerances than the ones in the green zones, which is why the #2 riskiest reactor (according to the article) is in MA, despite it being in an area that gets few quakes.

          1. The article doesn’t make that point alone. It also makes these points:

            -we only have 1/3 of the detailed design tolerance data for all these reactors.
            -the east IS seismically active, therefore risk for those reactors has shot way up

            and I have read other articles saying that the reactors built to so-called “higher earthquake tolerances” were actually built to withstand 6.0 earthquakes. Houses of straw…

            So, on the balance, you are right about drawing the wrong conclusions, but not for the reasons you cite. We’ll still draw all the wrong conclusions because we have shitty data all around.

        2. ” That’s because we weren’t presented with ALL the information, just half of it.”

          That does not matter so much – provided that you are presented with ALL of the material (and relevant) information.

  7. Exactly how would a celestial body affect plate tectonics? I would think that anything with enough gravitational force to affect the movements of the plates would be large enough to see with the naked eye (e.g. the moon).

    1. In the same way that the Moon pulls the tides the conjunction of heavy celestial objects, such as Saturn or Jupiter, with the Sun pulls on the magma that lies beneath the floating tectonic plates.

        1. It is true that magma is fluid and all fluids are influenced as water is by gravity and motion.

          ps (Be careful what you say about those good people)

          1. It must be kind of awkward for the geologists of the world to have missed this theory for decades.

          2. http://library.thinkquest.org/17701/high/tectonics/ptproc.html

            The following are from from http://www.astro.uu.nl/~strous/AA/en/antwoorden/planeten.html

            22.3. The Cause of Spin-Orbit Resonances

            Because of the tidal forces from the Moon, most seas and oceans on Earth experience two cycles of tides (two high tides and two low tides) a day. This means that there are two high tides on opposite sides of the Earth, which try to keep themselves aligned with the Moon. There are two tides and not just one because of subtle interaction between the force of gravity between the Moon and both tidal bulges (which is less on the far bulge than on the near bulge) and the centrifugal force from the orbit around the Earth (which is greater on the far bulge than on the near bulge).
            The tidal forces act not just on water, but on all material in the Earth, so the Earth itself is squeezed a bit in one direction and stretched in another direction such that it seems that the Earth has two low but wide bulges that try to keep themselves aligned with the Moon, but we don’t notice the land bulges because the rocks of the Earth can’t move as freely as the water of the oceans can.

            “If you stir a drink quickly, then the surface of the fluid becomes curved (lower in the middle, and higher near the edges where the speed is greatest). The fluid then goes through the curve fast, so it feels a centrifugal force. Some of the fluid then moves around until there is an equilibrium again, and that is when the surface is curved. When the fluid gets to rest again (because of friction with the cup) then some of the fluid flows back to the middle again, and then there is a balance once more.
            The Earth has done something similar. The Earth rotates and so has a centrifugal force, but the magma (on the inside) and water (on the outside) could adjust by redistributing themselves slightly

    2. Last post for me tonight but had to mention this, as far as I know, a brown dwarf doesn’t emit light so you don’t see it until light shines onto it from elsewhere

  8. I don’t understand how nuclear reactors in Florida could possibly be susceptible to earthquakes, and they don’t seem to explain it in the article. The maps they provide indicate that the entire state of Florida is in no way remotely vulnerable to seismic activity, especially the more southern reaches of the state, where the St. Lucie reactors are. Is their inclusion on this list just an indication of how relatively safe all U.S. reactors are, or am I missing something?

    1. Not sure why Florida has been included … seems to be an error … this is not a seismically active zone … probably hasn’t been for millions of years. what’s up?

      1. Because down the sides are oceans, the Atlantic has a fault down the center and the Gulf of Mexico has several across it, these could create tsunamis if there were quakes.

  9. Peeps should look at the spreadsheet. You’ll be astounded to know that a majority of the reactors we are running now predate Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

    4 – 60’s
    49 – 70’s
    45 – 80’s
    4 – 1990’s

    1. AS I understand it, one of the reasons the nuclear plants are so old is because of anti-nuclear activists. Since there’s a lot of lobbying against building new nuclear plants, politicians avoid building them as much as possible. Ironically, it seems that the US is using older, less safe nuclear plants because of activists afraid of nuclear power.

      1. “AS I understand it, one of the reasons the nuclear plants are so old is because of anti-nuclear activists. Since there’s a lot of lobbying against building new nuclear plants, politicians avoid building them as much as possible. Ironically, it seems that the US is using older, less safe nuclear plants because of activists afraid of nuclear power.”

        Right, because anti-nuclear activists said, “Don’t decommission those old plants, just keep using them until they fall apart from age”.

        We’re not using older, less safe nuclear plants because of anyone being “afraid” of nuclear power. Those plants are still in operation because someone’s making money off them and it sure as hell isn’t activists. But please don’t let me stop you, I’d love to see how much traction pro-nuke folks think they can get with this “Fukushima is all the fault of dirty hippies” nonsense.

      1. Wrong! See here for the list of nuclear reactors in Canada. If you want to break it down by sites, it’s Bruce, Pickering, Darlington, Gentilly, and Point Lepreau. Chalk River should probably count too.

  10. This is an interesting dataset that could easily be used to create some interesting maps illustrating the data, but you’d have to go in and manually get a latitude and longitude for each plant (down to city level would be fine, the city is provided for each) in order to do anything useful with GIS software. I believe the USGS earthquake hazard data is freely available in GIS formats if you know where to look, too, so it could be an interesting project for someone.

    I could do it myself since I’m a geologist and a GIS expert, and have lots of free time due to being unemployed and have access to GIS software (free open source GIS would be fine, in any case)…

    However, I feel it’s counter-productive and essentially a scare-mongering thing, so I won’t do it. I’m pro-nuke but not blindingly so – I understand that there are real risks. But this sort of thing can only really exaggerate the risks, and would be taken the wrong way by most. I suppose I will have to think about it some more because it would be an interesting little project.

    Also, the list of 104 counts each reactor separately rather than listing per plant – so for example Fukushima’s two plants would count as ten separate entries on such a list.

  11. Re-the map. The ENTIRE west coastline? Really, we have nuclear plants dotting the entire west coastline?

    Seriously though, anybody care to ‘splain the contiguous coastline risk?

  12. That big red spot on the corner of Missouri marks the largest earthquake in US history. IIRC, the Mississippi reversed its flow for awhile.

  13. You seriously think Buffett and Gates couldn’t just build their own, very posh, shelters? Why would the richest people on Earth shack up in an shelter built in India?

    I mean, seriously. You think there’s no other reason for leaders in investment and philanthropy to visit one of the largest developing economies in the world? Buffett made a fortune betting on China. India is poised to make him billions more.

    Thank you for the links though. I have realized as I have grown up that there really are conspiracies right out in the open. Our elections were clearly rigged and one of the people who admitted to doing it was killed, just as he said he would be. However, I still can’t buy into the HAARP/9/11 truther movement. There are too many problems to count.

    1. I really didn’t want to be a pain to the maker of this thread and I promise I’m not into these silly Internet fads and conspiracies. This was just something I came across accidentally and it seemed to fit. I mean in general people have worked this out from using telescopes and looking for themselves and have no information about where and if a comet is going to affect the Earth or if the brown dwarf is going to swing past our Sun. I just think it’s a bit odd that whole families of people who are most likely to have that information are as far away as possible from the big one which is San Andreas.

      I think that we as intelligent beings should be using some other fuel like solar power and shut down all the reactors because quite honestly I believe it is the biggest mistake that we have ever made. Also if you look at the pattern of volcanoes and quakes it’s plain to see that there is much more activity at the moment than usual and so nowhere is exempt.

      Actually if you want alternative power look at this and this is really my last post for tonight

  14. Conspiracy theories?

    is the following statement true or false?

    There are people whose economic interests would be harmed were the USA to more widely adopt the use of nuclear power generation.

    1. Let me guess, is it the evil Alternative Energy Conspiracy?

      No wait, is it the Coal Barons, with us as their willing dupes?!?!

  15. Thank you for pointing out that what is going on in Japan is really all about America. Every U.S. news spigot is reporting this story as if there isn’t enough to report from Japan. Not griping on Xeni or BB for posting this, it’s a pretty map and everyone is carrying this story. Are we really this self-centered? Or are reporters too chickenshit to actually go to Japan? The decent thing to do would be to have this debate in about 6 months of course by that point we’ll be hyped about something else.

  16. I hope my mom doesn’t see this. She already demanded we move from Seattle because “the news said you’re overdue for exactly the same type of earthquake and tsunami Japan had!”

  17. PeterK brings up a valid point. The idea that this map illustrates “earthquake risk” turns on the assumption that places that have been struck in the past are the most likely to be struck in the future.

    In the broad sense, that’s true – at least for areas near plate junctions.*

    But for mid-plate quakes – on this map, the large area toward the center near the Mississippi river, and the somewhat smaller area near Charleston, SC – it’s not necessarily so.

    Those areas correspond to the 1811-12 New Madrid sequence (three major shocks, estimated at 7.7, 7.7, and 7.5 MW by the USGS) and the 1886 Charleston, SC earthquake (est. 7.3 MW).

    The three New Madrid shocks are three of the ten largest quakes ever to strike the contiguous US – and Charleston is number 13, according to the USGS.

    While it’s possible that those areas could suffer large shocks in the future, it’s also possible – even likely, as the Chinese study indicates – that the next series of very large mid-plate quakes could be somewhere else entirely.

    Somewhere with no substantial seismic history, and no habit of building or preparing for large quakes.

    Mid-plate quakes are often related to continental rifting – including failed rifts that became ‘inactive’ millions of years ago.

    So the next big mid-plate quake in the US might happen somewhere along, say, the Mid-Continent Rift System.

    Or it might happen somewhere else entirely.

    As the stockbrokers say, “past performance is not a guarantee of future results.”

    *Though in a more micro sense, it’s not true at all, since many damaging plate-margin quakes occur on previously unknown faults – usually buried thrust faults, like Northridge.

    Indeed, near the plate margins, (but away from the really big plate-boundary faults) being near a recently-active local fault may be the safest place, since that fault has already had its big quake for the next few centuries.

  18. Here I was thinking we would be just fine and dandy down here, since the closest nuke power plant here in Illinois is in central Illinois. Thanks a lot, Tennessee!

  19. I find this map very interesting. If something like this is a legitimate threat to human health (which I highly doubt), then wouldn’t the coastline between Alaska and Washington also be affected?

    I think this is bogus and shows the egocentrism of the United States in dealing with world affairs. AKA, how is this going to affect US? For now, I think we should focus on the real crisis

    1. Uh – what are you talking about? It’s a map showing where fault lines and the dangers of earthquakes are in the US. It wasn’t just drawn up because of what happened in Japan. I don’t know why one would doubt it’s accuracy, you can find similar maps with ease online.

      I don’t find it bogus or egocentric, it’s something everyone everywhere asks when something like this happens: can it happen to me?

  20. Only the moon and to a much lesser extent, the sun, effects the tides. Everything else is simply too small and much too far away.

    This is elementary school science.

  21. Map says FL and TX are low-risk for earthquake while article says otherwise. My bet is that the summary is incorporating other risk factors such as hurricanes, while the map is just earthquake.

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