A spokesman for Southern California Edison, the operator of the San Onofre nuclear power generating station (between LA and San Diego, the big white dome-shaped thing off I-5) was trying to calm fearful Southern California residents today when he explained that the 84-acre generating station was built to withstand a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. He also told local media that a 25-foot-high "tsunami wall" of reinforced concrete stood between the plant and the immediately adjacent Pacific ocean.
Well, that's nice. But this Southern California resident remains concerned: the earthquake that devastated Japan last Friday, throwing various nuclear power plants into crisis and sparking worldwide fears of a major nuke accident, was a 9.0 "great quake." And the tsunami that soon followed? That was 33 feet high.
When the plant was built 42 years ago (42 years! That's forever in design-years!), scientists predicted a 6.5 quake could strike the plant. The designers of the San Onofre plant built with a higher threshold in mind. But man, not high enough, for my money. There's a geological fault just 5 miles offshore, and good odds we'll be hit by a "great quake" of our own, sooner or later.
For context: those documents from TEPCO, operator of the stricken Fukushima plant in Japan, that were obtained by reporters at the Wall Street Journal? They show that engineers tested the Fukushima plant to withstand a quake up to magnitude 7.9.