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Japan-style earthquake and tsunami unlikely to hit Southern California, experts say

Fault map of Southern California.

Although Southern California is riddled with geological fault lines, and some are relatively close to both the San Onofre and Diablo Canyon nuclear sites, experts said the region was at little risk of experiencing a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami like the ones that hit Japan.

“There’s no offshore fault in any of Southern California that’s exactly like the one that broke in Japan,” said Thomas H. Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California.

Thomas K. Rockwell, an earthquake expert at San Diego State University, estimated that the offshore faults near the San Onofre nuclear power plant could generate earthquakes of magnitude up to 7 to 7.5, but he said a major earthquake in the area might occur only once every couple of thousand years.

Diablo Canyon lies on the far western end of the Transverse Ranges, where the high-end magnitude possible is slightly higher, he said.

However, Rockwell said there was essentially no risk of an earthquake that would generate a tsunami like the one that struck Japan at either site because there is no subduction zone -- where one plate slides under another -- off the shore of Southern California.

An earthquake could cause undersea landslides that would potentially generate a tsunami, but it would be of much smaller magnitude, he said.

Northern California and the Pacific Northwest are at a greater risk of a major tsunami because of their proximity to the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

While the risk factors in Southern California may be lower than in Japan, some contend that the danger still does not justify placing nuclear power plants in earthquake territory.

“Earthquakes happen -- they happen a lot in California, they happen often on faults we don’t even know are there, and no one can predict if there’s a small or large chance,” said Dan Hirsch, president of Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nonprofit nuclear policy organization. “The world is filled with lots of risk, and placing big bottles filled with massive amounts of radioactivity near earthquake faults doesn’t make much sense.”

Jordan acknowledged the possibility of an earthquake on a previously undiscovered fault near either of the power plants.

“We are constantly being surprised in this business, so you have to build in the possibility of surprise, and I think that to a significant degree, that has been done,” he said.

San Onofre is built to withstand a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, said Gil Alexander, a spokesman for the generation station's operator, Southern California Edison. That is greater than the 6.5 shaker that scientists predicted could strike the plant before it was built 42 years ago, he said. But it's less than the 8.9 quake that hit Japan last week.


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Fault map of Southern California. Credit: UC Santa Barbara

Comments () | Archives (25)

Japan-style earthquake and tsunami unlikely to hit Southern California, experts say

A year ago: Earthquake, tsunami and other natural disasters do not threaten Japanese nuclear plants, experts say

A 7.0-7.5 only expected to happen once in 1000 years? That's good to know, because it will take that long for the radiation to dissipate after a meltdown.

We could generate all the energy we would ever need by simply installing solar panels on our rooftops. Nuclear plants, even if they never meltdown, still produce radioactive waste. It should be illegal to NOT have solar panels in the one area of the country that has constant sunlight year round!

I'm sure the Japanese nuclear company executives said the same thing. And guess what happened . . .?!?!?

Unlikely = a degree of likelihood. Unlikely should not be used when discussing topics like nuclear meltdown.

I propose a 5-10 year plan to substitute our nuclear power with non-fossil alternatives. If only Branson would hold that challenge perhaps we'd have progress!

that's what they always say as the building comes tumbling down...time to listen to the experts and than do 100 times more than what they say....

Please stop saying that it is unlikely to happen here. That is what they would have said in Japan a week ago.

Experts said the same thing for japan before this disaster. I think science is not really the science.

Sevillex: that quote from last year where experts state that Japanese nuclear power plants are not at risk from earthquakes and tsunamis is a powerful one.

Please post a link to the actual article as I'd like to read more from it.

Reactors can be built to withstand very large earthquakes. Even the size of the recent quake Japan. The problem with Japan's reactors was largely created by the tsunami that took out their backup generators. If those generators had been better protected from the tsunami, we wouldn't be talking nearly as much about these reactors in the news.

Nuclear power plants have been around for decades and only one has had a disastrous breakdown-- Chernobyl. And that was caused by a series of operator mistakes, in addition to the use of substandard materials. As a species whose civilization is so dependent on electrical power, we have to live with a degree of risk in our production of energy. While nuclear power plants have the potential to do the greatest harm, they are less likely to have these kinds of cataclysmic breakdowns than any other form of energy-producing technology. The fact is, it was an enormous mistake for the power companies in Japan not to make sure the backup generators at each plant were better protected from the impact of a large tsunami, especially considering that country's history of large earthquakes. The plants themselves weathered the earthquake just fine.

So, these fellows don't think the tsunami generated by a major quake on the Cascadia subduction zone from Northern California to the Pacific N.W. will hit Southern California? They are trying to fool us.
It would hit and it would hit hard.

I'm not quite sure how @JohnRJ08 can argue that "While nuclear power plants have the potential to do the greatest harm, they are less likely to have these kinds of cataclysmic breakdowns than any other form of energy-producing technology".

Other than large hydroelectric projects (which are themselves a bad idea), I don't know any other form of energy production that has ANY chance of a "cataclysmic breakdown".

Why do I not feel comforted?

"Thomas K. Rockwell, an earthquake expert at San Diego State University, estimated that the offshore faults near the San Onofre nuclear power plant could generate earthquakes of magnitude up to 7 to 7.5, but he said a major earthquake in the area might occur only once every couple of thousand years."

In Other Words..Not Only IS It ABSOLUTELY.."Possible"..But The Simple Fact IS It WILL BE A "Worse Than Expected" Scenario.


This is the reality of the Denial and Rationalization EPIDEMIC Undermining Every Aspect Of Industries "Claims" of "Safety and Security".

The Statement made by the "Expert" is..a LIE!

A Straight Up...Lie!

Oh..its "Casual"..its Not "Outrageous" in its.."Form"..yet..its a Lie!

If Read From the Perspective Of Reality..it reads thus:

"It Hasn't Happened Yet...So..That Means..Well..Absolutely Nothing..Umm..Y'know?"

Furthermore and in many ways even more Disturbing is the..well.."Simpleton Factor" thats actually Taken for GRANTED by the "Reporter":

"So..It Only Happens Once Every Thousand Years Or So..And So..When It DOES Happen..Now That There's A Nuclear Power Plant Sitting On It..Well..SO WHAT?"

Hey Chief! When It Does Happen..JUST ONCE...THE WHAT?

That'll Make It "Okay"?



The "Laziness" of such "Reasoning"..to actually "Promote" the idea that:

"Well..since its PROBABLY Not gonna Happen..EVEN THOUGH..IT..COULD...Well..We're SAFE..."



This is the kind of "Rationale" that allows for Total Corruption of the Regulatory Systems that are s'posed to make sure the "Worst Case Scenario"..Does NOT Occur.

Instead what we have is a Lethal Form of..."Make Believe Science".

"Hasn't Happened Yet..So..It Probably Won't.."



Its Literally a Foregone Conclusion. That's What "Disaster Planning" is Supposed to be All About!

Frankly..the Laziness..the Intellectual Dishonesty..the Moral Corruption..the Arrogance and Greed mixed with Little Tin General Power Tripping Bureaucrats whom seek NOT to "Protect" the Public..the Environment..the Very Air We Breath and the Water We Drink..but rather seek cushy "Administrative" or..Worse.."Lobbying Jobs" after "Leaving" their Government "Service"..well..this irrefutable situation has left us With But ONE CHOICE:

Nuclear Power Is OVER!

It Can No Longer Be Even remotely "Justified".

The Single..Sole..OVERRIDING Argument In ANY "Debate"..Must Now Be:

"The Inevitability Of The Worst Case Scenario Occurring!"

That..is the Final "Condition" Before Deployment Can Be Allowed.

Sadly..the Simple Fact That Corporate Corruption Of "Government" is now Overt and Universal..Then Overrides Even the POSSIBILITY or Pretense that a Contractor of the Nuke Facility Level..Can or Would Actually Construct a "Worst Case Prepared" Installation.

It Will NOT Be the Case.

Since the Worst Case Scenario Is A CERTAINTY..and as Corruption regarding actual Preparedness for that Certainty is EQUALLY CERTAIN..there is ONE..Conclusion:

To Continue To Utilize "All Or Nothing" Energy Systems and their Development..is..Quite Completely:


they said the same thing about deep sea oil drilling, until last august

Blah blah blah, yada yada yada.

You forgot the, "you have a greater chance of being killed in an auto accident." line.

Remember, these reactors were built during the worst period of US engineering competency.

I give you the Age of the Pinto.

The Yellow Journalism practiced by the LA Times (and other mainstream media) is simply irresponsible.

Just because you all flunked physical science and never attempted physics 101 in college it is no reason to avoid trying to understand what really is happening over there before you write about it. You are knee jerking about things obviously you know nothing about.

The "explosions" you are taking about are simply the byproduct of using sea water to cool down the cores and then releasing some the resulting steam into the building housing the core. The hydrogen mixes with oxygen and you got your basic Hindenburg. But the building is only there to protect from the elements and bird guano. It is not part of the real containment.

The small amounts of radioactivity being released is composed of short lived elements that live days at most and the cores have NOT melted. Even if they did, the containment vessels are designed to hold the material until it cools and it can be taken out later in a safe manner.

The only nuclear explosion here is the inherent bias and ignorance of this paper.

I'm still waiting to read the LA Times' apology to Toyota... Jeez... Hearst would be pleased.

It's a beautiful day outside... don't forget to be here now. Peace out and God Bless

Anyone that thinks solar is the answer to anything is living in a play world. Its uneconomical, and technology doesen't exist to power even one family's energy needs via solar panels on their house. Its more of a novelty, that can contribute a little to your power needs, but is marginally worth doing only with the large government subsidy. Maybe in 20 years it will make sense, but not today. Solution is eliminate NASA funding and give their funding to research alternate energy. Eventually something will be developed. In the meantime, solar panels are 70's technology, and one more waste of your tax dollars.

"Maybe in 20 yrs solar will make sense, but not today" Gee, that's the quote the oil companies have been feeding us for twenty years now.

When it comes to San Onofre, designed to withstand 7.0 EQ because at the time they couldn't envision anything larger there than a 6.5, well.... the ONLY expert quote I've seen all day that makes any sense is this: “Perhaps the message is we should re-evaluate the occurrence of superlarge earthquakes on any fault,” Dr. Stein said."

No kidding.

Our commitment to nuclear power plants along fault lines makes as much sense as deep water drilling. I am SICK of short-sighted FOOLS. It's time to change our energy addiction and boot the morons handing us the needle, while we still can.

The comments on this article are all ridiculous, save a few. Suddenly everyone and their mother is a geologist or at least an armchair scientist? Give me a break. Tonye is probably the only person that has posted here so far that has any sense.

By the way, Gerald, why take away NASA's funding? Why not just shave off par of the immense funding that goes into our military? That makes much more sense.

How about you people get off your computer and save some electricity. If you eliminate nuclear plants in California, you'd better go stock up on your candles 'cause electricity rates will go through the roof and we'll end up buying electricity from other states that have nuclear power. Don't bother using the AC in the Summer time either since we're short on power as it is during the hot summer months even with nuclear power. Don't even bother mentioning wind or solar as a replacement for solar. It's not practical and it can only add to what to have, not become the primary source of power.

Do not challenge Nature (GOD) .....

Earthquakes will happen in California and Nuclear Plants shall be banned from operating in California...

Subduction Zone or No Subduction Zone , Earthquakes which can cause great damage are very likelt and it is just a matter of time....

To Our Elected officials and President Obama.... Enough evidence with Japan Nuclear Crisis... Sign a Presidential Executive Order to Close all Nuclear Plants within next 90 days operating in California ........

wow so u think it will happen but when?

this is scary, but i want to know when the next earthquack will happen in Turlock California so we all could take porcation. i just hope that God will have mercy on us and the people who are living in Japan


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