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Virginia earthquake shifted nuclear storage casks

September 1, 2011 | 12:38 pm

North_Anna_Power_Station

The Aug. 23 earthquake that rattled the East Coast apparently shifted massive storage casks containing spent nuclear fuel at the North Anna nuclear power plant in central Virginia.

None of the metal cylinders were damaged and no radiation was released, Dominion Virginia Power told the Virginia Times-Dispatch.

The casks each weigh 115 tons, and rest on concrete pads. A spokesman for the utility likened the situation to hockey pucks on a jostled tray, and said the 16-foot-tall casks shifted from about an inch to 4 1/2 inches. "They just moved because of the vibration," Rick Zuercher told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "They remained upright and fully intact."

He added: "To date, there has been no significant earthquake-induced damage in safety-related structures or systems important to safety and shutdown cooling."

Officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will examine the seismic action as part of a plant inspection ordered in the wake of the quake. An NRC spokesman, Roger Hannah, told the L.A. Times that a public report on the inspection results can be expected in mid-to-late October. He added, however, that an initial review shows no damage.

Efforts to reach Dominion Power were not successful.

The power station is about 10 miles from the epicenter of the 5.8-magnitude quake, and began running its safety systems on generators after the quake knocked out the plant’s outside power source. Four diesel generators immediately began that backup operation, but then one of those generators broke down.

The two reactors at the plant stopped generating power automatically after the quake.

The North Anna plant is designed to withstand a 5.9 to 6.1 quake. Last week, it came “uncomfortably close” to that maximum, said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that advocates stronger regulation of nuclear power.

A much milder quake occurred this morning in Virginia, with a 3.4 magnitude. There were no immediate reports of injury or damages.

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--Rene Lynch
On Twitter @renelynch

Photo: The North Anna Power Station operated by Dominion Energy. Credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images

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