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Nuclear industry shaken up by East Coast earthquake?

Plant Vogtle

Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, Burke County, Georgia. (File / WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011

AUGUSTA -- The science building at Augusta State University was a little shaken up this past Tuesday.

"I was actually in the lab with some students. Suddenly, the whole building started swaying back and forth," said Dr. Christian Poppeliers, an associate professor of physics there.

He knew it was the aftershock of the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Virginia. It's a reminder that the East Coast isn't immune to traditionally West Coast disasters.

"We're not. Nobody's immune to earthquakes. It's possible to have a 6.0-magnitude earthquake anywhere in the country," he said.

Now, a new debate about nuclear power plant safety has begun in Washington and around the nation.

"The earthquake along the east coast, as we read, you know, was in the vicinity of several nuclear power plants," said Cheri Collins, the nuclear liaison and general manager of Southern Nuclear Operating Company.

She says the reactors near the epicenter went offline safely, and the staff there performed well. As for Plant Vogtle, she says nothing will change there as reactors 3 and 4 are being built.

"The focus at Vogtle right now is providing a strong foundation for Vogtle 3 and 4," she said.

News 12 watched just months ago as gigantic dump trucks appeared as toys in the huge crater where the foundation was being built. She's confident if a 'quake hit closer by, it wouldn't matter.

"All plants -- all of our plants and every U.S. nuclear power plant -- is designed to withstand ground motion well above the maximum anticipated for that particular geographical area," she said.

"I'm not concerned about seismic hazards in terms of atomic power plants. No, absolutely not," Poppeliers said.

At the power plant in Virginia, one of the back-up diesel generators malfunctioned. The earthquake that hit there was a 5.8 in magnitude. That power plant can withstand about a 6.0 magnitude.

Collins says it's rare that they detect seismic activity at Plant Vogtle. Generally, it's a a pretty quiet area seismically.

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