Earthquakes raise concerns locally about possibility of nuclear power

Two back-to-back minor earthquakes that happened Wednesday raise concerns among some people in our area about the possibility of a future nuclear power plant in west Kentucky.

At 11:51 a.m., the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed a 3.4 magnitude earthquake in Carlisle County. Seven minutes later, it reported a 2.6 magnitude quake just west of Bardwell.

Wednesday afternoon, the Leeper Act passed the Kentucky House of Representatives. The measure would allow nuclear power facilities in the state. Gov. Matt Bevin has already indicated that he would sign the act into law.

It’s concerning to some, because the site where so many local lawmakers want a nuclear reactor is in the New Madrid Fault Zone. Murray State University Assistant Geoscience Professor Michelle Casey says it could be 150 years before we have another major earthquake, but she warns that quakes come with little to no warning.

“I think that people are complacent that we aren’t going to have any seismic episodes, because it is so rare. The probability to have one is very low, but the possibility is definitely there.” Casey says. “There are other places in Kentucky that are a lot further from the New Madrid Fault Zone that might be better to build.

She says, because of the type of fault zone the New Madrid is, heavy damage isn’t likely. But, the impact an earthquake would have on a nuclear facility would depend on engineering. “It doesn’t already exist, so you could try and make it resistant to shaking. I don’t think you’re going to be able to make something resistant to 7 or 8 magnitude earthquakes," she says. If a catastrophic event occurred, Casey says she thinks the more pressing concern would be the countless buildings down and other destructive effects of that earthquake.

Rep. Gerald Watkins, who represents District 3, says he is thrilled that the Leeper Act passed. He says concerns regarding earthquakes have all been considered. “I know that everyone’s concerned about the safety. I am too. We all are. But the nuclear industry is the most heavily regulated energy industry in the country, and there are safety precautions that have to be taken no matter where it’s located," he says.

It could take up to 10 years for a nuclear facility to be built in Kentucky. For now, many of you have expressed differing opinions about the issue on our Facebook page.

Regarding one of our posts about the bill, viewer Jennifer Smiley wrote: “Didn’t they just have another earthquake in KY today, though? I mean, what could go wrong?”  Fellow viewer Randy Wright commented: “Great news for Kentucky.”

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