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Critics cite 'severe seismic risk' at California nuclear power plants

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Japanese plants, like US plants, are designed to withstand extreme events based on projections from past quake and tsunami action in the affected regions, he notes. Engineering for Fukushima I anticipated a maximum 7.8 quake and 6.5 meters (21 feet) wave height. “But of course, the quake was much more powerful and the waves came in half a meter higher than the plant design,” says Professor Meshkati.

US Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both California Democrats, sent a letter on March 16 to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calling for a “thorough inspection” of the two plants and asking detailed questions about the plants’ preparedness as well as the NRC’s oversight and enforcement of known concerns.

“New information about the severe seismic risk at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and the Diablo Canyon Power Plant make clear that these two plants require immediate attention in light of the catastrophic events in Japan,” said Senator Boxer in a statement.

The NRC "will be working on short term and long term analysis of the information we gather from the Japan incident," writes spokeswoman Lara Uselding in an e-mail.

“US nuclear power plants are built to withstand environmental hazards, including earthquakes and tsunamis,” adds Ms. Uselding. “The NRC requires that safety-significant structures, systems, and components be designed to take into account the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for the site and surrounding area.”

Sacramento hearing

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