Timon Singh

The Construction of Nuclear Power Plants to Change In Wake of Japan's Earthquake

by , 03/16/11
filed under: Renewable Energy

japan tsunami, nuclear power plants, japan nuclear power plant, seismic nuclear power plant, seismic areas, nuclear power plant construction

While the Japanese tsunami has reignited the concerns over nuclear power, one thing is clear – the rules governing the location of their construction are sure to change. One would argue that the construction of a nuclear power plant in a seismically unstable region was always a cause for concern, but Michael C. Constantinou, PhD, professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering at the University at Buffalo has said that the next generation of nuclear power plants and other energy facilities will be greatly influenced by the lessons learnt from the recent tragedy.

According to Constantinou, it is possible to seismically isolate an entire facility on a concrete platform, however it is much more “technologically complex”.

“If a is built at a site where a 30-foot tsunami wave is possible, if it comes, it is going to have a significant effect, there is no way to control for that,” says Constantinou, a structural engineer, and researcher with UB’s Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research. “The only way to prevent the situation is to build the plant further inland, to seismically isolate it and, perhaps, to elevate it.”

This sort of caution has been implemented with Russia’s oil and gas platforms in the North Pacific near the Sakhalin Island. They lie several hundred miles north of the epicenter of the March 11th Japanese earthquake.

“These platforms sit on concrete bases on the with legs that are about 80 meters tall, and the structure on top of the platform is another 20 stories high; the entire structure weighs some 30,000 tons,” he explains.

“Conditions there are extreme,” he added. “It is a multi-hazard environment, where one hazard can worsen the effects of another. The platforms are designed to withstand, without failure or significant effect, major earthquakes, ice forces on platform legs where giant slabs of ice two meters thick can form, temperatures as low as -40, blasts and very large waves, on the order of 10 meters above the ocean’s surface, which only may occur once every 10,000 years, and waves in combination with ice slabs,” he says. “They are very difficult structures to design.”

Constantinou says that steel ductile bearings can cope with very low temperatures and which have a large displacement capacity as well as a capacity to carry such large loads. He says they are the only ones suitable for the extreme conditions encountered in the North Pacific.

“It wouldn’t be possible to use elastomeric — rubber — bearings, which are very frequently used in Japanese buildings,” Constantinou explains. “At those very low temperatures, the rubber bearings become brittle and can shatter like glass. Also, these loads and displacement demands are too large for elastomeric bearings.”

Here’s a better idea – just don’t build potentially hazardous power plants and facilities in seismically unstable regions! You wouldn’t build one in San Francisco…

+ University of Buffalo

via Phys Org

Photo credits Joe Zlomek

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4 Comments

  1. Janet Fitch-Johnson March 18, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    I hope electric 38 is right about the solar panels. Thank you!

  2. electric38 March 18, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Japan will likely re-build using solar. Since our banks have billions of taxpayer relief money, they will soon set up creative mass financing plans to “rent” solar panels for rooftops across the country. This way they can draw rent from consumers for years to come.
    Too bad. This was a chance for Americans to get out from under 3 of our monopolies (utility company, car company via EV’s, oil company) by transforming free energy from the sun. No wonder the banks and economic powers keep growth at a standstill. They would not benefit if most Americans had the means to afford this clean energy.
    The lesson learned from failed nuclear plants? Don’t build em.

  3. Janet Fitch-Johnson March 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    The need to halt the construction of any more nuclear power plants and replacement of ALL existing ones with SAFE, RENEWABLE
    i.e. WIND AND SOLAR ENERGY is the most urgent cause the world faces!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Marko March 17, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Here’s an even better idea – It is all to easy to say ‘don’t build potentially hazardous power plants and facilities’ but next time you cook lunch or turn on the light, or take out something from your fridge, remember that this electricity has to come frome somewhere!

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