Tsunami Changes Future of Nuclear Power

Article excerpt

The design of next-generation nuclear power plants and other critical energy facilities undoubtedly will be influenced by the Japanese tsunami and its devastating effects on that nation's nuclear reactors, asserts Michael C. Constantinou, a structural engineer and investigator with the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research.

"If a nuclear reactor 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; relates Constantinou, who works on seismic protective systems that deflect and dissipate seismic energy and protect structures during earthquakes. "The only way to prevent the situation is to build the plant further inland, to seismically isolate it and, perhaps, to elevate it."

According to Constantinou, it is possible to isolate an entire facility seismically on a concrete platform. "This is possible technologically, but much more complex." Constantinou is familiar with this technique, having helped with the design of seismically isolated offshore oil and gas drilling platforms in the North Pacific near Russia's Sakhalin Islands, several hundred miles north of the epicenter of the Japanese earthquake.

"These platforms sit on concrete bases on the ocean floor with legs that are about 80 meters tall, and the structure on top of the platform is another 20 stories high; the entre structure weighs some 30,000 tons. Conditions there are extreme," he explains. "It is a multi-hazard environment, where one hazard can worsen the effects of another. …