East Coast Quake: Nuclear Reactors Taken Offline

North Anna nuke plant, near epicenter of earthquake, issues alert.

ByABC News
August 23, 2011, 3:02 PM

Aug. 23, 2011 — -- Two nuclear reactors were automatically taken offline when a significant earthquake rocked the eastern seaboard today, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said.

The pair of reactors at the North Anna Power Station are located in Louisa County, Virginia, approximately five miles from the epicenter of the 5.8 magnitude quake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, but did not appear to suffer significant damage. The quake shook buildings in Washington, D.C., 100 miles to the north, and was felt as far away as Canada.

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Just after 4 p.m. local time Dominion Power, which operates the plant, tweeted, "No release of radioactive material has occurred beyond those associated with normal station operations." Dominion officials said the plant was built to withstand an earthquake of 6.2 magnitude.

In a statement, the NRC said the North Anna plant had declared an "Alert," the second-lowest of the NRC's four emergency classifications. Several other nuclear stations on the eastern seaboard declared "Unusual Events," the lowest classification.

In April, the NRC identified potential risks at the North Anna Power Station, noting that earthquake "vulnerabilities" were found there, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.

"Potential leakage can occur through penetrations following seismic event," the CPI said, citing the NRC report.

The plant's generators kicked in after a momentary loss of power and the plant currently has power, NRC spokesperson Elizabeth Stuckle said.

Teams are currently onsite to further assess any potential damage, said another NRC official, Joey Ledford.

Nine other plants along the East Coast also declared an unusual event but none were shut down, Stuckle said.

Seismographs had been installed around the North Anna Power Station to detect earthquakes, but those were taken offline in the 1990s due to budget cuts, according to the state of Virginia website.