ISSUES: Another Japanese tsunami and wishful thinking at Point Lepreau.

Following a major earthquake, a 15-metre tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident on 11 March 2011. All three cores largely melted in the first three days. There has been little success in stabilizing the reactors and major impacts are occurring in the Pacific and throughout the island.

Another tsunami has hit Japan recently and another occurred  after a 7.3 earthquake there in 2012. Fortunately, that tsunami only reached a height of about one meter and it seems that little additional damage occurred. Nevertheless it sent people scurrying for safety and brought back memories of the last disaster .. a disaster that seems to have left the Fukushima nuclear reactors in permanent meltdown and placed the safety of others in doubt. In spite of the impacts of Chernobyl, Fukushima and other major accidents, nuclear advocates continue to refurbish, rebuild and otherwise expand nuclear facilities and their storage dumps.

As far as we know, the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station is now up and running and this accident prone facility is still sitting on one of the most exposed points of land in the Bay of Fundy. This has been bothering me a lot lately. Particularly when I sourced some aerials on the storage area in back of the plant. Open and exposed on relatively low-lying ground, this whole plant and its nuclear waste dump is a huge disaster waiting to happen. Forget that it lies on a fault block and is surrounded by other faults that provide us with relatively frequent shakes of relatively little consequence … so far. But …”What if …. what if?”

Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. Nuclear waste storage is just off-photo at the top.

Point Lepreau Nuclear Waste Storage Area. Latest on Google Maps.

We were spared the full impacts of the “Perfect Storm” in 1991 and Hurricane Sandy which recently devastated coastal New
York. The latter had a storm surge of about 13.8 feet (4.2 M), a fraction of the wave height in Japan which has been estimated as high as 70 feet!  And huge waves have been recorded right here on the Scotian Shelf for those that think our storms are modest. For example:

The Perfect Storm – On October 30, 1991, a buoy located 425 km (264 mi) south-southeast of Halifax reported a peak wave height of 30.5 m, or 100 ft., representing the highest wave height ever measured on the Scotian Shelf. Further south, a buoy located East of Cape Cod reported maximum sustained winds of 56 mph with gusts to 75 mph, and a significant wave height (meaning the average height of the highest waves) of 39 feet, or 12 meters, on October 30, 1991.  Hurricane Sandy – Oct 29, 2012 21Z wind/wave analysis has indicated 47 ft sea heights (again meaning the average height of the highest waves) associated with Hurricane Sandy. The storm is now even being declared the Atlantic’s Ocean’s biggest-ever tropical storm. (http://gcaptain.com/sandy-wave-height-analysis/)

The Perfect Storm is in blue; Hurricane Sandy in red.

But let’s be modest in our projections and just supposed Hurricane Sandy had struck directly on Point Lepereau. The truth is that storms coming into the Bay of Fundy have steadily rising wave height as they proceed up the Bay. This is caused by the shallowing and the shape of the Bay. So we are going to project events based on a 14 foot surge occurring at mean high-water which seems to be about the height of the tide in the beautiful picture I will be using below. But first … What does Google Earth say?

Google Earth has a tidal rise/flood app that estimates various levels of flooding. Here are the images for a 5 metre rise (Hurricane Sandy) and a 21 meter rise (the Japan Tsunami). These are both proven possible surges. Remember that the surge height calculation is the AVERAGE of the highest waves. Consequently, the apparent flooding into the Point Lepreau plant area is actually lower than would really occur if Sandy had struck here.

Estimate of tidal incursion from a 5 metre tidal surge.

Estimate of tidal incursion from a 21 metre tidal surge.

Flooding from Sandy doesn’t look like much, does it? But, again, remember this is only the AVERAGE of the highest waves. In fact the water would be driven well into the plant area and the flooding, in my view would look more like this …

 

The Japanese tsunami would have covered the entire plant area, including the nuclear waste storage area. Couldn’t happen here you say? Well a short distance away in 1929, a brutal tsunami reached the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland.

At about 7:30 p.m., residents along the Burin Peninsula noticed a rapid drop in sea level as the lowest point of the tsunami’s first wave, known as a trough, reached the coast. As the water receded, it exposed portions of the ocean floor that were normally submerged and caused boats docked at various harbours to tumble over onto their sides. Minutes later, three successive waves hit the shore and water levels rose dramatically. In most places, the sea level swelled three to seven metres above normal, but in some of the peninsula’s long narrow bays, such as at Port au Bras, St. Lawrence, and Taylor’s Bay, the water rose by between 13 and 27 metres. (http://www.heritage.nf.ca/law/tsunami29.html)

The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station was badly located in the beginning. Extending its life by refurbishment has increased the potential for a catastrophic event there.

That’s How I See It Today – Art MacKay

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