Energy and the Environment Panel Discussion - Toby Barrett, M.P.P., Moderator
Jarvis Community Centre
Tuesday June 19, 2007 6-10 pm
NANTICOKE'S SEISMIC ISSUES
"Let’s Get it Right . . . This Time..."
John R. Bowlby, M.Sc.
I understand the need in Ontario for important new electrical generation facilities to be developed. There are strong technical and economic reasons for looking in the Nanticoke area for a site for a new generating facility as Ontario moves forward in this century.
I have wide experience in geoscientific studies in the Great Lakes, in nuclear power plant sites and safety reporting issues and in the identification of geo-scientific hazards. I worked for many years for the “Big Plug” (that is Ontario Hydro), and did several advance geoscience studies for locating future nuclear power plants in Ontario.
I am not here with an anti-nuclear message but to give some clarification to what I know is a very important aspect in choosing a location for and for the setting of engineering design values for any critical facilities to be built in Ontario. This is not meant to scare anyone - but to help you to be aware of one of the many issues that are in front of us.
I support decision-making that is based on having excellent, high-quality information. I will keep an open mind on what ultimately might be proposed for and then developed here.
Many people prefer to take the classic “ostrich position”, that is, they bury their heads in the sand and pretend not to know what is going on around them. However, you can all imagine that when your head is down in the sand, your rear end is a very exposed target. The “ostrich position” is often used when someone wants to deliberately avoid knowing the details of something that is important or to deliberately avoid doing what is necessary and right.
It is my opinion that acts of deliberate “scientific avoidism” may lead to unwarranted and unacceptable deceptions. Firstly, a client may be deceived. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the public may be deceived and proper concerns for public safety issues are dismissed. This becomes a failure of the responsibilities to the public interest and trust.
However, the liability to the public for disseminating false or misleading information remains with those who do so. Those who spread mis-information or dis-information, often by stating that there was no other “published” information available to them, are just as liable for their incomplete statements as if they did know.
There is widespread knowledge, and some of it you have it indirectly, of geological conditions in this area. Many of you here are aware that this Lake Erie region is one of the primary gas production areas of Ontario. It is well-known in the gas industry that there are many geological fractures and faults criss-crossing the area. It is these very fractures and faults that trapped the original oil and gas in the limestones and shales and that now allow the use of some of the empty rock reservoirs under the lake for summer storage of natural gas from the west to supply the winter markets in the east.
In fact, several years ago, there was natural gas coming up into homes through home water systems in Jarvis. I understand this condition may still be continuing in some homes. How can this be happening? There are solid geological reasons for this!!
Many of these fractures are known to be “extensive and through-going”. That is, they have dimensions both horizontally in the limestones and shales and vertically down into the deeper underlying Precambrian rocks. Many show faulted displacements of several 10’s of metres. This is basic geological information that cannot be ignored.
This part of the North American continent is not benign. Reports of local earthquakes exist from early settlers accounts in diaries, early newspapers, and up to more recent events being recorded on earthquake detection networks in Ontario and the United States. This is still a very short historical period of a few hundred years given that we must be considering geological processes that occur over many tens of thousands of years.
There are many earthquakes known in this area and in surrounding areas. A preliminary search of the National Earthquake Database shows that there are more than 275 events reported from within 250 km of here. This is public information and is readily available.
A primer. How does an earthquake occur? An earthquake occurs when, under pressure of directed stresses in the Earth’s crust, earth materials such as rocks suddenly slip past each other along a fracture or crack. This fracture is now a fault. Motions can be horizontal, vertical or along any angle between to relieve the stress.
Stress relief can also occur at the rock surface when horizontal stresses result in layered rocks at surface buckling into a “pop-up”. Several large pop-ups have been observed in lake bottoms of Georgian Bay, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario - some of which are up to 15 feet (4.5 m) high. One of the larger ones is about 1.5 km offshore from the Peacock Point area in the bottom of Lake Erie.
Stress relief by a moderate earthquake (a M=5 -> M=6) may only cause a fault to move about a metre or so at depth or up to the Earth’s surface. But it is the released energy, the shaking, that travels away in waves that causes damages at a distance.
What does an earthquake tell us? It tells us that a fault moved at that location. As there are many known faults and known earthquakes in this region, the region is “geologically active” and cannot be considered stable. Not as active as the edges of the continent, but nonetheless, “active”. Earthquake is a serious consideration for engineering design of any critical facility that may be confronted with unexpected “shaking”.
An earthquake example. In January 1986, a Magnitude 5 earthquake occurred just across Lake Erie at Painsville near Ashtabula, Ohio. It shook the residents along the north shore of Lake Erie and across a large area of eastern North America. I felt this event in Toronto, as did many of you. It occurred just a few tens of kilometres from the Perry Nuclear Power plant on the shore of Lake Erie. However, it happened one week before the plant was to load fuel and go critical. Therefore, no significant reporting to the public of any nuclear issues because there weren’t any but the opening was delayed.
Many of us felt it. Sensors in the Pickering NGS east of Toronto recorded equipment vibrations that were related to this event at a distance of more than 250 km. The important point here is that an earthquake does not have to actually occur on the site or close by to it in order to have an impact on it.
Earthquake Design Requirements
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission routinely requires higher values for safe earthquake design in nuclear power plants on their side of Lake Erie than have been required by the Canadian Nuclear Regulatory Commission (formerly the Atomic Energy Control Board) and used in Ontario in the past. The USNRC requires a minimum design value that is from double to triple the Ontario values. Why? The political border that runs through the lakes does not stop the geology of this planet. There is no geo-immigration in the middle of Lake Erie!!! What do they know that we have difficulty to acknowledge??
In referring to a possible Nanticoke site at a public meeting earlier this year, Duncan Hawthorne, CEO of Bruce Power, informed those attending that, “There’s no seismic concern on the site”. This was not a good beginning for this important issue, and the attitude appears to be continued by the current engineering consultant to Bruce Power.
In a Dunnville Chronicle article on May 30th, Dr. Duncan Moffett of Golder Associates, an engineering firm and consultant to Bruce Power, was quoted as saying, “Located in southern Ontario, where earthquakes happen, the Nanticoke site will be studied for seismic activity. There are fewer quakes of magnitude in this area of Ontario”.
Perhaps if one only looks at an immediate site inside the fence, say a 1 to 2 square kilometre area, there could be a qualified agreement with his statement - but within the geological region of the continent surounding the site, unequivocally NO! The 3 largest earthquakes in North America, approaching Magnitude 8, occurred in 1811-1812 near New Madrid, Missouri in the Mississippi Valley - and not on the west coast.
For a Nanticoke location, it is my consideration that geological and seismological conditions are not yet site engineering questions but are a series of required regional geoscientific questions. Answers must come from outside the site fence to distances of 300 km or more in order to include all the influential earthquakes. The 3 New Madrid events are calculated to have shaken the Nanticoke area as if 3 M = 4 events occurred here; they happened more than 750 km away.
It is usual to undertake site-specific micro-seismic monitoring before deciding upon a site. When such site-specific monitoring networks are set up, it is often discovered that tell-tale patterns of smaller earthquakes are occurring below the detection levels of the larger national monitoring networks. A micro-seismic network will detect even very small events less than M = 1 (figuratively “mouse farts”). These small events tell us that the rocks are moving!! They tell us that active faults are moving in the existing stress field!! The small earthquakes are like the canaries in the coal mine.
I have a strong concern that there may not be even preliminary geological and seismological data, assessments and reports for us to review in this community. These are very significant studies that must be done by competent geoscientific researchers who have in-depth knowledge about what they are doing. That is, the researchers have to know what the key questions are and in what form the answers should be given. The engineering team can then assess design needs for the site.
Pickering NGA “A” Example
Earthquakes, just like global warming, have a bad habit of occurring in inconvenient places. For example, the Pickering NGS “A” had an earthquake ground motion design level of 3%g. The public had previously been assured by statements from Ontario Hydro and more recently by Ontario Power Generation staff that the Pickering plant could withstand a Magnitude 6 event - and even if it happened right under the plant!
On November 26, 1999, a relatively small Magnitude 3.8 earthquake occurred in the rocks under Lake Ontario, at a distance of about 20 km from the plant and in a network of faults that is now well-known to pass nearby to and underneath the nuclear site. It is a fault system in both the deeper PreCambrian basement and overlying Palaeozoic rocks and the faults are not new. This geological fact was apparently either not known or improperly understood at the time of design and construction.
What alarms me about official mis-information is that the ground shaking from the small earthquake event (M=3.8 at a distance of about 20 km) exceeded the safe earthquake input design ground motion level set for Pickering “A”. This site design failure occurred although the OH/OPG “authorities” had assured the public that this plant could withstand shaking from a Magnitude 6 event. Oops!!
Pickering “A” has over the past several years undergone a significant technical rehabilitation, at a large expense that will be recaptured from the Ontario electricity ratepayer, in order to bring half the plant (Units 1 and 4) back into the generation mix in southern Ontario. I am of the opinion that that a large amount of the 2.5 or more billion dollars recently spent by OPG at Pickering was spent on increasing seismic response capabilities within the plant in order to be permitted by the Canadian Nuclear Regulatory Commission to bring one-half of the “A” station back on line.
Pickering “A” is only an example of what might be termed “technical arrogance” in the overall earthquake and earthquake design issue. Only money has been spent - so far- to cover up a design flaw. However, if a Magnitude 5.5 to 6 earthquake event were to occur in western Lake Ontario, under or nearby to that plant in any one of the known pre-existing fault systems which were there before the plant and for which independent studies indicate a larger earthquake is probable, all of the spent money (construction, maintenance, refurbishment, etc.) will have been mis-spent.
Of course, there will be other very significant environmental and economic issues to be dealt with. Spills, leakages and excursions of deleterious materials into the earth, air and water environments and loss of ongoing generating capability come to mind.
Several local councillors have been reported in the media to be supporting a call to the Premier of Ontario for a provincial environmental review to be established. This is very important. In fact, it is essential. A provincial environmental assessment is expected to be more thorough in dealing with many of the environmental questions than a federal review might be.
The Province of Ontario must establish an environmental review panel that includes a geoscientist(s) who is competent in the necessary areas. This panel needs to overview all the environmental issues. The Province, Ontario Power Generation and the proponent, Bruce Power, are each responsible to the public interest and public trust in this community. They must know or find out and then tell us.
The first issue at the Nanticoke site is ensuring the public interest and public safety through adequate knowledge of real conditions.
The second issue, and a very important one, is that of ensuring the overall security of our own electrical generating system in this province. If we are to continue to allow an obvious weakness such as the occurrence of unexpected hazardous earthquakes in the designing and building of any generating components in Ontario, nuclear or non-nuclear, we will be putting the future generating capacity for Ontario electricity at risk and thereby exposing the economy to a potential catastrophe.
With proper information, and working together, we together can assure the Haldimand-Norfolk community that our public interest and that our safety is being looked after.
This time, let’s get it right. We owe it to ourselves.