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Scholastic Kids Press Corps
The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of about 50 Kid Reporters around the nation.  The interactive site brings daily news to life with reporting for kids, by kids.
diablo canyon nuclear plant One of Pacific Gas and Electric's Diablo Canyon Power Plant's nuclear reactors in Avila Beach, California, on November 3, 2008. (Photo: AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant, File)

Can It Happen Here?

U.S. has 104 operative nuclear power plants

By Mimi Evans | null null , null

Residents in Tokyo are being warned to stay indoors after a major earthquake damaged two nuclear power plants in the area. Several explosions at the Fukushima plant have caused radiation leaks.

The two U.S. Senators from California, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, have called on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to inspect two plants in their state. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente and the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near San Luis Obispo both sit on a major earthquake fault line.

Kid Reporter Mimi Evans spoke to Kory Raftery, spokesperson for Diablo Canyon Power Plant, PG&E, on Wednesday about nuclear power plants in the U.S.

Diablo Canyon sits on the San Andreas Fault. The United States has 104 operative nuclear power plants, most in the Northeastern part of the country.

Q: The biggest question on kids' minds right now is “Can It happen here?” Can it?

A: Different parts of the world have different seismic characteristics. The faults in Japan are not the same as faults in California. I totally understand why kids might be thinking that. It is important to understand that different parts of the world are going to have different seismic features.

Q: Do you think that California is better prepared for an earthquake than Japan was?

A: As far as California and Japan and preparedness are concerned, I can't speak to how prepared folks in Japan are. What I do know about Diablo Canyon is that we have extensive earthquake preparations in place. In fact our plant's design and construction took into account the highest magnitude potential earthquakes and then we designed far and above what the ground shaking from those earthquakes could be.

In addition to that, we have emergency preparedness teams at Diablo Canyon. Those teams are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are different folks who are qualified, so we have backups to our teams that rotate in and take a watch. We have extensive plans put into place and procedures we would follow in the event of an earthquake.

Q: The tsunami from Japan hit the California coastline just below Diablo Canyon. What kind of danger did that present to the plant? What was done to keep it safe?

A: Part of the plant's design also takes into account tsunamis. We are on the California coast and we are ready for rising sea levels. Our plant actually sits on a bluff 85 feet above the ocean. The majority of our safety systems and components are at that level, so we are designed for an 85-foot tidal surge at that part of the plant.

The intake structure is designed for a 45-foot tsunami. The reason is because when you look at the intake, you want to be sure you have enough air to mix with the water to continuously cool a reactor core and to make sure that the water is flowing correctly. We are pulling air from the atmosphere through steel and cement reinforced pipes that would almost look like a snorkel. One of them is 45 feet above sea level. The majority sits above on that 85-foot bluff.

Q: What is the biggest danger in nuclear energy?

Nuclear professionals take into account all sorts of hazards. We have emergency plans and procedures in place for any sort of environmental hazard that you can imagine. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates us to do so. Then we practice—not only our emergency preparedness teams—but also the teams in our local, county, state, and federal government. And we practice together on these different event-based scenarios to ensure that we are ready for any type of event that we may need to respond to.

Q: Is the U.S. in danger of radiation exposure from wind currents from Japan?  
A: No. The NRC, the U.S. Department of Health, and the California State Department of Health have all released statements explaining that U.S. shores remain safe from radiation due to the incident in Japan.  All of our credible experts believe we are under no health risks because of the situation in Japan.

For more information on nuclear safety, check out Kid Reporter Isaac Salant's interview with officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


A magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck northeast Japan on Friday, March 11, causing a destructive tsunami that reached the west coast of the United States. Scholastic News Kid Reporters are collecting information about the quake and its aftermath and talking to people who have family and friends in Japan and looking into how kids can help with relief efforts. Find their stories in the Earthquake in Japan Special Report.


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