Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Economic externalities - The 1986 Ashtabula, Ohio earthquake - M5


Perhaps the greatest concern--and controversy--was directed toward the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in northern Lake County. The plant was not operating at the time of the earthquake but was scheduled to load fuel rods on the next day. Officials at the Perry plant, which is located about 11 miles north of the epicenter, declared a precautionary site area emergency immediately after the earthquake but downgraded this to alert status within a short time. Accelerometers on site at the Perry plant recorded accelerations as high as 0.19 to 0.23 g; the plant is designed to withstand 0.15 g. These higher values, however, were at high frequencies and represented only momentary peak accelerations not capable of causing significant damages. Inspections of the Perry plant after the earthquake disclosed only minor cracks in concrete and small leaks in noncritical water pipes. Both conditions may have existed before the earthquake, according to newspaper reports.

This was a very important earthquake to me, since I was in my active period, and we were studying earthquakes for new nuclear sites.  I learned an incredible amount from this earthquake.  At the time I knew nothing about injection and the Precambrian megathrusts, but we now know that this earthquake was induced by injection.

Externalities are defined as the costs to Society from an economic activity that are not captured in the price of the goods.  Thus, some factory might pour tons of pollution out into the world, and people will buy the cheap toilet paper.  To be properly priced, the paper must include this cost, and maybe people would use less to wipe their nether regions.  :)

That earthquake cost the people (electricity buyers) untold millions of dollars, but the oil and gas industry could continue to sell their product cheaply.  More people bought natural gas, instead of expensive electricity.  :)  More injection wells followed.

The nuclear plant was closed unnecessarily for 6 months, and tons of reports were prepared.  I read all of them.  My only conclusion at the time was that we needed a better way to process in-plant seismic records, and I worked on that.  Subsequent installations were based on this knowledge.

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