On Fukushima Anniversary, California Braces for 'the Big One'

On Fukushima Anniversary, California Braces for 'the Big One'

Three years ago, a massive 9.0-magnitude offshore earthquake rocked Japan and generated a massive tsunami that eventually knocked out the Fukushima nuclear power plant and caused widespread destruction. Today, Californians are bracing for a similar event, as new research indicates a 9.0-magnitude earthquake might be possible along the Cascadia fault system near northern California, according to a report in the L.A. Times.

Previously, scientists had thought the system to be capable of producing a “mere” 7.5-magnitude earthquake. The prospect of a far larger quake–each numeral on the logarithmic scale represents a tenfold increase in strength–is one that is chilling to many Californians. Some have already begun preparations far in advance of the new research, and well ahead of the small earthquakes that struck California offshore several days ago.

One of the most important developments has been the mothballing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which is situated directly on the Pacific coast between Los Angeles and San Diego. Long a target of anti-nuclear activists, the plant went down for maintenance in 2012 and never recovered, politically. The prospect of a tsunami damaging the reactors, which happened on live television in Fukushima, was too great to ignore.

In a broader sense, it is unclear how the state might prepare for the challenge a massive earthquake would pose. Infrastructure would be disrupted, including both rail and roads along the coastal corridor. Water supply might be affected–a grim prospect in the drought-stricken state. Communications could suffer, in the state that remains the heart of the nation’s high-tech industry. A state too big to fail may struggle to match “the Big One.”

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