Expert: Japanese Quake Highlights Nuclear Dangers

Illinois has several nuclear plants, and it's been 200 years since a major quake along the Midwest's New Madrid fault

By BJ Lutz
|  Sunday, Mar 13, 2011  |  Updated 4:45 PM CDT
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<a title=Dave Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, a Chicago-based watchdog group, explains the dangers of nuclear energy and says that what happened in Japan could happen in the Midwest." />

Dave Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, a Chicago-based watchdog group, explains the dangers of nuclear energy and says that what happened in Japan could happen in the Midwest.

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What happened to a now-troubled nuclear power plant in Japan could happen in Illinois, a nuclear expert warns.

Japan's Fukushima Daiichi reactor -- a General Electric Mark 1 -- suffered an explosion and leaked radiation in the wake of Friday's massive earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan's Miyagi Prefecture.

That same type of reactor is used in plants at the Dresden Nuclear Power Plant, in Morris, Ill., and at the Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Station, in Moline, explained Dave Kraft, the director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, a Chicago-based watchdog group.

Worse, Kraft explained, is that a smaller magnitude earthquake in Japan four years ago knocked out seven of that country's reactors for a full year.  Some of them experienced structural damage and one of them leaked radiation.

As Illinoisans have been reminded a couple of times in the last several years, the Midwest is not immune to quakes.  In fact, the state sits on the largest fault line in the country, the New Madrid fault. 

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the last major eruption along that fault line.

"In 1811/1812, we had an 8.1 earthquake, which affected 50,000 square miles of the North American continent and changed the course of the Mississippi River.  The reports were that it rang bells in Boston," said Kraft.  "We're talking a significant seismic area that has been quiet for 200 years.  Let's hope it stays that way because the reactors that are built in this area, the regulators claim, can withstand that kind of damage or impact.  But this is exactly what the Japanese engineers were claiming in Japan." 

Kraft is no fan of nuclear energy and said it's time for the world to move past it.

"Man is not a rational animal, he's a rationalizing animal.  It's about time we went back to being rational about this stuff.  We have better energy choices and we can make them, we're just not doing it yet," said Kraft. 

"We have to close down nuclear, though.  That's the real message from Japan right now.  The nuclear age is over."

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