Germany has announced no extension of nuclear licences. Electricity prices in the EU jumped in recent days. A newscast a few days ago claimed that a Japan like quake can happen in Ontario and all our nuke plants are at risk of the same type of events that is decimating the Japanese power generation ability. Fear, hype and misinformation is flying around the net and media (including blaming more quakes on our CO2 emissions).
There is no doubt this event in Japan is the worst nuclear catastrophe in history, making Chernobyl a minor event in comparison if the worse happens. *IF* the operative word.
Now is not the time to panic. Cool heads and evidence must trump myth and hype.
I received an email from someone (more on that content in another post) who was scared because of that CTV op-ed piece noted above. Let's clear some myths right now.
The quake in Japan was caused because of a shift at a subduction zone. Subduction zones are places were crustal plates (called lithospheric plates) are converging and one slides under the other. The Pacific Plate is moving under a wedge of the North American Plate on the west side of Japan (see). This action causes partial melting of the subducted plate, which rises as volcanoes. At oceanic subduction zones those volcanoes form island arc systems, which all Japan is. Japan exists because of the subduction.
Subduction zones are one of three plate boundary types. Spreading ridges is where new lithospheric plate rock is formed. The East African Rift is one such place on land ripping Africa apart. Most spreading ridges exist in the ocean. The Mid Atlantic Ridge is one such place, opening the Atlantic 200 million years ago (still moving at some 4cm per year). Spreading ridges often start out as three arms, one of which fails and dies becoming inactive. The Mississippi valley is one such failed rift. So too is the St. Lawrence valley, up the Great Lakes. It's dead.
Spreading ridge quakes are far less intense energy wise than subduction quakes, which produce the highest energy when rocks give way to the stress.
The third boundary type is the transform fault. California is on a transform fault, a rather active one, where the Pacific Plate moves Northward relative to the North American Plate. Large quakes are not uncommon along transform faults.
The last way quakes can happen is glacial rebound. That's what we have here. 12,000 years ago 2 miles of ice pushed the continent down into the lower crust. That ice melted much faster than the rock can rebound, so over the last 12,000 years we have had glacial rebound. It can be seen along the north coast of Ontario on Hudsons Bay (see).
Glacial rebound quakes are at worst 1/1,000,000 the energy of the Japan quake. We've had them and rarely felt them.
Plates move relative to each other in centimeters per year, the fastest some 11cm per year on average. So why so many quakes in the last 10 years? It's thought that quakes come in swarms, 20-30 years of lots of big quakes as all the plates adjust and release pressure. Then 20-30 years of quiet as stress starts to rebuild. We have entered a new swam phase.
Is Canada at risk of a Japan like quake? British Columbia is near and on two types of plate boundaries. There is a spreading ridge off the west coast, and a subduction zone under the main land (creating the Rockies). Both are active. The risk of a Japan like quake is possible, something less intense is long over due. When that big one hits the effects will be just as bad as Japan. It's just a matter of time.
In Ontario we do not have a subduction zone, nor active spreading ridge, and no transform fault, so no large quakes can happen here. The spreading ridge through the Great Lakes is dead, so no quakes to worry about there. So no threat from tsunamis in Lake Ontario. We are quite safe in Ontario from major quakes. The rock under Ontario is Precambrian, between 900 and 1400 million years old (the Canadian Shield), over lain in Southwestern Ontario with 300-450 million year old sedementary rock.
So, expect there to be a huge backlash against nuke power in the coming future. Don't get pulled up in the hype. South Korea is moving ahead with more nuke plants. So too is China. China is actually moving forward on a new reactor type that was tested in the 1960's but dropped -- Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors. Much better than Uranium Reactors. Expect a resurgence of this reactor type. They are quite safe and cannot melt down. (the thorium is suspended in a liquid fluoride salt see)
Nukes provides essential base power in Ontario and elsewhere. Those governments foolish enough to let emotion trump logic will put their citizens into more energy poverty. Ontario needs to keep our nuke power, a proven safe system, a proven reliable system, and if government keeps their paws off their construction, they can be a cheap system (cheaper than wind and solar).