Earthquake didn’t crack Wiscasset nuclear waste containers, Maine Yankee officials say

Some of the cylindrical steel-lined concrete containers that make up the spent fuel storage facility at Maine Yankee in Wiscasset.
maineyankee.com
Some of the cylindrical steel-lined concrete containers that make up the spent fuel storage facility at Maine Yankee in Wiscasset.
By Bob Mentzinger and Larry Grard, The Times Record
Posted Oct. 17, 2012, at 4:27 p.m.

WISCASSET, Maine — Officials at Maine Yankee say casks containing radioactive waste were inspected and are safe in the aftermath of the strongest earthquake to strike Maine in 40 years.

“We didn’t feel the earthquake at the site,” Maine Yankee spokesman Eric Howes said today, “but we received calls from people in the area, and so we put in place our safety protocols” and conducted a review of the waste site.

“We assessed the site and examined the dry cask storage containers, and found there was no effect on the site or on the containers,” Howes said.

Midcoast residents elsewhere rolled with the temblor.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 4.0-magnitude quake hit around 7:12 p.m. Its epicenter, about 3 miles west of Hollis Center, was about 3 miles deep. The location is in York County about 20 miles west of Portland.

The quake was first estimated to be 4.6 magnitude but later was downgraded to 4.0.

Followers of The Times Record’s account on Twitter — @midcoastnews — weighed in on the temblor almost immediately, with residents in West Bath and Brunswick reporting 10-15 seconds of shaking, “like a train rolling through the house,” said one.

No injuries were reported locally, but Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told the Bangor Daily News his agency took one report of a cracked floor in Brunswick. Brunswick police said they were unaware of any damage.

Temblors are not totally alien in the midcoast. A 4.0 shaker was felt in Bath on April 17, 1979, according to the Maine Geological Survey.

The largest earthquake recorded in the state between 1747 and 1992 was near Eastport in 1904, with a “modified Mercalli intensity” estimated at VII, according to the Survey.

The largest accurate measurement was on June 15, 1973, from an earthquake just on the Quebec side of the border from Oxford County, with a Richter magnitude of 4.8.

In 2006, a series of earthquakes near Acadia National Park moved boulders onto the famed carriage trails there.

“Most Maine earthquakes are of small magnitude,” the Maine Geological Survey said on its website. “Many are too small to feel. No Maine earthquake has caused significant damage. The persistent activity, however, indicates that some crustal deformation is occurring and that a larger earthquake cannot be ruled out.”

Tuesday’s 4.0 temblor was felt across New England — as far away as Connecticut — and rattled residents throughout the state and region.

A house fire in Saco was initially blamed on the quake, and officials were assessing damage to a building in Biddeford late Tuesday.

In Saco, Sue Hadiaris said, “The whole house shook. … It was very unnerving because you could feel the floor shaking. There was a queasy feeling.”

Afterward, she called her 15-year-old niece in Falmouth to make sure she was safe.

“She said, ‘We can cross that off our bucket list. We’ve lived through an earthquake,”’ Hadiaris said.

The Seabrook Station nuclear plant, about 63 miles away in New Hampshire, declared an “unusual event” — the lowest of four emergency classifications — but said it was not affected by the shaking. The plant had been offline for refueling.

“There has been no impact at all to the plant from the earthquake and our refueling maintenance activities have not been affected,” said Alan Griffith, spokesman for Next EnergyEra Seabrook Station.

Jim Van Dongen, public information officer for the New Hampshire Department of Safety, said New Hampshire 911 got about 1,000 calls in the first hour after the quake, but they later dropped off. He said no major damage was reported.

Brief but noticeable shaking was felt in downtown Boston and the surrounding area.

Lynette Miller, a spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said her dogs started barking several seconds before the quake on Tuesday.

“It was several seconds of good shaking but nothing falling down,” Miller said from her home in Readfield, about 60 miles north of Portland.

In Portland, Abbie Miller had just turned on the aging furnace in her house for the first time this season. “An hour later, things started shaking and it sounded almost like a train coming through. I thought my furnace was going to blow,” she said.

East Coast quakes are rarely strong enough to be felt over a wide area. A quake of magnitude 5.8 on Aug. 23, 2011, was centered in Virginia and felt all along the coast, including in New York City and Boston. Experts say the region’s geology can make the effects felt in an area up to 10 times larger than quakes of similar size on the West Coast.

Patrons of a pizza parlor near the epicenter of an earthquake in southern Maine may not have known what was happening. But the shaking building was enough to send all 20 of them outside.

“It was loudest bang you ever heard in your life. We actually thought it was an explosion of some type,” said Jessica Hill, owner of Waterboro House of Pizza.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/10/17/news/midcoast/earthquake-didnt-crack-wiscasset-nuclear-waste-containers-maine-yankee-officials-say/ printed on July 23, 2014