Re: Tsunami threats to coastal nuclear power plants (letter to Russell Hoffman)

Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2001 12:45:25 +0800
To: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: Re: Tsunami threats to coastal nuclear power plants

Dear Mr. Hoffman,

I apologize for the delay in responding but I get 30-40 email per day and often it is difficult to respond promptly. I realize that you are very concerned about the safety of the San Onofre nuclear plant and, obviously, you have done a lot of research on this subject.

I too share your concerns about nuclear power plant safety. As a member of a special committee and working group of the  American Nuclear Society, I co-authored the environmental standards and standards for the siting of nuclear power plants and recommended an extremely conservative approach using worse possible scenarios for their design. I have also attended meetings of the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in Washington. (Pararas-Carayannis, George. Offshore Nuclear Power Plants: Major Considerations and Policy Issues. Chap. VIII: Direct Environmental Impacts of Offshore Plants, 8 Nov. 1973, President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Task Force on Offshore Nuclear Power Plants)(see also listing of  additional studies- below.)

I was also  consultant to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission,to the U.S. Corps of Engineers and to different United Nations scientific organizations (on the safety in the siting and design of nuclear power plants on coastal areas and offshore).

As Director of the International Tsunami Information Center, one of my particular concerns was the safety of nuclear power plants and the effects of a tsunami on the possible failure of their cooling systems - even if sited at high enough elevation. I was concerned not only about failure due to flooding, but also for failure due to withdrawal of water which could create a cave-in effect due to the loss of hydrostatic pressure. For distantly generated events, I was concerned on whether a plant could shut down within a reasonable length of time. Of course for locally generated events, this would be impossible.

As consultant to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the licencing of units 2 and 3 of the San Onofre Nuclear Plant, the Crystal River (Florida) plant and others I read all the Impact statements that were filed by utilities and commented on their adequacy. For the Crystal River nuclear plant I developed a mathematical model of a mega-hurricane ( a hypothetical design hurricane striking the plant at right angle) and verified the model with actual historical hurricanes (Camille Carol, etc.).As a result of my study, the Nuclear Regulatory Commision required the Utilities Company to redesign the cooling system and build the pumps at a much higher elevation than  Dames and Moore (Engineering Consultants) were recommending.

I was also at the San Onofre plant when the  1971 San Fernando earthquake  occurred and I did did studies of historical tsunamis in the Santa Barbara Channel for the consulting firm "Marine Advisors'. I was particularly concerned about a possible  repeat of the 1812 Santa Barbara earthquake and tsunami and the effects  which they may have on the safety of the San Onofre plant. (See also my new book on the "BIG ONE - The Next Great California earthquake". Go to Chapter 15 of my book is devoted to the assessment of the California Tsunami hazard. In fact I tried to map the faults in the Santa Barbara Channel that could generate a tsunami.

In summary, and as my new book indicates, I am still concerned about the potential hazard of earthquakes and tsunamis in California. I do not believe that all the risks have been adequately assessed.  Any efforts - such as yours- to increase public awareness as to the need for preparedness, are commendable. Although I have retired from government service, I am willing to assist, as consultant, in any assessment of the earthquake and tsunami hazard potential at Orange County and elsewhere - particularly now that there is additional new data.

With Best Wishes,

Dr. George Pararas-Carayannis


Partial listing of publications concerning nuclear power plants
Pararas-Carayannis, George. The Energy Crisis and the Marine Environment. A Presentation Given at the Marine Technology Society Meeting, NY Section, Jan.10, 1974.

Pararas-Carayannis, George. American National Standard:Tsunami Guidelines at Power Reactor Sites, American Nuclear Society, Nuclear Power Engineering Committee, Working Group 2, April 1974.

Pararas-Carayannis, George. Verification Study of a Bathystrophic Storm Surge Model. U.S. Army, Corps of Engineers Coastal Engineering Research Center, Washington, D.C., Technical Memorandum No. 50, May 1975..

Pararas-Carayannis, George. Tsunami Hazard and Design of Coastal Structures. in Proc.15th International Conference on Coastal Engineering, , pp. 2248-53, Am. Soc. Civil Eng. (IOS), 1976.
Pararas-Carayannis, George. Proposed American National Standard - Aquatic Ecological Survey Guidelines For the Siting, Design. Construction, and Operation of Thermal Power Plants. American Nuclear Society, Monogram, September, 1979..
Pararas-Carayannis, George. Tsunami Hazard Analysis, Tsunami Hazard Planning, Protection Measures, Tsunami Exercises, and Public Education. Proceedings of International Tsunami Workshop, Sidney, B.C., Canada, July 29 - August 1, 1985..


Dear Dr. Pararas-Carayannis,

I found your web page while researching about tsunamis because a reporter I was talking to today at the Orange County (CA) Register seemed to think they were "just" the swell part that happens in the middle of the ocean, not the big crash on the shore.

I have attached what I wrote him in response.  I realize it's a bit long and the first half hardly talks about tsunamis (and only briefly talks about earthquakes) but if you happen to have the time and inclination, any comments you might care to add would be appreciated.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.


Russell D. Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Attachment:  Letter to Gary Robbins, Orange County Register

[The letter is included at this URL:]

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First posted October 17th, 2001.

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