Fermi II records no impact from earthquake

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
The Fermi II nuclear energy plant is seen in this May 31, 2001 file photo.

The Fermi II nuclear power plant won’t be inspected for damage from Thursday’s earthquake because monitors at the plant recorded no seismic activity, a spokesman for DTE Energy said.

The earthquake’s epicenter was reported near Amherstburg, Ont., which is about 12 miles northeast of the Fermi II reactor in Newport, Mich.

Metro Detroiters reported feeling the quake up to 40 miles away, but it was particularly noticeable in suburbs Downriver within 15 miles of the epicenter.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the quake at 3.6 on the Richter Scale, a recognized comparison used to scientifically measure the magnitude of earthquakes. A Canadian geological group upgraded it to 4.1.

John Austerberry, a spokesman with DTE, which operates the Fermi II nuclear reactor, said there is no cause for public concern about the plant, which has been down since Saturday due to a separate malfunction.

“Our (seismic) monitors did not detect any activity at all (there), it was all considerably north,” said Austerberry.

Austerberry said staffers did not report feeling any tremors from the quake. He added that the seismic monitors at the facility “detect tremors at a lower level than anyone would be able to feel them.”

Fermi’s seismic monitors are inspected and tested on a “regular cadence” to ensure they are functioning property, he said. Moreover, he stressed, “these plants are designed to withstand seismic activity, weather, other events and there are a variety of safety procedures, including inspection of the plant’s systems if there is a suspected problem. But none of this was necessary.”

The 40-foot tall boiling water reactor typically produces 1,200 megawatts of electricity which is channeled into DTE’s power grid, producing enough power for one million homes and businesses, Austenberry said.

The plant has not been operating since last Saturday due to a transformer cooling malfunction, Austerberry said, which had been partly resolved as of Friday. He said the April 14 shutdown, described as a “non-emergency” in filings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had nothing to do with the earthquake. Nor was repair work impacted at all by an earthquake miles away, he stressed.

“We have an extensive list of required inspections and examinations that we will do on all critical plant systems before the transformer will be turned back on,” said Austenberry, adding that regular checks on all equipment, including the monitors, have been done during the shutdown.

Whether 3.6 or 4.1 on the Richter scale, either measurement indicates it was a minor quake, according to John Bellina, a geophysicist with the Golden, Colorado U.S. Geological Survey, who was familiar with the event.

“There can be a difference (in numbers) based on data sets and measurements, that’s not surprising at all,” Bellina said. “But this type of quake does not cause damage. You could be near the epicenter and perhaps a flower vase might wobble and fall over. You have to hit a 5 or 6 (point) for real damage.”

DTE’ s website states the “Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 2010 estimate of the risk each year of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to the reactor at Fermi was 1 in 238,095 making it the 88th least likely to be damaged of all US nuclear generating stations.”


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