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Earthquakes and Vermont Yankee

Burlington, Vermont - March 14, 2011

The crisis continues at a Japanese nuclear plant following the massive earthquake and tsunami there last week. The disaster has some here looking for answers about Vermont's earthquake risk and the threat that could pose to our own nuclear plant.

The nuclear meltdown threat is the latest disaster for the island nation hit by the double blow of an earthquake and tsunami. The specter of a nuclear meltdown at plants that are the exact same model as Vermont Yankee, raises fears of a similar disaster here. Vermont has a number of fault lines, including one near Vernon.

"If it moves defiantly however we are not expecting large motions the faults in that are not active it is possible there could be some small earthquakes that could be near there but we are not expecting any large movements on faults there," said Keith Klepeis, a UVM Geology Professor.

The last big quake to hit Vermont was in April of 2002. It measured 5.2 on the Richter scale and did moderate damage in Vermont and the Adirondacks.

In fact, the earth is constantly on the move. "It is constantly moving. It is a dynamic planet and faults and motions on faults are one of the ways which adjustments occur, so the surface of the earth is broken up in tectonic plates -- they are constantly shifting around relative to one another and where they meet. Plate boundaries are where most of the earth quakes occur," Klepeis said.

Vermont is considered ancient by geological standards -- 300 to 400 million years-old -- while Japan and even other parts of our country are still considered tectonic works in progress.

And because our region is so old, it has been a very long time since the fault lines were active. "The Appalachians might have had something similar to Japan millions of years ago, but it was all scraped away by glaciers so it is important to understand both environments, things active now and ancient ones to piece together the full picture," Klepeis said.

And while Klepeis says it is impossible to predict when a major earthquake will strike, study continues on the earth's crust to better understand which regions of the world are most vulnerable.

Judy Simpson - WCAX News

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