EarthquakesMaking the World Earthquake Safe

Published 2 July 2019

Can fake earthquakes help safeguard nuclear reactors against natural disasters? Visitors to this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition will be given the opportunity to find out for themselves thanks to new research.

Members of the public will be able to explore the interactive exhibit at the free festival to celebrate the most exciting cutting-edge science and technology in the U.K., running in London from Monday 1 to Sunday 7 July.

Professor Colin Taylor, Dr. Adam Crewe and colleaguesl demonstrated in ‘The great Bristol shake off’ how simulating earthquakes could help protect nuclear reactors against natural disasters.  Bristol’s “shaking table” has already been used to understand the behavior of the graphite cores of nuclear reactors during earthquakes.

Bristol notes that nuclear power stations are designed to operate safely in the most extreme of conditions and as part of this process EDF Energy has been researching how a seismic event might affect their reactors.  To better understand this, they commissioned the University of Bristol to develop an experiment that would test the capability of a reactor to withstand an earthquake of a magnitude not seen in the U.K. before. 

Around 200-300 earthquakes are detected in the U.K. by the British Geological Survey each year, only around 10 percent of them can be felt by the public.  The strongest earthquake ever recorded around the U.K. was a magnitude of 6.1, the tests conducted by the University of Bristol have simulated activity of 7.2 with no adverse impact on the safe operations of the reactor.

EDF Energy operates seven Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor (AGR) power stations (14 reactors) which provide about 15 percent of the U.K.’s electricity. Their safe operation is crucial to ensuring enough electricity is generated in the U.K.