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PG&E neglect led to “most severe kind” of gas leak in city of Napa, other leaks and lost maps. Fined $16.8 M

February 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm By Roz Potter

From an Associated Press article found in many newspapers including the Herald Tribune, Link

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. admitted Wednesday that its safety officials never checked for gas leaks in a much broader swath of California than the company previously disclosed following the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion.

PG&E originally told the California Public Utilities Commission that the utility misplaced 16 maps of its pipelines last year, so as a result never did leak surveys in any of those locations, in violation of state regulations. The commission said last week it would fine PG&E $16.8 million in response.

But on Wednesday, the company admitted it actually hadn’t checked for pipeline leaks in a much larger geographic region detailed in 46 additional maps stretching from Fresno to Yolo counties, and including parts of the San Francisco Bay area.

PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson said the company had since surveyed the lines and found five leaks on 9.61 miles of gas distribution lines “associated” with the maps. A leak in the city of Napa was considered to be of the most severe kind, requiring immediate repair, Swanson said. (emphasis added)

Two other leaks were located in unincorporated Napa County, another was found in unincorporated area if Solano County and a fifth was in Elk Grove. (emphasis added)

Commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper didn’t immediately say what actions the commission planned to take, or whether the fine would increase with the revelation of a wider problem.

PG&E simultaneously announced the company intends to appeal the fine.

“We believe the fine is excessive because we did the right thing _ by promptly self-reporting what we’d found to assure we placed public safety first,” Nick Stavropoulos, executive vice president of gas operations, said in a statement Wednesday. “We congratulated the employees who identified the missing information and took immediate corrective action.”

The Sept. 9, 2010, blast on PG&E’s transmission line in San Bruno killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

PG&E could face additional, larger penalties in a separate probe by the commission into whether the company should be fined for the San Bruno blast.

Consumer advocates and a state lawmaker urged Commission President Michael Peevey on Wednesday to recuse himself from the probe to remove the appearance of impropriety.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill said Gov. Jerry Brown should remove Peevey from the investigation because federal safety investigators found myriad safety lapses occurred since he has led the commission since 2003.

“Under the president’s stewardship over the past decade, the commission failed to ensure that PG&E’s gas distribution system was safe,” said Hill, a Democrat who represents San Bruno. “That’s why I find it offensive that someone so responsible for the culture implicated in the San Bruno disaster has taken it upon himself to lead the direction of this penalty proceeding.”

The commission said any settlement with PG&E will require a vote of the five-member panel.

___

Follow Garance Burke at http://www.twitter.com/garanceburke

3 million without power from Nor’easter storm, many thousands left in the dark and cold 11 days later

November 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm By Roz Potter

Reported in the  Preparedness Report, from Yale New Haven Center for Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response:  Link

Tens of thousands of Connecticut residents went to bed wondering whether they would awake Monday to find themselves among an unenviable fraternity: the small percentage of people entering their second week without power.

The electrical outages, the legacy of a storm that hammered the Northeast on Oct. 29 and 30, were largely an unpleasant memory by Sunday night for most of the 3 million who lost power at the height of the storm.

But in Connecticut (editor’s note: this is just one state out of several affected), as of November 9th, nearly 3,500 residents remained without electricity, eleven days after the storm. In New Jersey and Massachusetts, only a few hundred customers remained without power.

Many of those displaced by the incident remain at one of the 12 remaining shelters in Connecticut.

As severe weather events become more frequent, particularly in view of  larger scale threats such as a severe solar storm, or an act of cyberterrorism, it becomes ever more important to prepare for severe cold, and heat. See CDC reference on hypothermia here and the CDC page on health and safety concerns for all disasters here.

Hayward Fault rumbles Berkeley – again

October 27, 2011 at 9:08 pm By Roz Potter

In the past 7 days, Berkeley has been shaken by earthquakes larger than 3.5 magnitude three times. Today’s quake was a minor temblor, registering only 3.6 magnitude, but that is only part of the story. The Hayward Fault is the other part.

Homes, mass transit corridors, major freeways and roadways intersect the Hayward Fault at many locations. It is crossed by many critical water and gas pipelines, and electrical transmission lines. It begins near San Jose and winds its way northward through Santa Clara,  Alameda and part of Contra Costa County to San Pablo Bay.

California has a 99% chance of having at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater quake anytime in the next 30 years. For the S.F. Bay Area, the risk is 63%. And of all the faults in the S. F. Bay Area, the risk is highest for the Hayward/Rodgers Creek Faults.

The Hayward Fault has not ruptured since 1868, 142 years ago, in case you’re counting, and if you live in the Bay Area, you should be. The average period between the last 5 major quakes on the Hayward Fault  is 138 years.

Pressures in the Hayward Fault have been building unabated, since 1868. Similar pressures in the San Andreas Fault were at least partially relieved by the 1906 San Francisco quake, and to a small extent by the 1989 Loma Prieta. There has been no relief for the Hayward.

The 1868 quake was felt as far away as Nevada. There was major damage in Hayward, San Leandro and Fremont, and lesser but significant damage in San Jose, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco. Even Napa, yes, that Napa suffered substantial damage from the 1868 quake.

So, residents of Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda, Napa, Marin, Sonoma and other counties, can claim the Hayward as their fault too.  These counties suffered damage in the 1868 quake,  they rely on services that traverse the Hayward Fault, or their residents live, work or commute on or near the Hayward Fault.

Residents of any area could find themselves in double- or triple-trouble. Some regions, like Marin and Sonoma counties have several large fault systems, in these cases the San Andreas and the Rodgers Creek Faults. Alameda County must contend with both the Hayward and the San Andreas faults. All areas have unknown faults, like the one that ruptured in Napa County, CA in 2000, and in Northridge,  CA in 1994. In many cases, seismic waves from one fault rupture transfers to another, extending damage over a wider area than expected.

Ready? If not, here are some tips.

1. Your family may not be together when an earthquake strikes. They may not be able to get home

Complete a communication plan for emergencies and disasters and keep copies at home, work  and in your car. Have wallet size versions with the most essential information for each family member. The plan should include emergency contacts, both local and out of state. When family members call the contact they should advise their exact location, whether injured or in need of help or not , and where they are going.

Teach each family member to text. Text messages get transmitted more readily than voice transmissions.

Telephones with transformers require electricity to work. This includes cordless phones and many business or advanced feature phones. Have at least one old-fashioned, no bells or whistles, plug in telephone at home, work, and hopefully, schools.

2. Essential services (water, electricity, trash service, sewage treatment plants, transportation and some roadways) may be inoperable for days to weeks. If transportation is disrupted, store shelves cannot be stocked. If electricity is out, ATMs, gas pumps, cash registers, and water pumps won’t work.

This will be more than an inconvenience for those who rely on oxygen concentrators, insulin and other drugs that require refrigeration, or those who don’t store extra water, baby formula or other essentials.

Store cash, water, food, medicines, baby formula, a solar or battery powered radio and extra batteries, first-aid and medical supplies and alternative light and heat sources in sufficient quantities to supply essentials to household members. Supplies must include at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and pet – a 3 day supply is minimal, a two week supply may not be enough. If possible, store extra supplies to help out neighbors, friends and family who will be caught unprepared.

3. Expert help (police, fire, medical, nursing, pharmacies, utilities, ambulance) could be delayed, inaccessible, or unavailable for hours, days or weeks.

Stock  first aid supplies and a manual (available at the Red Cross, Amazon and bookstores) in your home. Take a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) course, available in most communities, and a First Aid class. Have fully charged ABC-type fire extinguishers on every level of your home in addition to the kitchen and garage. Reach out to people in your neighborhood with special needs; the frail elderly, those with sight or hearing loss, in wheelchairs, with language barriers, or other needs who will require extra help in an emergency or disaster.

Before a disaster strikes, know how your community will respond. Where will emergency treatment locations be set up?  Is there a local emergency warning system? Are there experts in your neighborhood that would be willing to help you with specific needs, such as carpentry, nursing, medical? What is your EAS (Emergency Alert Station) for your area? For San Francisco Bay Area counties, it is KCBS, 740 on the AM dial.

Berkeley has given us three wake-up calls in 7 days.  One day, a small earthquake like those of the past week could herald in the “Big One”.  Get ready while there is still time.

PG&E could have “junked” pipe in its gas pipeline system

October 21, 2011 at 12:57 am By Roz Potter

From the SF Chronicle:  Link

SAN BRUNO

State regulators have uncovered evidence that suggests Pacific Gas and Electric Co. installed “salvaged or junked transmission pipe” on its natural-gas system in the 1940s and ’50s, raising fears that a problem like the one that caused the San Bruno disaster could be lurking undetected, officials said in a regulatory filing Wednesday.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s investigation of PG&E’s record-keeping problems before the September 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people has uncovered “documents that appear to demonstrate PG&E’s historic reuse of salvaged or junked transmission pipe,” according to the filing by commission attorney Robert Cagen.

“These documents clearly raise serious safety concerns,” Cagen wrote.

Evidence under wraps

His filing did not specify which of the 90,000 documents that PG&E has given to commission investigators indicated the use of salvaged transmission pipe. Cagen wrote that investigators want to release the documents, but that PG&E has made a blanket assertion of confidentiality for much of what it has handed to the state.

***

Cagen suggested in his filing that regulators have found other “documents demonstrating that PG&E has accepted known poor and marginal welds, and then placed pipes with these poor or marginal welds into service” on the Peninsula pipeline, known as Line 132.

“Indeed, the NTSB determined that PG&E was aware as early as 1948 that it had placed transmission pipes into service on Line 132 with poor welds in them,” Cagen wrote.

He said he is seeking a “blanket rule favoring disclosure” of PG&E’s documents to “facilitate faster sharing of information in order to meet immediate public safety concerns.”

PG&E refuses to run rigorous tests on gas pipelines

October 6, 2011 at 11:33 pm By Roz Potter

From S.F. Gate,  Link

Excerpts:

California regulators warned Pacific Gas and Electric Co. on Thursday to stick to the letter of an agreement with the state on pressure testing its natural-gas lines to ensure there are no time bombs like the San Bruno transmission pipe that exploded last year.

***
At issue is PG&E’s deal with the California Public Utilities Commission to perform a two-part “spike” test using high-pressure water on urban transmission lines that have never been tested for weak welds that could fail and cause explosions. That involves doing an eight-hour hydro test and a short, higher-pressure spike test.

Commission staffers were critical of PG&E after the company used a less-rigorous test this summer at a compressor station near Needles (San Bernardino County) without telling the state in advance. PG&E had been forced to cut pressure at the station because of an unintended gas spike earlier this year.

PG&E said a spike hydro test could endanger the station. On Thursday, the commission gave the company permission to restore full pressure based on the results of the less rigorous test, though members were clearly upset over how PG&E had handled the matter.

“Any further testing must conform to our rules,” commission member Mark Ferron said, speaking directly to PG&E officials at a meeting in Los Angeles. “To be clear: We mean it.”

Commissioner Timothy Alan Simon added, “I want to make clear, going forward, we expect PG&E to understand compliance requirements.”

However, PG&E acknowledged in a Sept. 27 letter to the head of the commission’s safety division that the company had conducted seven additional non-spike tests over the summer along a total of 7 miles of transmission pipeline running from the Needles station to Milpitas.

***

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety consultant who is reviewing PG&E compliance for the watchdog group The Utility Reform Network, said the company could avoid safety problems by conducting full spike tests in shorter segments.

“It looks like they are trying to avoid a hydro-test failure,” Kuprewicz said. “That is not the idea – the idea is to perform a proper test and if you do get a series of failures, then you need to go right into pipe replacement.”

He added, “The last thing you want to do is a poor hydro test and create the illusion that it is an adequate test.”

Massive San Diego power outage aftermath

September 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm By Roz Potter

From the LA Times, Link

Coping with a massive power failure: People trapped in elevators and on amusement park rides; raw sewage flowing into the sea as sewage pumps failed;  inoperable gas pumps; hospitals on emergency generators; closed schools and banks; dark traffic lights; burglaries; dinner by candlelight.  Federal regulators are investigating.

Excerpt:

A utility worker doing maintenance near Yuma, Ariz., triggered a massive blackout that jammed roads, closed schools and businesses, grounded planes and left more than 4 million people across a large swath of Southern California and Mexico without power.

The blackout Thursday brought routine life to a halt. Many offices closed, but workers endured gridlock getting home because traffic lights were out. Officials said they noticed an increase in fender-benders in some areas as drivers tried to navigate the roads.

People were trapped in elevators and on rides at Sea World in San Diego and Legoland in Carlsbad. Hospital emergency rooms switched to backup generators, while outgoing flights from San Diego were canceled for several hours.

PHOTOS: Blackout leaves millions without power

Customers jammed those stores that remained open, stocking up on ice and candles as utility company officials warned that power may not be restored until late Friday. Officials canceled classes Friday at most colleges and schools in San Diego and surrounding communities.

“Get ready to be in the dark. Get your emergency precautions ready,” said Michael Niggli, president and chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric.

The blackout was triggered by a mishap on a high-voltage power line linking Arizona and San Diego, causing a cascading series of electrical grid failures stretching into Southern California.

APS, which is Arizona’s largest electric utility, said a worker was doing maintenance on lines at a nearby substation when the blackout occurred.

Massive power outage 9/8/11: San Diego, California, a case study

September 8, 2011 at 8:05 pm By Roz Potter

1.4 million people are without power in sweltering temperatures, from San Diego to Yuma, Arizona and Baja, Mexico.  The San Onofre nuclear power plant has shut down as a result.  Water use is restricted in a some communities due to water pumps without power.

From  the LA Times on the San Onofre nuclear power plant shutdown, Link.  Also, articles from Yahoo,  Link,  and the Wall Street Journal, Link.

From Yahoo:

Excerpts: SAN DIEGO (AP) — A major power outage knocked out electricity to more than 2 million people in California, Arizona and Mexico on Thursday, taking two nuclear reactors offline, leaving people sweltering in the late-summer heat and disrupting flights at the San Diego airport.

San Diego bore the brunt of the blackout and most of the nation’s eighth-largest city was darkened. All outgoing flights from San Diego’s Lindbergh Field were grounded and police stations were using generators to accept emergency calls across the area.

The trolley system that shuttles thousands of commuters every day was shut down and freeways were clogged at rush hour. Police directed traffic at intersections where signals stopped working.

The outage extended from southern parts of Orange County to San Diego to Yuma, Arizona. It also is affecting cities south of the border across much of the state of northern Baja.

“It feels like you’re in an oven and you can’t escape,” said Rosa Maria Gonzales, a spokeswoman with the Imperial Irrigation District in California’s sizzling eastern desert. She said it was about 115 degrees when the power went out for about 150,000 of its customers.

***

A transmitter line between Arizona and California was severed, said Mike Niggli, chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric Co., causing the outage. The extreme heat in some areas also may have caused some problems with the lines.

“Essentially we have two connections from the rest of the world: One of from the north and one is to the east. Both connections are severed,” Niggli said.

Power officials don’t know what severed the line.

Power outages from disasters- what happens when the lights go out?

September 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm By Roz Potter

From the Huffington Post: Link

Are you prepared for a power outage lasting days? Weeks?

Do you have a back up plan for your insulin, your oxygen concentrator, for water pumps that won’t pump water to your faucets or your toilets? For your electric stove (and coffee maker), your computer, cellphone charger and that phone that requires a plug-in transformer to operate?

Will your workplace be functional or will you be out of a job? Will you need cash,  gas, food, or a prescription? Diapers, dish soap, powdered milk or bottled water?

How safe will your neighborhood be in inky darkness?

Generators depend on fuel. Will your supply last a week? Two?

When the lights go out it will be too late to prepare.

Excerpts:

The outages could be critical for the elderly, disabled and others who rely on community services.

“What if we’re without power for days?” asked Pat Dillon, 52, who is partially paralyzed from a stroke. Dillon’s senior care facility in Milford, Conn., lost power when a generator failed. As she sat in the dark, Dillon worried that her wheelchair’s batteries would run out. Even worse, she needs to keep her diabetes mediation chilled.

“Once the refrigerator gets warm, my insulin goes bad,” Dillon said. “I could go into diabetic shock. It’s kind of scary.”

Power companies say they’ll try to get critical services running first. But many are just starting to understand the full extent of damage to the grid. Utility workers must traverse thousands of square miles to find out what’s down before they can start repairs.

“It’s going to be several days at least for our most severely damaged areas” to get power back, said Mike Hughes, a spokesman for Progress Energy in North Carolina, which serves about 3.1 million customers.

Gilbert, with Connecticut Power, said it took two weeks to restore power after Hurricane Gloria knocked out service to 477,000 customers in 1985.

“And this definitely blows those numbers away,” she said.

In Virginia, Irene knocked out power to more than 300 critical services, including hospitals, emergency call centers and fire stations. Dominion Resources expects half of those facilities to be restored by the end of the day and most of the rest fixed by Monday.

New natural gas blast in Cupertino: known unsafe pipe & 2 hr delay in shutoff

September 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm By Roz Potter

From the San Jose Mercury News, two articles:  Link and Link.

Excerpt from first link  known unsafe pipe:

The explosion and fire that ripped through a Cupertino home this week was caused by a crack in a PG&E gas line made of a material whose regular failures have been the subject of at least two federal safety advisories, numerous lawsuits and accidents across the nation dating back at least a decade.

Not only had PG&E been warned of the dangers of the degrading plastic by federal regulators since 2002, several of the utility’s own employees have been sounding the alarm for years.

PG&E officials confirmed Friday that the leaking 2-inch distribution line that triggered Wednesday’s fire was made of a type of pipe called Aldyl-A, manufactured in the early 1970s by DuPont — and there are 1,231 miles of the same type of pipe in PG&E’s system running to homes across Northern California.

The revelation added a new chapter to PG&E’s woes nearly a year after the deadly rupture of one of its steel gas transmission lines in San Bruno, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes.

PG&E officials said Friday they will immediately begin reviewing their gas lines made of the infamous Aldyl-A piping built before 1973.

Excerpt from second link:

A day after federal investigators chastised PG&E for “a “litany of failures” in last year’s San Bruno blast, a loud explosion blew away a Cupertino home’s garage door, and several underground gas pipes in the area were found leaking, authorities said Thursday.

Pacific Gas & Electric crews found seven leaks in the 2-inch pipes that distribute gas to homes in the area near the explosion. But investigators are still unsure exactly what caused Wednesday’s blast.

PG&E has more than 42,000 miles of the distribution pipes running beneath properties in the Bay Area and beyond — and a similar explosion killed a man inside his Sacramento-area home three years ago.

The resident of the Cupertino townhome near the Homestead Square Shopping Center had left the home 15 minutes before the explosion, which badly damaged the residence. No injuries were reported, and firefighters said they saved a pet dog hiding under a bed inside.

After the flood – a close-up view of Vermont flooding from Irene

September 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm By Roz Potter

Full-page, eye-opening photos of  the Vermont flood’s effect on transportation, business, and people’s lives:  Link

Communities in Vermont and New York cutoff after 2 full days of rain.  Video and story from ABC news:  Link

USDA: Disaster food safety tips

August 27, 2011 at 1:57 pm By Roz Potter

From the USDA.  Important information to help you stay healthy in the aftermath of disaster.  These tips will minimize the potential for foodborne illnesses in the event of power outages, supply chain disruptions, flooding, and other problems that could be associated with disasters. Link

Excerpts:

Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency:

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer. An appliance thermometer will indicate the temperature inside the refrigerator and freezer in case of a power outage and help determine the safety of the food.
  • Make sure the freezer is at 0°F or below and the refrigerator is at 40°F or below.
  • Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator or coolers after the power is out.
  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately — this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer.
  • Plan ahead and know where dry ice and block ice can be purchased.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerator food cold if the power will be out for more than 4 hours. Purchase or make ice and store in the freezer for use in the refrigerator or in a cooler. Freeze gel packs ahead of time for use in coolers.
  • Group food together in the freezer — this helps the food stay cold longer.
  • Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding.

Steps to follow after the weather emergency:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
  • The refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) and the door remains closed.
  • Discard refrigerated perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items after 4 hours without power.
  • Food may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40°F or below when checked with a food thermometer.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety!
  • Obtain dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator and freezer as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for 2 days.
  • If the power has been out for several days, check the temperature of the freezer with an appliance thermometer. If the appliance thermometer reads 40°F or below, the food is safe to refreeze.
  • If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine its safety. If the food still contains ice crystals, the food is safe.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come into contact with flood water. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
  • Thoroughly wash all metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils that came in contact with flood water with hot soapy water and sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved. Follow the Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches in the publication “Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency” at: www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Keeping_Food_Safe_During_an_Emergency/index.asp
  • Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters. If bottled water is not available, tap water can be boiled for safety.

When in Doubt, Throw it Out!

An FSIS Public Service Announcement (PSA), available in 30- and 60-second versions, illustrates practical food safety recommendations for handling and consuming foods stored in refrigerators and freezers during and after a power outage. Consumers are encouraged to view the PSA at: www.fsis.usda.gov/news/Food_Safety_PSA .

News organizations and power companies can obtain hard copy (Beta and DVD) versions of the PSA by contacting the Food Safety Education Staff in FSIS’ Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education by calling (301) 344-4757.

FSIS’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/user/USDAFoodSafety , provides a video in English and Spanish titled “Food Safety During Power Outages.” The channel also includes the SignFSIS video in American Sign Language titled “Food Safety During a Power Outage.” Food Safety at Home podcasts regarding food safety during severe weather, power outages, and flooding are available on the FSIS website in English and Spanish at www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Food_Safety_at_Home_Podcasts/index.asp .

Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov . “Ask Karen” live chat services are available Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. Podcasts and SignFSIS videos in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available online at

U. S. nuclear power plant locator map

August 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm By Roz Potter

For those of you anticipating the obvious from serious earthquakes, here’s an eye-opening map of U.S. nuclear power plants from Greenpeace,  Link

Excerpt:

Nationwide, 108 million people live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant, yet many do not know they may be at risk if an accident or terrorist attack led to the release of radiation.

This nuclear locator map allows you to learn more about the risks of nuclear power in your community: how close you live to a nuclear plant, the record of near misses at each reactor, and government estimates of how many people could be killed or injured in an accident.

Moderate to severe solar storms set to hit earth – electrical and communications systems in jeopardy

August 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm By Roz Potter

From the Atlantic Wire,  Link

Excerpts:

Reuters is reporting that there have been three large explosions from the Sun over the past few days, and that “sun storms” are set to hit the Earth.

The U.S. government, which is pretty pressed for time as it is right now, is warning “users of satellite, telecommunications and electric equipment to prepare for possible disruptions over the next few days.” Or, as National Geographic informs us: “Storms are brewing about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) away, and if one of them reaches Earth, it could knock out communications, scramble GPS, and leave thousands without power for weeks to months.”

Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that the magnetic storm that is soon to develop probably will be in the “moderate to strong level.”

So how afraid should we be? According to Reuters, major disruptions from solar activity, rare though they may be, have had serious impacts in the past.

In 1989, a solar storm took down the power grid in Quebec, Canada, leaving about six million people without power for several hours…

The 1859 solar storm hit telegraph offices around the world and caused a giant aurora visible as far south as the Caribbean Islands. Some telegraph operators reported electric shocks. Papers caught fire. And many telegraph systems continued to send and receive signals even after operators disconnected batteries, NOAA said on its website.

Reuters adds that according to a 2008 report by the National Research Council, a similar storm could cause up to $2 trillion in damage, globally. But before hysteria sets in, Kunches said that, “I don’t think this week’s solar storms will be anywhere near that.” However, lest we relax too much, the International Business Times reports that solar activity is increasingly becoming a source of concern:

The NOAA predicted four extreme solar emissions which could threaten the planet this decade. Similarly, Nasa warned that a peak in the sun’s magnetic energy cycle and the number of sun spots or flares around 2013 could enable extremely high radiation levels.

Apparently, the sun is approaching what’s known as solar maximum—the high point in its roughly 11-year cycle of activity, according to National Geographic.

Scientists anticipate stronger storms around solar max, in 2013. So while Rich Lordan from the Electric Power Research Institute said that “based on the data and the scenarios we can reasonably expect, I believe the power-delivery system can operate through a solar storm,” overall the danger is becoming more critical.

A Century of Disasters

May 30, 2011 at 8:40 am By Roz Potter

From Slate Magazine, Link

This will be the century of disasters.

In the same way that the 20th century was the century of world wars, genocide, and grinding ideological conflict, the 21st will be the century of natural disasters and technological crises and unholy combinations of the two. It’ll be the century when the things that we count on to go right will, for whatever reason, go wrong.

Late last month, as the Mississippi River rose in what is destined to be the worst flood in decades, and as the residents of Alabama and other states rummaged through the debris of a historic tornado outbreak, physicists at a meeting in Anaheim, Calif., had a discussion about the dangers posed by the sun.

Solar flares, scientists believe, are a disaster waiting to happen. Thus one of the sessions at the American Physical Society’s annual meeting was devoted to discussing the hazard of electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) caused by solar flares or terrorist attacks. Such pulses could fry transformers and knock out the electrical grid over much of the nation. Last year the Oak Ridge National Laboratory released a study saying the damage might take years to fix and cost trillions of dollars.

But maybe even that’s not the disaster people should be worrying about. Maybe they should worry instead about the ARkStorm. That’s the name the U.S. Geological Survey’s Multihazards Demonstration Project gave to a hypothetical storm that would essentially turn much of California’s Central Valley into a bathtub. It has happened before, in 1861-62, when it rained for 45 straight days. The USGS explains: “The ARkStorm draws heat and moisture from the tropical Pacific, forming a series of Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) that approach the ferocity of hurricanes and then slam into the U.S. West Coast over several weeks.” The result, the USGS determined, could be a flood that would cost $725 billion in direct property losses and economic impact.

While pondering this, don’t forget the Cascadia subduction zone. That’s the plate boundary off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, one that could generate a tsunami much like the one that devastated Japan in March. The Cascadia subduction zone runs from Vancouver Island to northern California, and last ruptured in a major tsunami-spawning earthquake on January 26, 1700. It could break at any moment, with catastrophic consequences.

All of these things have the common feature of low probability and high consequence. They’re “black swan” events. They’re unpredictable in any practical sense. They’re also things that ordinary people probably should not worry about on a daily basis. You can’t fear the sun. You can’t worry that a rock will fall out of the sky and smash the earth, or that the ground will open up and swallow you like a vitamin. A key element of maintaining one’s sanity is knowing how to ignore risks that are highly improbable at any given point in time.

And yet in the coming century, these or other black swans will seem to occur with surprising frequency. To read on… Link

Fallout risk. And, superb report on conditions in Japan from the UK’s Independent newspaper

March 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm By Roz Potter

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/were-told-not-to-breathe-the-air-ndash-its-scary-2240509.html

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NRC, states today that fallout risk is “unlikely” to the U.S. due to the thousands of miles separating our country from Japan. Link

Scientists in Washington state are monitoring fallout levels. They see no reason for concern in the U.S. or Canada, but have concern for areas close to radiation source(s). Link

For those interested in detailed explanations and graphics of the situation at Japan’s nuclear reactors, see “Battle to Stabilize Earthquake Reactors”  Link, an article from World Nuclear News.

It’s possible the jet stream could bring some highly diluted radioactive particles to the Americas.  This will present no more radioactivity risk than everyday exposure.  We have yet to learn if the meltdown(s) have resulted in breaches of the nuclear reactor container vessels, and if so, what type. That information could change the risk assessment.

Some radioactive elements such as iodine have a half life of 8 days. That means 50% will degrade in 8 days, another 50% in another 8 days, etc.  (correction 3 14 11). Others, such as strontium, cesium and uranium remain radioactive for up to thousands of years.

Lessons from the Christchurch NZ Aftershock

February 24, 2011 at 12:56 am By Roz Potter

The “Ring of Fire” earthquake zone is the source of 80% of the world’s earthquakes. According to the USGS, the Ring of Fire “extends from Chile, northward along the South American coast through Central America, Mexico, the West Coast of the United States, and the southern part of Alaska, through the Aleutian Islands to Japan, the Philippine Islands, New Guinea, the island groups of the Southwest Pacific, and to New Zealand”. This earthquake belt was responsible for 70,000 deaths in Peru in May 1970, and 65 deaths and a billion dollars’ damage in California in February 1971 (the San Fernando quake).

Located on the Ring of Fire, Christchurch, New Zealand has some of the world’s most stringent building codes. Why then, did Tuesday’s 6.3 magnitude earthquake cause the collapse of many buildings, when September’s 7.1 magnitude quake in the same vicinity did little damage?

The devastation from the latest quake was an unfortunate combination of proximity, timing, and stress from September’s stronger but more distant rupture.

Tuesday’s earthquake, centered just 3 miles from Christchurch, a city of 390,000 people, was also just 3 miles deep. Shallower, closer quakes are more destructive. While September’s quake struck early on a weekend morning, catching most people at home in bed, Tuesday’s quake struck in the middle of a workday, finding people at multistory pre-World War II as well as more modern buildings, many of them unreinforced masonry, already weakened by September’s trembler.

The New Zealand Herald newspaper gives us a real-time glimpse into actual conditions following the quake. This report is from 4:22 PM today:

- All hospitals are operational and have been emptied to make room for victims

- 80% of the city is still without water. Emergency water supplies are available at locations, primarily schools throughout the city and neighboring towns. People are advised to bring their own containers. The water needs to be boiled before drinking.

If it rains, residents are urged to save all water for drinking. It is not to be used to flush toilets, take showers or baths.

- The sewage system has been damaged. People are advised not to flush their toilets and to use a bucket or dig a hole outside for human waste.

- Gasoline supplies are low and needed for emergency vehicles. People are advised not to buy gas except for critical uses. Roads are damaged.

- People are encouraged to walk to keep vehicles off the road. The public is to bring bedding, medications and personal effects with them to shelters.

- Power has been restored to 60% of the city. It may be several weeks before it is restored completely.

- All schools and day care centers are closed. People are only to report to work if they work in an industry supplying food.

- Telephone and cellphone calls are to be limited. Text messages are preferred as they place less load on networks. In yesterday’s paper, people were asked to change their cellphone messages to let callers know their location and to give alternate details if possible.

- Many supermarkets and ATMs are closed due to damage.

- The Port has sustained serious damage

- Aftershocks are continuing. More damage is expected. Residents are urged to drop, cover and hold on at the first sign of an aftershock.

Update: 2 26 11

The death toll stands at 145, with hundreds more missing. There are many traumatic injuries from collapsed concrete buildings.

California’s other “Big One”

January 18, 2011 at 2:21 am By Roz Potter

For those who might have missed the news reports, the USGS, FEMA and the California Emergency Management Agency convened a group of experts at U.C. Davis for two days last week to discuss a “Superstorm” that could be brewing. The last was in 1861-2. It continued for 45 days causing a 300 mile stretch of central California to resemble an enormous lake. Central California cities and towns including Sacramento were inundated. Such catastrophic storms occur every 100-200 years. They are called ARkStorms

Rising temperatures of the earth’s atmosphere makes such extreme weather events more likely. Such a storm could drop 10 feet of rain, flood 25% of the homes in California, cause massive landslides, disrupt sewer, water and waste systems, create toxic runoffs from industry, create ecologic damage and cause massive injuries, and loss of life with commensurate economic, social, agricultural and infrastructure damage. See NYT article Link and USGS news release Link, for more information.

California PUC orders PG&E to reduce gas pressure

December 22, 2010 at 12:21 am By Roz Potter

The NTSB, the agency charged with investigating the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion has found that the failed pipe was not welded properly. In addition, discrepancies were discovered between PB&E records and the type and condition of pipe found. The failed pipe segment should have been welded from both inside and outside. Instead, only outside welds were found in some portions.

As a result of the findings, the California Public Utilities Commission has ordered PG&E to reduce the pressure of gas in its lines.

See http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2010/12/14/ntsb-investigation-update-on-san-bruno-explosion/, and www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/12/17/18666883.php

“Eyes Wide Shut” II

October 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm By Roz Potter

This is not the promised second installment about natural gas components and their potentially harmful health effects. That report must wait. Meanwhile, there have been several disclosures about gas pipelines that deserve a wider audience. 

But first, sadly, one of the San Bruno burn victims died last week, raising the death toll to 8. Several victims are still in burn units and will require many painful debridements, skins grafts and significant physical and occupational therapy in the days and years to come. Take a moment to offer prayers, cards, letters, or donations. For cash donations, see this article

Here are some important updates and disclosures:

1.  In a 9/15/2010 interview conducted on KQED radio, Professor Jean-Pierre Bardet, chair of the University of Southern California’s civil- and environmental-engineering department, stated that poor grade steel was the only option for pipelines manufactured and installed 50 or 60 years ago, such as the 1956 vintage high pressure gas transmission pipeline that exploded in San Bruno. It was 54 years old —  and it was not slated for replacement. 50 years is “right around the life expectancy for steel pipes”, according to a 9/14/10  Associated Press article.

  2.  A document PG&E filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, showed that “significant amounts of liquids” had caused corrosion in four of PG&E’s Bay Area natural gas pipelines, including the San Bruno high pressure pipeline that exploded on September 9.  See source.

3. The primary method PG&E uses to check for corrosion problems in pipelines is considered inferior by many experts. See source.  According to the article, the utility plans to use the flawed method to check 72% of its urban lines.  This electronic mapping method, known (euphemistically) as direct assessment, was used in Nov. 2009 to assess the San Bruno pipeline section that exploded. PG&E says it passed.

The article cites Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety expert in Redmond, Washington, who says that electronic mapping can only estimate the extent of corrosion – and “only in areas the poles can reach”.  Workers walk the pipeline inserting devices that look like ski poles.

But areas of the 1107 miles of pipeline that are under cities and towns, and some of the many thousands of miles of pipes elsewhere, are inaccessible. Need I add that the success of this assessment method is entirely dependent upon the training, and competence of  PG&E employees charged with this task, and the care they take in executing their duties, hour after hour, mile after mile. Add my name to the skeptic’s list.

Jim Hall, a private consultant and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who was also quoted in the article, said “the technique is so antiquated that it should not be allowed in urban areas”. 

Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a non-profit organization created out of a 1999 pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington that killed three people, stated that direct assessment was a “compromise” that ended up in the regulations.

According to the article, the gold standard for pipeline corrosion assessment is a device called a “pig”. A pig is “a cylindrical instrument, as long as 25 feet, that measures ultrasound vibrations or magnetic field waves to check for corrosion or tiny cracking that would escate direct assessment techniques”. A pig is inserted into a pipe. But it has its limitations too. It cannot be used on small or sharply curved or bent sections of pipeline.

4. Corrosion is not the only problem that can weaken pipes. Cracking, fatigue due to age, and elevated gas line pressures are also dangers. Yet corrosion is the only problem measured by direct assessment.

5. Critics point out that utilities have been under pressure for years to step up inspections and pipe replacement schedules.  The regulatory system is ripe for problems because standards largely leave it up to the utility companies to to do inspections and spend the money necessary to properly fix and replace decrepit pipes. These corporations legally answer to shareholders first and the public second.

As previously pointed out in the first post on this topic, an investigative reporter from the Washington Independent found that the oversight agency, PHMSA, has adopted a number of industry standards that were written by two powerful trade and lobbying groups. See the article here.

6. Another article published 9/27/10 on the CBS News San Francisco website, reports that federal records analyzed by the LA Times show that PG&E pipelines leak at a rate that is 6 times the average of other large pipeline operators. And that high rate is for pipelines PG&E controls near population centers and environmentally sensitive areas, known as “high consquence” areas. The San Bruno pipeline was in such a high consequence area.

7. One of the biggest dangers to pipelines is posed by earthquakes. Earthquakes are indescriminate when it comes to rupturing pipes. Gas pipelines are not flexible. They don’t bend, they crack and break. Pipelines that run through areas prone to liquifaction, such as sandy or loose soils or infill areas around bays and other waterfronts, are extremely susceptible to underground stresses, such as earthquakes or other natural soil shifting. Even a pipe in good condition can rupture during an earthquake.

There are 296,00 miles of onshore natural-gas pipelines. More than 60% of the pipelines are 40 years old or older. And most of the older pipelines lack anticorrosion coatings.

Would you, family members and employees know what to do in a variety of emergencies, where seconds count? It’s time to find out.

Whose Fault Is It?

September 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm By Roz Potter

More people live and work on or near the Hayward Fault in the San Francisco Bay Area than any other fault in the United States. As of 2008, 2.4 million people lived close by. More than 1.5 million people “work at sites that would experience strong or very strong levels of shaking” from the next powerful quake on the Hayward Fault.

This is earthquake country. California has a 99% chance of having at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater quake anytime in the next 30 years. For the S.F. Bay Area, the risk is 63%. And of all the faults in the S. F. Bay Area, the risk is highest for the Hayward/Rodgers Creek Faults.

Homes, mass transit corridors, major freeways and roadways intersect the Hayward at many locations. It is crossed by many critical water and gas pipelines, and electrical transmission lines. It begins near San Jose and winds its way northward through Santa Clara,  Alameda and part of Contra Costa County to San Pablo Bay.

The Hayward Fault has not ruptured since 1868, 142 years ago, in case you’re counting, and if you live in the Bay Area, you should be. The average period between the last 5 major quakes on the Hayward Fault  is 138 years. 

Pressures in the Hayward Fault have been building unabated, since 1868. Similar pressures in the San Andreas Fault were at least partially relieved by the 1906 San Francisco quake, and to a small extent by the 1989 Loma Prieta. There has been no relief for the Hayward.

The 1868 quake was felt as far away as Nevada. There was major damage in Hayward, San Leandro and Fremont, and lesser but significant damage in San Jose, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco. Even Napa, yes, that Napa suffered substantial damage from the 1868 quake. 

So, residents of Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda, Napa, Marin, Sonoma and other counties, the Hayward is your Fault too.  Your counties suffered damage in the 1868 quake,  you rely on services that traverse the Hayward Fault, or you live, work or commute on or near the Hayward Fault. 

Residents of any area could find themselves in double- or triple-trouble. Some regions, like Marin and Sonoma counties have several large fault systems, in these cases the San Andreas and the Rodgers Creek Faults. Many have unknown faults, like the one that ruptured in Napa County, CA in 2000. In many cases, seismic waves from one fault rupture transfers to another, extending damage over a wider area than expected.  

Oh yes, the United States Geological Survey (USGA) wants everyone to know that the 6.7 magnitude 1994 Northridge California earthquake occured on an unknown fault. The Northridge caused extreme damage to roadways, overpasses, buildings and other structures. 33 people were killed. 141 were injured.

Of the 141 injured, 138 required hospitalization – those were nasty injuries. 12,000 homes, schools, hospitals and other buildings were structurally damaged. The USGS says the world has many unknown faults. We cannot use our knowledge of existing faults to predict future earthquakes. Future quakes are as likely to occur on unknown as they are on known faults.

Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Washington D.C., Alaska, Washington, and many other parts of the U.S. and the World, you have your faults too. The Earth is full of them. Take heed. Mother Nature gives no warning. You’ll be on your own when she strikes.

Ready? If not, here are some tips. More will be coming in future posts:

1. Your family may not be together when an earthquake strikes. They may not be able to get home

Complete a communication plan for emergencies and disasters and keep copies at home, work  and in your car. Have wallet size versions with the most essential information for each family member. The plan should include emergency contacts, both local and out of state. When family members call the contact they should advise their exact location, whether injured or in need of help or not , and where they are going.

Teach each family member to text. Text messages get tranmitted more readily than voice transmissions.

Telephones with transformers require electricity to work. This includes cordless phones and many business or advanced feature phones. Have at least one old-fashioned, no bells or whistles, plug in telephone at home, work, and hopefully, schools.

2. Essential services (water, electricity, trash service, sewage treatment plants, transportation and some roadways) may be inoperable for days to weeks. If transportation is disrupted, store shelves cannot be stocked. If electricity is out, ATMs, gas pumps, cash registers, and water pumps won’t work.

This will be more than an inconvenience for those who rely on oxygen concentrators, insulin and other drugs that require refrigeration, or those who don’t store extra water, baby formula or other essentials.

Store cash, water, food, medicines, baby formula, a solar or battery powered radio and extra batteries, first-aid and medical supplies and alternative light and heat sources in sufficient quantities to supply essentials to household members. Supplies must include at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and pet – a 3 day supply is minimal, a two week supply may not be enough. If possible, store extra supplies to help out neighbors, friends and family who will be caught unprepared.

3. Expert help (police, fire, medical, nursing, pharmacies, utilities, ambulance) could be delayed, inaccesible, or unavailable for hours, days or weeks.

Stock  first aid supplies and a manual (available at the Red Cross, Amazon and bookstores) in your home. Take a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) course, available in most communities, and a First Aid class. Reach out to people in your neighborhood with special needs; the frail elderly, those with sight or hearing loss, in wheelchairs, with language barriers, or other needs who will require extra help in an emergency or disaster. 

Before a disaster strikes, know how your community will respond. Where will emergency treatment locations be set up?  Is there a local emergency warning system? Are there experts in your neighborhood that would be willing to help? What is your EAS (Emergency Alert Station) for your area? For the San Francisco Bay Area counties, it is KCBS, 740 on the AM dial.

I’ll be publishing other preparedness tips through October 21, 2010, when the great California Shake Out Earthquake Exercise will take place.

Defying Disaster is underwriting another preparedness workshop on November 6, 2010, this time at the Napa Library in Napa, California. Click here for more information.

Defying Disaster Games, Website and GermTheory™ LLC provide information only, not medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See Additional Terms