Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nature is a Whore...

Sell the kids for food
Weather changes moods
Spring is here again
Reproductive glands...

We can have some more
Nature is a whore
Bruises on the fruit
Tender age in bloom.
-Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, In Bloom

Man's hubris is nowhere more on display than in the construction of nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams. Earthquakes are unpredictable and probably impossible to predict. When you see the devastation, which has only just begun, brought on by the 8.9 magnitude [seismologists have revised this upward to a 9.0] earthquake in Japan, it is critical to ask some big questions. One question that I have been asking for several years is whether dams trigger earthquakes. There is some evidence to suggest that this is the case. By far the most destructive dam collapses since 1860 (and we can assume in human history) were in 1975, here in China. More than 230,000 people died when the Baniqao, Shimantan, and 60 other dams burst.

Regardless of whether dams trigger earthquakes, it is important to keep in mind that earthquakes cause dams to break and can cause nuclear plants to seriously malfunction. Japan has already had to flood the Fukushima Daini reactor to avoid a meltdown and may need to flood a second one, Daiichi. Breaking news is that a third reactor has now failed.

I am okay. One person wrote to me and asked if there was any affect here. Not yet.

Hopefully, there will be a positive outcome here in China--some navel gazing and some naval assistance that could usher in a new era of interdependence for these historic enemies. I have written previously about the threats posed by the Three Gorges dam on the Yanghtze Jiang (or Long River).
Fan Xiao, chief engineer of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, told the South China Morning Post that landslides are inevitable because elevated water levels significantly increasing the internal moisture of surrounding banks, making them soft, loose and unpredictable.

"It's like dipping a piece of bread in milk. The deeper you go, the more difficult it is to hold on," Fan said.

The unprecedented mass of water also increases the risk of earthquakes, he said.

Yang Yong, a Sichuan-based geologist, clarifies Fan's warning:, "When the dam reaches 574 feet (the capacity mark achieved Tuesday), it will push the region's geological instability to the fringe of catastrophe."

Three Gorges' revealed its shortcomings when floodwaters raced into the dam's 400-mile-long reservoir in July, prompting a government official to admit that the dam's flood-control capacity "is not unlimited." (see Three Gorges Dam is Full; Earthquake Risks Increased)
I hope that such information will also be heeded by Hydro-Quebec and my friends at home. While the Canadian shield is much more geologically stable than Northeast Japan when a butterfly flaps its wings...