Whenever a structure has to be built it has to be designed to withstand all sorts of forces that it might experience during its projected lifetime. Of course some of these forces can be easily calculated such as forces due to load, stress, strains and so forth but there are certain forces which might act due to natural calamities such as earthquakes which can not be fully estimated. This estimation is a dire necessity in case the structure to be built is a nuclear power plant since you can imagine the potential disaster that could occur in this case hence the need to study the subject of nuclear power plants and geological faults and risks.
The earth may seem to be single unit from the surface but scientists tell us that infact the surface is made up of giant pieces which are in relative motion. Whenever these pieces get stuck, it results in the built up of stress which releases itself in the form of earthquake. This region where the fault in the earth exists is prone to occurrence of earthquakes, hence a proper risk assessment is necessary in case it is extremely necessary to built a critical structure such as a nuclear power plant near such a geological fault.
How to Access Risk?
There are several methods which exist to find the risk associated with a region in context of geological faults and the exact methods are best left to the experts to decide depending on individual case but a broad overview of the different perspectives is as follows.
History: the seismic history of a region is certainly helpful to extrapolate the future occurrence of similar events. However this historical evidence should be based on verifiable sources and appropriate technical data, and not simply on hearsay.
Surface Scanning: this can be done by taking aerial photographs of various features as well as mapping of various structures and zones, studying the fluctuations in ground water level and so on. This would indicate the presence and severity of the geological fault in the region.
Sub Surface Scanning: there is lot of information under the surface as well which could be useful in predicting the fault conditions in the area. Pits and trenches can be made which can be used to measure characteristics such as resistance, magnetism and other physical and chemical properties of the materials that comprise the subsurface level.
There are several other tests which can be used depending on the situation and these could include test such as radiometric analysis and so forth. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss these techniques in detail.
To Build or Not!
Once the tests have been carried out, the experts then decide whether it would be safe to build a nuclear power plant or any other critical structure which could be a dam, on the particular site. Of course no structure is totally risk free and intelligence lies in taking due precautions and safety measures if the risk is within reasonable limits. Nuclear power plants are a necessity in the current energy situation and we should not let a geological fault deter if our efforts to build one, provided risk is within safe limits.
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