How would the U.S. fare in a 8.9 magnitude earthquake?

A local resident looks for items from his mother's car amid mud and debris in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: How would the U.S. fare if a magnitude 8.9 earthquake were to happen here? There's of course, the economic cost and then there's the nuclear power question. We've seen explosions at a plant in northern Japan. With the possibility of a meltdown. And there are calls from some in Congress asking for a moratorium on nuclear energy development. Similar moratoriums are being discussed in Germany and Switzerland.

Barry Scanlon is a former FEMA official and now president of the emergency preparedness firm Witt Associates. Good morning.

BARRY SCANLON: Good morning Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: Does the U.S. have the economic wherewithal to really deal with something like that?

SCANLON: Well, I think so. Of course, it matters where it happens and how it happens. As we saw with the Northridge Earthquake, when you loose the freeways and you have red tagged hospitals and so forth, that can greatly effect the economy. Studies have shown over time that there's actually a big influx of capital and investment after an event, so there's a large amount of reconstruction hours that go into an area. But there's certainly a short term hit and it affects a lot of the different economic systems that an area has.

CHIOTAKIS: What about the infrastructure? We're seeing these problems in Japan at the nuclear power plants there. Is our situation -- our nuclear situation -- similar? Would those plants sustain and 8.9 or a 9.0 quake?

SCANLON: They have a lot of systems in place and they're built to withstand them, but of course the big issue for nuclear plants is whether or not they have back up power to be able to keep things cool and keep things operating. Some of these were built 30 or 40 years ago. The secondary issue of it is there's a lot of places where the areas have been built up around the plants much bigger than they thought -- the density of population. So all of the evacuation plans are something that really should be looked at because the area has changed over several decades for many of these plants.

CHIOTAKIS: Barry Scanlon, president of Witt Associates in Washington. Barry thanks.

SCANLON: Thank you Steve.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...