What Would Hal Willard Say About the North Anna Earthquake?

Illustration is an adaptation of the Google satellite view of the North Anna plant, 11 miles as the crow flies from the August 23 5.8 earthquake's epicenter. (H/T to Sue Sturgis at the ISS whose post  alerted me to the 1970's WaPo coverage).

Interesting that the The The Washington Post (WaPo)  writers didn't look in their own archives when writing about the August 23 earthquake, whose epicenter was 11 miles as the crow flies from Dominion Energy's North Anna nuclear power plant. As a result, no articles there about the 5.8 quake mention that officials of VEPCO  knew it was building on a fault line and got in trouble for concealing that from the NRC during the 70s. The paper started reporting on the story in 1973 when the Atomic Energy Commission began its investigation of  VEPCO. Hal Willard, the principle reporter on the story during that time, died in 2009. At the end of this post, you'll find a timeline compiled from the articles. More later when I can access the WaPo articles--anything before 1987 is not available for free online and the Roanoke County library doesn't have the the WaPo on microfilm.

The North Anna Environmental Coalition,  with the late June Allen as president (d. 2010), fought construction and operating licenses for the plant  during that time. By 2005, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, fighting a third and fourth reactor at the North Anna site, issued a report from report on an earlier scandal regarding how the plant came to be constructed above a geological fault, which might be prone to earthquakes:
The story begins in 1967, the year Vepco [Virginia Electric Power--Dominion Energy's former name for a portion of the current corporation] awarded the initial contract of $446 million for the North Anna Nuclear Station on the banks of the Pamunkey River in Louisa County. Vepco hired Dames & Moore, an environmental consulting firm, to do geology studies in support of the license application. Within a year evidence of seismic faults were found but Vepco resisted the findings. The truth would not remain hidden for long.
 I found this is the court documents (see paragraph 10).  Of course we know in hindsight that the conclusion was not accurate, but I'm wondering if it was even scientifically accurate at the time:

the site was as stable as one without a fault and therefore it was determined that the presence of the fault did not require changes in design specifications for units one and two and also that the fault had no bearing on approval of the construction permits for units three and four.

Renee Parsons (email) writes of June Allen:

...Allen’s investigative talents and ability to cut-through utility and NRC double-speak were apparent as she became an eloquent, hard-nosed intervener in 1972 pointing out what she saw as collusion between the NRC and Virginia Electric Power Company.  A classical pianist who wore pearls, Allen testified before Congress identifying the “nuclear-industrial complex” as an inherently unsafe technology and frequently attended VEPCO stockholder meetings. On one occasion, when spied in the audience, VEPCO’s Chairman stopped the meeting, extended an arm,  pointed a finger directly at June and announced with great indignation, “There is Mrs. Allen.”

The Washington Post (35 articles):
  • August 28, 1973:  The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) begins its investigation of whether the Virginia Electric and Power Co. (VEPCO) withheld information about a geological fault beneath its nuclear power plant under construction on the North Anna River in Louisa County, VA.((North Anna) "AEC Probes Vepco on Site Data, Hal Willard, August 29, 1973, B1)
  • September 21, 1973:  VEPCO ordered to try immediately to find out if the lake itself could cause an earthquake. (" Quake Check Ordered At Nuclear Plant Site," Hal Willard, September,  22, 1973, C2)
  • September, 1973: WaPo reports on the geology and North Anna  in a 2,000+ word story ("A Geologic Fault Bedevils Reactor: The 'Devil' and the Reactor -- A Haunting Question,  Hal Willard, September 27, 1973, G1)
  • AEC Officials testify there will be a tightening up of plant requiremenets and inspection procedures to avoid "surprises" like discovery of a geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("AEC Acts to Avoid 'Surprises,'"Hal Willard Washington Post Staff Writer, October 4, 1973, H1)
  • October 17, 1973:  AEC orders VEPCO to show why it should be allowed to continue construction of North Anna. ("Vepco Told To Defend A-Plant Site, Hal Willard, October 18, 1973, C1)
  • November, 1973: VEPCO tells AEC that North Anna construction should continue because of "probability that the site will ultimately be found perfectly safe" -- and it would cost $127 million to stop work for six months .("Continue A-Plant, Firm Asks," Hal Willard, November 12, 1973, C1)
  • March 2, 1974: AEC's regulatory staff reports regarding geological faults, that North Anna site is safe, ("AEC Staff Finds Site Of Va. A-Plant Is Safe," March 3, 1974; D4)
  • March 20, 1974: Citizens fighting construction of the North Anna charge that the federal government is withholding geological evidence in the case. "Secrecy Charged on Vepco A-Plant Plan Study" Hal Willard, March 21, 1974, C8)
  • April, 1974: AEC panel concludes that the partially North Anna plant is not on an active earthquake site and that work on it should continue.("AEC Finds In Favor of Va. A-Plant, April 17, 1974, B4)
  • August, 1974:  Environmentalists have been unable to block construction of North Anna, but economic and labor problems bring work there to a virtual standstill. ("Work Halts At Nuclear Power Unit, Hal Willard, August 3, 1974, A7)
  • February 5, 1975:   A piece on Dr. John W. Funkhouser, who discovered the geologic fault beneath North Anna ("Legalities Swirl Over Nuclear Plant:  What Was in Deleted Deposition?" Hal Willard, February 6, 1975,  F1)
  • November 7, 1974: Earthquake recorded about 30 miles southwest of North Anna.  Both AEC and VEPCO say such a tremor would have no impact on a completed plant. (" Quake Felt in Va. In A-Plant Vicinity," Ron Shaffer, November 16, 1974, E3)
  • February, 1975: The drinking habits of  the murdered Funkhouser brought up in hearing to determine whether VEPCO officials made false or misleading statements to the NRC. ("Geologist's Drinking Habits Unearthed," Hal Willard,  February 20, 1975, F1)
  • March, 1975: Post prints piece on rising electric rates (" Electric Companies Stub Toes in the Dark," Hal Willard,  March 20, 1975,  D1)
  • May 28, 1975:  NRC staff recommends that VEPCO pay the largest fine in the history of the peacetime atom for making false statements about the geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("Nuclear Panel Urged To Fine Vepco Heavily, Hal Willard,  May 29, 1975, B3)May 29, 1975:  A VEPCO VP testifies that customers, not stockholders, should have to pay any fines levied for the company managements accused errors in judgement. ("Vepco: Let Users Pay," Hal Willard May 30, 1975, C1)
  • June, 1975: Justice Department asks Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to say whether criminal action should be taken against VEPCO because of "material false statements" the utility allegedly made concerning the geologic fault underlying North Anna. (no byline, "Vepco Criminal Action Is Left to Atomic Unit,"  June 21, 1975, B7)
  • June, 1975:  NRC informs Justice Department that it has found no evidence of criminal intent on the part of VEPCO executives responsible for material false statements about the geological fault beneath North Anna ("No Criminal Intent Seen in Vepco Reply," June 24, 1975, C3)
  • September 11, 1975:  The $60,000 penalties levied against VEPCO for North Anna are the "strongest ever imposed on the industry" ("Vepco Fined $60,000 for A-Plant Fault, Hal Willard, September 12, 1975,  A1)
  • January, 1976: According to new findings by NRC staff, the $60,000 fine levied the previous September against VEPCO by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, should be raised to $90,000("Vepco's Fine Said Too Low, William H. Jones, January 25, 1976, B1)
  • January 1976: Justice Department investigates  VEPCO's alleged material false statements in the early 1970s ("North Anna Statements Are Probed," January 30, 1976, C7)
  • June, 1976:  NRC stays an appeals board ruling that reduced a record $60,000 fine against VEPCO for making "material false statements" about a geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("Nuclear Unit Alters Vepco Fine," Hal Willard, June 5, 1976, D5)
  • November 12, 1976: The NRC fines VEPCO $32,500 for making seven "material false statements" about the presence of a geologic fault beneath North Anna. ("Nuclear Agency Fines Vepco," Hal Willard,  November 13, 1976, D4)
  • February 23,1977: VEPCO pays $31,900 fine imposed by NRC for 30 violations discovered in an investigation of construction practices at North Anna. ("Vepco Pays $31,900 Fine For A-Faults," Hal Willard,  February 24, 1977, B4)
  • September 30, 1977:  Justice Department says high-level NRC officials covered up for almost three months knowledge that a geologic fault existed under North Anna"U.S. Cover-Up Seen on Fault At Vepco Site," Joanne Omang, October 1, 1977, A1)
  • October 3, 1977, It is disclosed that NRC reprimanded its staff last November for covering up knowledge of the geological fault underneath North Anna, but only in a footnote in its ruling.("Nuclear Agency Staff Criticized in Footnote," Joanne Omang, October 4, 1977, C4)
  • October 6, 1977: Federal Energy Administration chief John O'Leary dismissed categorically any implication that he or NRC were involved in concealing the existence of a geological fault under North Anna in 1973. ("O'Leary Denies Concealing Fault," Joanne Omang,  October 7, 1977, B2)
  • February 1978: VEPCO, saying costs are rising faster than revenues, requests a 12.2 percent rate increase plus another 8 percent later in the year."Vepco Asks Rate Rise Of 12.2 Pct.,"Thomas Grubisich,  February 16, 1978, A1)
  • March 1, 1978:   4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds $32,500 fine on VEPCO for making false statements. ("Appeals Court Upholds $32,500 Fine on Vepco," Mar 2, 1978, C6)
  • June 1978: NRC investigates why staff gave contradictory dates on when it discovered that North Anna was being built on a geologic fault. ("Nuclear Agency Probes Vepco Plant Date Conflict," Thomas Grubisich,  June 15, 1978, C14)
  • September 7, 1978:  A witness charges that workers building North Anna are making up to $20,000 a month in unmonitored personal phone calls on VEPCO company phones. ("Witness Charges Waste at Vepco Plant," Phil McCombs,  September 8, 1978, B1)
  • October, 1978:  A thousand gallons of radioactive water accidentally flows out of a pipe on to a basement floor at North Anna, "slightly" contaminating 13 employes and causing a 12-hour  shutdown.(" Radioactive Water Spills At Va. Plant," Phil McCombs, October 28, 1978, C1)
  • March 1979:  In the wake of Three Mile Island Disaster, the Louisa County Board of Supervisors looks into construction of fallout shelters for county residents due to the location there of North Anna. ("Fallout Shelters Eyed For Residents in Louisa,"  March 22, 1979, C3)
  • May 1, 1979:  Critics talk about North Anna in wake of Three Mile Island ("Nuclear Critics Decry Vepco Safety Conditions, Karlyn Barker, May 1, 1979,C1)
  • September 25, 1979: A  series of malfunctions triggered a shutdown of  North Anna and a "small amount" of radio active gas is released. ("Radioactive Gas Emitted By Va. Plant: Malfunctions Shut Vepco North Anna Nuclear Facility Plant Emits Radioactive Gas," Stephen J. Lynton and Thomas Grubisich,  September 26, 1979, C1)
  • April 10, 1980:  NRC votes to let VEPCO begin trial operations of its second nuclear unit at North Anna.("NRC Lets Vepco Start Trial of 2nd North Anna Unit," Stephen J. Lynton,  Apr 11, 1980, A1)

See also one article in The New York Times

  • October,  1977: The Justice Department charges that high-ranking officials at the NRC covered up information the geological fault under North Anna. ("U.S. Panel Accused Of Secrecy on Fault Under Nuclear Unit," David Burnham, October 2, 1977)


Peter Galuszka (email, bio) has a great piece for September 2 in Bacon's Rebellion, "The Ghost of June Allen."
Tammy Purcell, correspondent for The Fluvanna Review had a detailed piece including history of the opposition on October 26, 2011, "Shake up: Quake sparks concerns over North Anna’s past and future."


Star Womanspirit said...

Hope you can join us at the Floyd UBAN Keep the Ban Benefit Concert at the Floyd Tavern Pavilion on Friday, Sept 23. Gates open at 6:30 p,m and Mighty Shakey opens at 7:30 pm and Ember Swift will be on at 9 p.m. The incredible Natasha will be selling wonderful food. Sliding scale donation of $5-10 dollars is requested. Come support a worthy cause, hook up with great people, great food, and great music.

Anonymous said...

I apologize if this seems irrelevant, but I'm trying to trace the jazz writer Hal Willard, who apparently died in 2010. He wrote for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG as well as a biography of the jazz cornetist Wild Bill Davison. The same fellow?

Many thanks.
Michael Steinman