The earth raised its voice in a raucous way
We should be concerned about erecting Small Modular Reactors in the Caribbean
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A bonfire set up by residents is seen next to a collapsed building in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, January 16, 2010 after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck that Caribbean country. (Photo: AP)

The Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Seismic Zone, through a 5.6 Richter (logarithmic scale) shaker, spoke to Jamaica six times louder (mathematically: 10x(5.6-5.0) in logarithms to base 10) Monday morning than it did on September 21 this year at 7:31 pm, when it raised its voice to only 5.0 on the same Richter scale. My telephone call to the Dominican Republic was instantly cut, alarming my tribe over there. Friends in Trinidad kept calling for over one hour.

On October 15, the brilliant scientist Shonel Dwyer, of the National Commission on Science and Technology, wrote a column in The Gleaner entitled 'Earthquakes … the threat is in the fault.' On the same day, without ever knowing of or collaborating with Senior Geoscientist Dwyer, I had written, with a little less decorum, along the same lines in the Jamaica Observer. Upon seeing, hearing, and understanding what Dwyer had presented, I commented instantly, to no avail.

Well, the earth raised its voice in a raucous way on Monday morning. This is my decoding of what it shouted: 'Without screaming, this is my alarming shout of reminder'.

The Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault Zone is a significant geological feature located in the northern Caribbean, primarily affecting the island of Hispaniola, shared by the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. This fault zone is associated with complex tectonic interactions between the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate, making it a seismically active region. The fault is a transform fault, which means it accommodates horizontal motion between the two plates.

Over the last 300 years the northern Caribbean region has experienced several large and deadly seismic events, primarily associated with the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault Zone and nearby faults:

1751 Port-au-Prince Earthquake: This major earthquake struck the southern part of Hispaniola, near the present-day capital of Haiti. It is estimated to have had a magnitude of around 7.5 and resulted in significant damage and loss of life.

1842: Cap-Haïtien Earthquake: This event, with a magnitude estimated to be around 8.1, impacted the northern coast of Haiti, causing widespread devastation and loss of life.

1946: Dominican Republic Earthquake: This earthquake had a magnitude of approximately 8.1 and severely affected the northern part of the Dominican Republic, including the city of Santiago.

2010 Haiti Earthquake: This catastrophic event, with a magnitude of 7.0, struck the capital, Port-au-Prince, resulting in one of the deadliest earthquakes in history. It caused widespread destruction, loss of life, and significant humanitarian challenges.

Given the historical and ongoing seismic activity in the northern Caribbean, including the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault Zone, there should be concerns about erecting Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) for nuclear fission in Jamaica or other nearby areas. SMRs are a form of nuclear energy generation, conceptualised to be compact in size and imagined enhanced safety features compared to traditional nuclear power plants. However, the advisability of constructing SMRs in this seismically active region raises several critical considerations:

Seismic Risk: The Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault Zone poses a substantial seismic risk. It is vital to conduct thorough geological and seismic assessments to evaluate whether SMRs can be designed and constructed to withstand potential 7.1 to 8.1 Richter Scale earthquakes and their aftershocks.

Safety Measures: SMRs are supposed to come with advanced safety systems, but ensuring their effectiveness in a region with a history of destructive earthquakes requires egregiously robust engineering and emergency response planning.

Regulatory Compliance: Any decision to build SMRs should adhere to strict international and national regulatory standards to ensure the safety of the facility and the surrounding environment.

Public Perception: The construction of nuclear facilities in a seismically active area may face opposition from the local population and international community due to concerns about nuclear accidents and environmental risks.

Here's the thing: The advisability of being the world's guinea pig by erecting yet untested SMR nuclear fission reactors in Jamaica or the northern Caribbean region should be approached with great caution even with government and ministerial trepidation. A thorough evaluation of seismic risks, safety measures, regulatory compliance, and public perception is necessary before any such project is considered. Safety should be the utmost priority when dealing with potentially hazardous technologies in seismically active regions.

Dennis A Minott, PhD, is a physicist and energy specialist

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