Blitzer Bungles – Mistakes His Own Ignorance For Spin

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On Hugh Hewitt’s Monday show, he was harping on the extremely poor American news coverage of the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant that has been unfolding during the last few days. I sometimes have issues with Hewitt, but here he’s absolutely right.

Yesterday, I watched Wolf Blitzer make a complete ASS of himself.

He was talking to one of the plant managers at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which is located on the coast of California between Los Angles and San Diego. Wolf was asking about the building specks of the reactors, and what they are built to withstand. Well the guy was trying to tell Wolf that, since the plant is not to far from a fault that “could be capable” of producing a quake up to 6.9 on the Richter scale, the reactor is built to withstand at least a 7.0 directly under the plant.

Then, Wolf automatically brings up the dreaded SAN ANDREAS FAULT!!!!

OH NO!!!!

San Onofre guy says that is not a threat and…

“But the San Andreas can produce a quake as big as the one we just witnessed in Sendai!” Blitzer interrupts.

San Onofre guy tries to explain that the San Andreas fault is many miles away, and also that they don’t build the reactors to Richter scale standards, but to Peak Ground Acceleration, measured in g’s. If the San Andreas does produce a quake of the same size, because of its distance from the plant, the motion transmitted to the reactors would be less severe than that of the closer fault.

Blitzer, apparently being an East Coast Guy and not at all familiar with either the location of the San Andreas fault, the location of it relative to the San Onofre plant, or anything having to do with seismology besides the Richter scale, asks the S.O. guy to clarify, because well…. we ALL KNOW the San Andreas produces Earthquakes as large as the one in Japan.

San Onofre guy tries to explain it to Wolf again, apparently to no avail. After the interview ends and Blitzer prepares to segue to the next story, he suggests that the S.O. guy was trying to spin him….


I was in a local eatery watching (here is a shout out to my friends at Mika’s – great Japanese food), and I think a few people looked at me because I had blurted that out loud. But I was furious! Blitzer just accused this guy of trying to spin him due to Blitzers own ignorance on the topic.

You see, I’m an ex geology major, specializing in seismology, so maybe I shouldn’t assume that a layman should understand these things. But Blitzer isn’t just a layman! He’s supposed to be a journalist! He’s had three days to look up stuff relating to both seismology AND nuclear reactor specifications and how they are built. Hell, I had never really thought about it, but what the San Onofre guy was saying made perfect sense.

Wolf… I’m here to lend you a hand. Follow me.

They don’t build reactors according to a Richter scale metric… Of course they don’t. The Richter scale relates the size and strength of the quake at the epicenter!!!!! That is the point or focus on the ground directly above the hypocenter of the seismic event… where the pressure released within the earths crust, some miles below the surface. The farther away you are from the origin of the event, the epicenter, the less energy will reach you. Throw a rock out into a lake. Where the rock hits the water surface, the wave will be large. If you managed to throw the rock far from shore, by the time the waves you created reach the shore where you’re standing, they will be hardly noticeable. If you are closer, you will get a bigger wave, but it still won’t be as big as it was at the spot where your rock disturbed the water and created the wave in the first place. If you’re half a mile away from an F-5 tornado, you won’t feel as much wind as you would if you were standing right next to the thing! You get the picture. That is why the Richter scale is not relevant when you are talking about shaking… Because it doesn’t consider any energy as it propagates away from the epicenter.

Here is a map of the San Andrea fault in relation to the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

Wolf… Notice exactly how far away the fault is from the reactors. Now lets examine a shake map of last years Sierra El Mayor quake, also known as the San Diego Easter Day event and note the color scheme, which indicates the ground acceleration.


Note that as you move some distance from the epicenter – that would be where the star is, the amount of shaking experiences diminishes! If you’re right at the epicenter, you feel the full force and intensity of the energy release by the quake. If you’re a hundred miles away, as San Onofre is from the San Andreas fault, the ground shaking felt at that distance has dissipated, and though you will certainly feel it and get rattled, you will not experience the same amount of ground shaking as you would if you were right at the epicenter.

Wolf….. This is what San Onofre guy was trying to explain to you! I sincerely hope you apologized for insinuating that he was trying to mislead you based on you own lack of knowledge.

Oh, and one more thing. It was not the shaking of the Earth that has caused all the problems for the plant. The reactors rode that out safely. It was the damage caused by the Tsunami which destroyed the back-up generators and got us to where we are now. Because it’s basically in the middle of nowhere (sorry Inyo CA, but you’re kind of in the middle of nowhere) my guess is that a quake generated from the San Andrea in this region WILL NOT generate a Tsunami. Hopefully you understand the reasons why and I don’t have to write another post explaining THAT to you…

/ rant off /

8 Comments to “Blitzer Bungles – Mistakes His Own Ignorance For Spin”

  1. By Marc, March 15, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

    I agree. The San Onofre guy explained things perfectly, and it was probably one of the best expert explanations I’ve seen in the last few days. Blitzer should do his homework or, at the very least, keep quiet until he can check with a techie that he trusts.

    Just to be fair and in Blitzer’s defense, I should say that lots of other TV news presenters are having the same sort of problems trying to explain technicalities around this event.

  2. By Troche29, March 15, 2011 @ 8:15 pm

    I saw this yesterday, live, and it made me so angry that I removed CNN from my “Turbo” setting on DirecTV. This was unbelievable.

  3. By MichaelMN, March 16, 2011 @ 11:13 pm

    Thanks – I caught the end of this exchange and was really wondering what Wolf was talking about. I hope he’s figured it out.
    I am wondering what the effective level of the quake at Fukushima was. The quake itself, I understand was 9.0 but how fare was the Fukushima plant from the epicenter, and what level (if its even possible to determine) would the quake be considered at the site (eg. the quake hit the plant with the power of a x.x quake)

  4. By Citizen Deux, March 17, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

    Great post! Did you link it to Wolf’s page? He is a complete tool.

  5. By libdevil, March 17, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

    Much easier way to get through to dense people:

    “Wolf, did you feel the earthquake that hit Japan?”
    “Why not?”
    “It was on the other side of the planet!”
    “So it was far away?”
    “Exactly my point. The further you are from an earthquake, the less you’ll feel it. We’re a long way from the San Andreas fault. So even if there’s a big earthquake there, we’ll feel it less. Just like you didn’t feel the one in Japan. We even know how much less we’re going to feel it. That’s science and math, so I won’t go into it, but we know we’ll feel a really big earthquake at San Andreas even less than we would an earthquake generated by the fault near us. And since we’re built to withstand the one near us, since we’re so far from San Andreas, we’re also going to withstand whatever it does.”

  6. By Duster, March 24, 2011 @ 12:59 am

    Another really gross fumble is that the San Andreas has never produced a motion that was close to a 9.0 on the Richter scale and contrary to what “we all know” probably can’t. The Fort Tejon quake in 1859 is believed to be the strongest historic movement on the San Andreas fault system and is estimated to have reached about 7.9 on the Richter scale. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake is estimated variously from about 7.9 to about 8.25, but failed to produce the ground motion that Fort Tejon did. The San Andreas Fault is a strike slip fault with displacement occurring horizontally – the western side moves north relative to the eastern. The really big quakes like the recent Japanese quake, the Chilean quake and the major event off Washington state in 1700 (that also generated a major tsunami in Japan) are all reverse normal faults where the footwall (in this case the Pacific seafloor) is moving downard (subducting) beneath the continent. These regions are marked by active volcanic lineaments or arcs. There is no active subduction zone south of Point Mendocino in California – if I recall my geology properly. We’re used to quakes in Calif., but Alaska, Oregon, and Washington are the US states with the potentials for the most powerful quakes.

  7. By Sonicfrog, March 24, 2011 @ 4:58 am

    Yep, Yep, and Yep.

    When I was a geology major, seem to recall that the largest estimated quake that could occur along the SA fault was an 8.5. I don’t know if they’ve revised it upward or not.

  • GayPatriot » Is Hysteria over Japanese Nuclear Plants Misplaced? — March 16, 2011 @ 10:00 pm

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