A mild shockwave of hysteria hit France soon after the Fukushima disaster. If locating a nuclear power station right on top of a fault line was now deemed a bad idea – then wasn’t a disaster of the same magnitude also possible right here in Alsace? After all, the Fessenheim Nuclear power station, and France’s oldest, was sitting on top of its very own tectonic plate boundary.

At the time, I, like many others, thought that any comparison to Fukushima was nothing short of hysterical scaremongering. Shut up already, damn – we thought. When was the last time Alsace had an earthquake? When was the last time Alsace had an earthquake strong enough to crack open a nuclear reactor?

This Tuesday however, I had to change my – admittedly hastily formed – opinion.

When the first thud rumbled through the apartment block I was convinced that my upstairs neighbour was clumsily moving heavy furniture. The wooden floors had flexed slightly – as if a large 3-seater couch had been dropped onto its side by a couple of less than careful removal guys. What followed, however, could not be explained by any level of incompetence in shifting household furniture around a second floor apartment*. For it would have taken about twenty men simultaneously throwing five or six large upholstered items to the floor to replicate the shockwave that thundered through the building. It was the sound that made me run to the window instead of staring daggers at the ceiling. The thunder had reverberated outside as well as in.

Shock-a-lock-a, boom! What was that?

That …was an earthquake! 3.3 on the Richter scale.

Apparently it was followed by another the same night – but it was going to take more than a piffling magnitude 2 to wake me!

On 10 June a 2.3 magnitude quake hit Selestat (45km south of Strasbourg) and neighbours tell me there was an even bigger one about 15 years ago in the city – which got up to the 4 mag region.

So a French Fukushima is a real possibility – it wasn’t just ‘project fear.’**

Even after Fessenheim closes next year (as promised – but it was originally supposed to have closed a decade ago!) the risk of radioactive material leaking out after an earthquake will remain for the next 300 years. The last quake to hit the region strong enough to crack open a reactor happen about 700 years ago – but that doesn’t mean another of similar size won’t hit tomorrow…

Everybody shut up, listen to the band.


*Nor by everyone putting their foot down on the two and jumping up on the one.

**Perhaps there’s a moral here somewhere?

[Image by Florival fr – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15637552]