Musings on the Coast


It Can’t Happen Here

By Michael Ray

Michael Ray

We do not think it can happen here. I live above Diver’s Cove in a house that is at an elevation a good 50 feet above the ocean.  Let me be specific.   My house is on a lip of land 20 feet above Cliff Drive, which runs below the house; on the other side of Cliff is Diver’s Cove, which is 30 feet below Cliff Drive.  I thought I was safe at that level.    I thought I would survive anything the ocean could throw at me. I was wrong.  Like you, I watched over and over the tsunami videos from Japan. The water would have flooded the beach below, then climbed the sea cliff, then swamped Cliff Drive, then scaled the abutment on which my house sits, and then it would have crushed my house.


It would have taken maybe 10 seconds.   Maybe three.


Then it would have destroyed the condos behind me, crossed Coast Highway and crushed the Von’s Pavillion grocery store.  The houses above that probably would have survived.  Probably. It would depend on relieving the hydraulic pressure elsewhere, like downtown Laguna. The wall of water would have rampaged through downtown, then up Laguna Canyon itself. Nothing would have survived. Other low-laying areas destroyed would have included El Morro, Emerald Bay flats, Boat Canyon, the Nye’s Place Canyon, Aliso Beach and the watershed behind it, Dana Point Harbor, Doheny Beach and, not finally, the entire valley behind Doheny that leads all the way to San Juan Capistrano.  Moreover, let us not even mention Newport Harbor; it would be gone, a figment.


The San Onofre Nuclear Facility was constructed in the 1970s.  According to its utility-company owner, it was “built to withstand a 7.0 magnitude earthquake directly under the plant”.  The earthquake in Japan measured at a Richter Scale of 9.0. The Richter Scale is a base-10 logarithmic scale. Let me present the math.  A 9.0 earthquake shakes one hundred times harder than a 7.0 earthquake and releases one thousand times more energy.   The San Onofre Nuclear Plant would have been reduced to rubble before the tsunami even hit.


The prevailing wind blows north to south, so the radioactive wastes would drift toward San Diego.  Unless the wind changed, which it does. And the period during which the area would be contaminated is about 100 years.   Most of Southern California would be, literally, toast. All gone.

Done in by Mother Nature and our own need for energy so insatiable we go to war to protect it.


But it cannot happen here.  We are safe.  Do not worry.  Really.  Honestly.


Michael Ray was raised in Corona del Mar and makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur. He is involved in numerous charities and currently lives in north Laguna.

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  1. Very entertaining Mr. Ray, you have missed your calling as a script writer for Hollywood disaster movies …

    Perhaps instead of surmising mass destruction here in Laguna, you should educate yourself on the differences between the north coast of Japan and the southern coast of California. What happened in Japan could never happen here, it is geologically impossible and technologically different.

    First, The plant was completed in 1982, not in the 70’s as you wrote. It was designed to withstand up to a 7.0 earthquake centered 5 miles away or more, not directly below the plant. The surrounding faults are the Elsinore, Newport/Inglewood and San Clemente faults. The closest fault being 5 miles away and is protected by a 30 foot high tsunami wall.

    Second, and most importantly, The reason the earthquake and resulting Tsunami in Japan was so severe is, Japan sits just off of a Subduction fault. This type of fault creates a tremendous ocean floor uplift at the point of rupture. A tsunami of Japan’s size can only be created by a massive underwater uplift and or landslide. This is geologically impossible here in southern California, because all of our faults in California are slip-strike faults. Slip-strike faults can not create large areas of uplift underwater, meaning a 25-35 foot tsunami here in California by earthquake is also impossible. Just as important, slip-strike faults are only estimated to be capable of creating earthquakes up to 7.0-7.2. An earthquake in the 8’s or of Japan’s size 9.0, can never happen here in southern California. If we lived in Oregon, Washington or Alaska, where the Pacific Plate dives under the North American Plate, things would be different. In 1964, Anchorage, Alaska suffered a 4 minute long, 9.4 earthquake, because like Japan, it sits next to an offshore subduction fault.

    Third, I will admit to knowing far less about nuclear power plants as compared to earthquakes and tsunamis, but I have heard and read that San Onofre’s plant is both a different design and operating system than the one in Japan, with the plant design in Japan having a long list and history of both design flaws and management concerns.

    So, to try and compare northern Japan to southern California from a geological and technical standpoint, while predicting mass destruction by an earthquake and tsunami that could never even happen, shows you have been watching FAR too many movies, while spreading misinformation and unneeded fear…

    Mitch Ridder
    Laguna Beach, CA


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