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Mineral still recovering after earthquake

Thursday - 8/23/2012, 1:47pm  ET

mineral pods (hank)
Louisa County High School students now attend classes in portable classrooms while the quake-damaged high school is demolished and rebuilt. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)
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Mineral residents remember the quake

WTOP's Hank Silverberg reports from Mineral.

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Students attend classes in 'pods'

WTOP's Hank Silverberg reports from Mineral.

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North Anna nuclear plant remains a concern

WTOP's Hank Silverberg reports from Louisa County.

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Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

MINERAL, Va. - You probably remember what you were doing when that 5.8- magnitude earthquake hit the region on this date last year. But for the folks in Mineral, the epicenter of the quake, reminders linger a year later.

Mineral is a small, four-block town of about 500 residents along a railroad junction in central Virginia. It's a short distance from the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant where many area residents work.

Dave Whitlock, who owns the auto parts store in Mineral, was outside his shop when the quake hit and remembers it well.

"It was kind of like waves coming across the ocean, the way the ground passed by," says Whitlock.

Whitlock says the quake rattled his store shelves and knocked down a cabinet. He spent several days picking nuts and bolts off the floor.

Mineral Mayor Pam Harlowe says she was in the kitchen writing thank-you notes when the quake hit, rattling her kitchen cabinets. Her first thought was for her grandchildren who were in school at the time.

Four schools were damaged by the quake. Damage to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and Louisa County High School was so bad both schools are being torn down. Students, who started the new school year last week, are attending classes in portable classrooms or "pods." It could take four years to replace the schools.

Now, Harlowe says, Mineral residents get nervous when a freight train passes through town because there have been more than 450 aftershocks.

"Every time we have one that amounts to any numbers, like a two or above [magnitude], the cracks in our walls show themselves again," says Harlow.

Many townspeople waited to repair damage, worried another "big one" could be coming.

At the ice cream and sandwich shop at Mineral Plaza, owner John Herrell says he's tired of talking about the earthquake.

"Just about any one who comes in here asks me about the earthquake. It kind of gets a little tiring," says Herrell.

The quake did some minor damage to buildings at the North Anna Power Station. No radiation escaped, but for the first time in U.S. history an earthquake triggered a nuclear plant to shut down.

The nuclear facility remained closed until Nov. 11 when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Dominion approval to restart the twin 1,800-megawatt reactors,

Rob Garver, the design engineer manager at the plant, says there have been changes since the quake.

The electric company spent roughly 110,000 hours on testing and evaluations at North Anna. More seismic monitors have been added.

"It gives us a more accurate and more prompt identification of seismic events," says Garver.

Dominion Virginia Power, which owns the facility, is spending more than $40 million on upgrades.

There have been multiple inspections since the quake, Garver says, as well as reevaluations of the plant's design. The design dates back to the 1960s, and an earthquake as powerful as last year's was never anticipated. But Garver says all emergency systems worked last year.

"It's a pretty good indication that the plant is robustly designed and would be able to handle even larger earthquakes," Garver says.

But local residents pay attention to all talk of changes at the plant.

"We have lots of friends and family that work down there, so certainly we want to be sure it's safe operating," says Harlowe.

Back in his downtown store, Whitlock says he's not worried since everything worked as designed.

"I feel fine about that plant," Whitlock says.

Herrell isn't worried at all.

"There's nothing we can do about it," he says.

"It is what it is."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)