And sometimes a meteorite falls on your reactor



As my parents in law live in Chelyabinsk I have to admit a personal interest in the recent Russian meteor impact.

But, given that the Chelyabinsk region is home to a number of nuclear sites, the incident did raise a question in my mind as to whether meteor impacts are considered in the design basis for such facilities.

A scenario like that still sounds incredible, but right now a lot of people in Chelyabinsk are being treated for injuries or trying to figure out out how to cover their shattered windows in below zero temperatures. They might have a different perspective on the likelihood of such an event, what do you think?

One for the IAEA perhaps…

7 responses to And sometimes a meteorite falls on your reactor


    It’s a ‘black swan’ event. Nuclear plants are designed or supposed to be designed to ensure no safety risk in the event of earthquakes or other external attacks. Seismic issues and exposure are considered in these designs. The cost of designing and building nuclear facilities to withstand every meterorite could be enormous especially if it’s to withstand all sizes. As with seismic mapping it may be useful to have better maps of the most likely places for meteorites and asteroids to enter the atmosphere and make it to earth. Atmosphere is an effective barrier to entry but it varies in density and presumedly that affects where a meteorite has a higher likelihood of landing.


      Matthew Squair 18/02/2013 at 10:00 am

      Hi David, interesting that you should use the term ‘Black swan’ to describe meteor impacts. As originally defined by Nassim Taleb in his book Fooled by Randomness and subsequent expaned on in The Black Swan the term was intended as a metaphor for a surprise event, exactly such as this, that is afterwards rationalised as being somehow predictable/inevitable with the benefit of hindsight. You tend to see this when such events have fat tailed (power) distributions.

      If you were inferring that such a risk has been treated in a similar fashion as say the risk of a major tsunami over-topping the flood defences at Fukushima I’d agree with you although the psychological and social reasons underlying such disregard may be different.

      I highly recommend The Black Swan as a study of such events BTW. Thanks for commenting.



        Thanks Matthew. I have Taleb’s ‘Black Swan’ interesting book. I suppose one thing about this meteorite that may call in to question its true ‘black swan’ character is the requirement for being a true outlier observation. There is a history of meteorite activity on earth and near misses, so they are not real outliers.


        Matthew Squair 18/02/2013 at 12:40 pm

        Perhaps more of a mandelbrotian Gray Swan per Taleb. 🙂



    I think the biggest danger would be a tsunami triggered by a meteor landing in the sea


      Matthew Squair 20/02/2013 at 12:14 pm

      Yes, especially vulnerable is the channel coast of France/England which has the highest concentration of coastal Nuclear Plants in the EU. There’s also the concern for undersea avalanches inducing tsunami’s as well, see Cumbre Vieja as an example of the potential effects.


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