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UNR Engineers Embark On Ambitious Seismic Study

University of Nevada, Reno

The Department of Energy has awarded a nearly $5 million grant to the University of Nevada, Reno to study the seismic safety of nuclear facilities. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports.

The money will allow UNR researchers to focus on the way that soil below a nuclear facility changes the building’s behavior during an earthquake.  

Ian Buckle directs UNR’s Structural Engineering Lab. In the past, he says, most engineers have ignored this effect because it has been too difficult to quantify. But understanding it is critical to designing more secure facilities. 

This is what his team is looking to accomplish. 

“It’s a big team, but we only have one chance to do this and we’ve got to get it right," said Buckle. "And no one has done a soil box of this size before anywhere in the world.”

That soil box will be part of a new shake table system.

A shake table, as the name suggests, is where a structure is placed atop a table and shaken, allowing researchers to observe the way the structure behaves. UNR’s Earthquake Lab already has four of these, and the new grant will allow them to construct an even bigger one.

“What is different about this one is we're going to put a box of soil on the table and then put a structure on top of the soil and shake it," said Buckle. "You could say that sounds like an easy idea, why didn’t you do this before? It’s that soil is very heavy and it has to be a very big box of soil or else the results won’t be credible."

The box will have about 500 tons of soil and will test a variety of different types.

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