Earthquake cloaks, or huge arrays of precisely drilled holes and trenches in the ground, could — at least in theory — protect important structures like nuclear power plants from powerful seismic waves, researchers say.

The array of holes, drilled at specific angles and depths, would extend sometimes hundreds of feet and scatter earthquake waves like pinballs, according to the scientists.

The idea is still highly speculative, requires a large amount of space that might be impractical, and has not been tested in the ground, but if it works, it could theoretically be used to protect expensive infrastructure that cannot be seismically retrofitted, such as oil pipelines, Vladimir Liberman, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, said here Thursday (Dec. 15) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

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