[Update, June 27, 2011: Berm in Fort Calhoun collapsed.]
The AP reports, June 19, 2011, that several levees in northern Missouri have been breached and are failing to hold back the surge of water being released from upstream dams. Authorities said water — some of it from recent rain — began pouring over levees Saturday night and Sunday morning in Holt and Atchison counties, flooding farmland and numerous homes.
Mark Manchester, deputy director of emergency management for Atchison County said the river level has reached 44.6 feet, the highest on record and about 4 to 5 inches higher than 1993 flooding levels. He said minor flooding starts at 33 feet and major flooding at 43 feet.
The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station is located on the west bank of the Missouri River, 20 miles north of Omaha, in Nebraska. The power plant is owned and operated by the Omaha Public Power District. It has one Combustion Engineering pressurized water reactor generating 500 megawatts of electricity.
Claims that Nuclear Plant is Safe
As the Missouri River continues to rise, the Nebraska Public Power District issued a flooding alert Sunday for its Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in southeast Nebraska. But the utility’s spokesman Mark Becker said the “notification of unusual event” sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was expected as the river swells above record levels. The declaration is the least serious of four emergency notifications established by the federal commission. The plant was operating Sunday at full capacity, and there was no threat to plant employees or to the public, Becker said.
3 days ago, however, it was claimed that the Obama administration has ordered a news blackout over Fort Calhoun.
Alas, that report is the handiwork of the exotically named Sorcha Faal, the nom de plume of David Booth. Often claiming some exclusive anonymous Russian government/military source that cannot be verified and is not reported anywhere else, Faal is a notorious purveyor of faux news. S/he invents them out of whole cloth.
My first encounter with Faal was in autumn of 2009. S/he wrote a story for the strictly online “newspaper” called EU Times. In it, Faal claimed that Obama had recalled our troops from overseas to Washington, DC, in preparation for martial law. We all know that never happened! That is why I take everything Faal writes with a huge grain of salt.
The Omaha Public Power District has a web page debunking rumors. Click here.
Reasons for Concern
Having said that, we still have reasons to be concerned about the situation at Fort Calhoun.
1. The “No Fly” Zone
To begin with, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a “no fly” zone over the Calhoun reactor.
According to Dan Yurman of TheEnergyCollective.com, however, the “no fly” zone is to prevent planes and news helicopters from colliding with power lines or each other. Mike Jones, a spokesman for the plant, said that due to the rising flood waters, a lot of planes and news helicopters are flying over the reactor and some were coming in quite low. This is the reason the FAA issued a Notice to Airmen, banning over-flights of the reactor. The NRC insists the “no fly” directive is not about the potential release of radiation.
2. Vulnerable to Flooding
There is another more credible reason to be concerned about the situation at Fort Calhoun.
In an article for Rense.com, June 15, 2011, Tom Burnett writes:
“Calhoun stores its spent fuel in ground-level pools which are underwater anyway – but they are open at the top. When the Missouri river pours in there, it’s going to make Fukushima look like an x-ray. But that’s not all. There are a LOT of nuclear plants on both the Missouri and Mississippi and they can all go to hell fast. […] the fuel is all sitting OUTSIDE the reactor waiting to wash away or explode – which will destroy about 15,000 square miles of what used to be the corn belt. That’s all being washed away by the flood waters anyway. Calhoun may already be spewing radiation into the flooding Missouri…the public will be the last to be told. Therefore, everything the river water touches on its way downstream will or could become contaminated. This could be nothing…or, it could wipe out the middle of America.”
Burnett is not being making things up. For in 2003, when the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant had its operating license renewed for an additional 20 years, expiring in 2033, the renewal report had sounded this note of caution:
“During identification and evaluation of flood barriers, unsealed through wall penetrations in the outside wall of the intake, auxiliary and chemistry and radiation protection buildings were identified that are below the licensing basis flood elevation. A summary of the root causes included: a weak procedure revision process; insufficient oversight of work activities associated with external flood matters; ineffective identification, evaluation and resolution of performance deficiencies related to external flooding; and ‘safe as is’ mindsets relative to external flooding events.“
In 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) conducted an inspection of Fort Calhoun Station (FCS) and found that the plant did not have adequate procedures to protect the intake structure and auxiliary building against external flooding events. Specifically, contrary to Technical Specification 5.8.1.a, the station failed to maintain procedures for combating a significant flood as recommended by Regulatory Guide 1.33, Appendix A, section 6.w, “Acts of Nature.”
Looking for information on Fort Calhoun, I found this disconcerting piece of news by ketv.com last April 1, 2011:
“Fort Calhoun’s nuclear power plant is one of three reactors across the country that federal regulators said they are most concerned about. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said Fort Calhoun’s reactor is operating safely, but it’s still on the shortlist because they want to make sure it’s prepared to handle major emergencies, like flooding. Last year, federal regulators questioned the station’s flood protection protocol. NRC officials said they felt the Omaha Public Power District should do more than sandbagging in the event of major flooding along the Missouri river.”
According to ketv.com, “OPPD officials said they have already made amends and added new flood gates.”
We can only hope that OPPD indeed had addressed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s concerns and did make those “amends” to Fort Calhoun’s flood protection protocol.
H/t beloved fellow Joseph for the Burnett article.