Emergency Update: At approximately 1:00am Sunday, June 26, the aqua-berm quickly constructed around Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station broke and electricity had to be cut. The plant is now reportedly running on emergency generators as workers try to restore electricity after water surrounded main electrical transformers. The auxiliary building at Ft. Calhoun was surrounded by water after the berm failure. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission letter said if water enters the auxilary building, there could have been a station blackout with core damage in hours.
Project Flood 2011 intensifies
Upstream of two nuclear power plants operating at heightened alert, biblical proportion flooding is has resulted in as many as 4,500 families to lose their homes in North Dakota, 25,000 homes filling with water, patrol boats responding to 911 calls, and 1100 activated National Guardsmen onsite to help. An Air Force base, overseeing 150 Minuteman III missiles in underground launch silos over 8,500 square miles, is partially under water according to CBS News on Saturday. Downstream are Nebraska’s two atomic plants causing national and international dismay plus reason for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission chief to arrive on the scene today.
Some compare one of the two U.S. nuclear power plants threatened by floodwaters to Fukushima, not only due to the floodwater. Both Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station and Fukushima are storehouses for years of spent nuclear fuel rods, a danger highlighted by some news sources, the International International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and other watchdog groups.
“Floodwaters are breaching levees, triggering evacuations, closing highways, swamping thousands of acres of farmland, destroying homes and lapping against hurriedly reinforced floodwalls protecting cities, airports and power plants, including two in Nebraska that produce nuclear power,” reported World Herald staff reporter David Hendee today.
“Imagine roughly 55 million acres — the entire surface of Nebraska and southwest Iowa — covered in a foot of water. Now imagine trying to funnel all that water down a drainage canal surrounded by airports and homes, businesses and farms. You can begin to grasp the unprecedented, slow-developing danger facing folks from Montana to Missouri from the Great Flood of 2011.” (World Herald)
North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple said Saturday that the Souris River, upriver of the nuclear power plants, is flowing over most levees of the city Minot, surging past a 130-year-old record level. Col. S.L. Davis, commander of the 91st Missile Wing, reports “localized flooding” at a handful of missiles site. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched four boats to patrol flooded neighborhoods and respond to 911 calls. (CBS)
The Souris River soared nearly 4 feet in less than 24 hours, overwhelming the city of Minot’s levees where an estimated 4,500 homes are expected to be severely damaged by the time the river peaks today according to Associated Press.
Over 10,000 people evacuated earlier in the week, packing what they hoped to save into cars, trucks and trailers. Water came up through a storm sewer, eroding one downtown levee before it was controlled and Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Kendall Bergmann said levees protecting the key northern approach to Broadway Bridge was touch and go.
Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general said, “A big part of what we are doing is securing evacuated areas to ensure that property is protected while people need to leave the area for safety reasons. Our Guardsmen comprise a versatile force that is able to assist flood-affected communities in a number of ways.”
“It‟s really sad to see what people here are going through. I‟m glad to help in any way I can,” said Sgt. Ross Teigen. “I‟ve volunteered to be here as long as they need me.”
President Obama’s emergency declaration enabled FEMA and the American Red Cross to begin establishing “transitional housing centers.” This week, however, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War doctors harshly criticized government and industry for not being more forthcoming with warnings that radiation from Nebraska’s nuclear plants is a reality.
“It’s always the same phenomenon that industry and government do everything it can to hide and downplay such incidents,” said nuclear expert in IPPNW Henrik Paulitz. “States and nuclear industries are too much into each other, so that reason alone… does not guarantee a sufficient degree.
“The fact that nuclear power plants worldwide are threatened by high water levels of rivers at any time, occupied the uncontrollability of this technique. How many accidents and near accidents have you actually need to finally draw the necessary consequences?” Paulitz asked this week.
Government’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko arrived in Nebraska today to “observe Missouri River flooding and the flooding preparation” at both plants, Cooper on Sunday and Fort Calhoun Monday according to Daily Reporter.
Nuclear plants at risk
The flooding in the nuclear facility sites’ areas is expected to remain problematic throughout the summer. AP reported Thursday that the Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing dam water upstream of the nuclear stations after heavy rain and snow melt. “Water releases at the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota hit 160,000 cubic feet of water per second Thursday, and the corps plans to continue releasing water at that rate until at least August.” (AP)
Several areas downriver had some temporary relief Friday. In southeastern Nebraska, near Cooper Nuclear Plant, the Missouri River dropped more than a foot, but waters continue rising this weekend according to the National Weather Service.
Sandbagging, including by prisoners in some areas, has been the main flood damage prevention upstream of Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station and a makeshift berm has been quickly constructed at the plant. Critics question these methods of protecting millions of American babies and thousands of acres of America’s prime bread basket from nuclear catastrophe, while the government spends billions of dollars to spy on Americans and billions more on private contractors to “make us safe.”
Friday’s New York Times report on U.S. nuclear plants, coupled with other recent reports, such as one revealing 2/3s of U.S. nuclear plants have leaked radiation, have resulted in lack of confidence in the nuclear industry and fear of the two nuclear facilities are downstream of the “biblical proportion flooding.”
Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station is operated by OPPD that neglected to head official warning and failed to pass flood risk prevention well enough for the NRC according to The New York Times. Pumps in an emergency water makeup system at Fort Calhoun plant failed repeatedly over several years and “the plant owner never identified the true cause of those failures, and therefore, did not take the right steps to prevent their recurrence” reported Union of Concerned Scientists that nam Fort Calhoun plant among 14 of the nation’s 104 nuclear plants. (See “THE NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety 2010”)
After OPPD’s inadequate or no response to its reports issued as far back as 2003, in October, 2010, NRC began to pressure OPPD to resolve flooding issues to avoid meltdown. Friday, The New York Times reported that Fort Calhoun nuclear plant was suppose to have been raised three feet to avoid serious problems from flooding, but OPPD did not act on the warning:
“A still-unresolved issue in the dispute is the NRC’s contention that OPPD received, but did not properly act on, a warning by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2003. It said high-water threats to the plant should be raised by 3 feet based on a new assessment following severe Missouri River floods in the mid-1990s.”
“The performance deficiency existed for many years,” the NRC said in an Oct. 6, 2010, letter to the Omaha utility. (NYT)
Fort Calhoun nuclear plant closed in April for refueling and will remain so until the flood recedes according to NRC.
Tuesday, NRC Region IV Administrator Elmo Collins reported, “We are closely following events at both plants. Both plants have activated their flood response plans and taken appropriate steps to protect vital structures, systems and components from rising floodwaters and maintain their plants in a safe condition.”
NRC reported that “diesel fuel tanks have been topped off and two additional fuel tanks have been brought onsite. If there is a complete loss of power on site temporary pumps that run on gas can circulate cooling water through the spent fuel pool and reactor core. Plant capabilities remain undiminished, despite the rising water.”
Although officials continue reporting safety, other surfacing reports clarify why the public is not so sure about official reports and even why alarm bells should be sounded about atomic energy. Assumptions that Fort Calhoun plant’s closure makes it safe are being dispelled and some reporters are comparing the situation there to Fukushima.
“As was the critical event in Fukushima, in Ft Calhoun circulating water is required at all times to keep the new fuel and more importantly, the spent radioactive material cool,” reported Patrick Henningsen for Global Research today. “The Nebraska facility houses around 600,000 – 800,000 pounds of spent fuel that must be constantly cooled to prevent it from starting to boil, so the reported 90-minute gap in service should raise alarm bells.”
“Spent” fuel rods at Fort Calhoun plant were not constantly cooled due to a 90-minute service gap. As the ongoing crisis in Fukushima demonstrates, nuclear fuel remains hot long after a reactor is shut down. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article, “Rising water, falling journalism,” by Dawn Stover on June 16 reported, “Two-thirds of hot nuclear fuel remains in reactor core at Calhoun plant even though media claims it was ‘shut down’ for refueling and maintenance.”
Even the plant’s closure does not mean it is free from possibly producing a radiation catastrophe according to Stover who furthered, “When Fort Calhoun is shut down for maintenance and refueling, only one-third of the fuel in the reactor core is removed.”
Arnie Gundersen summarized Fort Calhoun nuclear Emergency Level 4 and its technical failures for KETV Action News in Missouri. Today, the KETV video of that report, including footage of the plant that the reporters said industry officials did not want them to take, has been viewed by 180,000 people.
Victor Dricks, spokesman for the NRC Region IV office in Arlington, Texas said, “There isn’t a Level 4 emergency at the plant. It is a misnomer.
[S]omeone said it was a Level 4 nuclear emergency based on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. Level 4 means “accident with local consequences.” The NRC uses a different system according to Sioux City Journal.
According to Gundersen, on June 6, Fort Calhoun pressurized water nuclear reactor and Nebraska entered emergency status due to imminent flooding from the Missouri River. A day later, an electrical fire occurred requiring plant evacuation. On June 8th, NRC event reports confirmed the fire resulted in loss of cooling for the reactor’s spent fuel pool.
Gundersen explained the risks of coolant loss at overcrowded “spent” fuel pools and national hazards of nuclear facilities along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers during the floods. He assessed the situation as very critical and warned of the possibility of dams giving way, an event that could be a scenario similar to that of Fukishima.
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) suspects floodwater already reached Fort Calhoun facility’s basement rooms, where sensitive operating and security systems are housed. IPPNW’s nuclear expert, Henrik Paulitz reported that it is possible that Fort Calhoun’s normal cooling systems have been out of operation for some time and that cooling of the nuclear rods is being provided by emergency backup systems. Paulitz says the question remains whether there has been any contact between the plant’s contaminated water and the Missouri River water.
Television celebrity Thom Hartman, on Russia Today‘s program, The Daily Take, sounded an alarm this week in his report, Nuclear Power: We almost lost Nebraska. Rachel Maddow’s report Wednesday on MSN, “Flood Waters Threaten Nebraska Nuclear Plant,” is now featured on nuclear watchdog websites.
Nuclear power plant malfunctions this week have not restored faith in safety of both Nebraska nuclear plants. A gauge malfunction caused bad data on river level near Cooper nuke plant on Tuesday. Due to mechanical failure, a Fort Calhoun surveying helicopter made a forced landing Friday.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the safest, Alan Dostal who is NPPD’s nuclear expert said, ”We are an absolutely safe plant, that’s a 10.” That was during an interview with Nebraska Watchdog on March 29, five days before three workers at Cooper were exposed to radiation.
According to NRC, a fuel rod accident triggered alarms worn by workers at Cooper. NPPD says the incident, still under investigation, caused no apparent injuries but was “unacceptable.” NRC wants “to understand why normal work practices were not followed” according to Nebraska Watchdog in Missouri News Horizon.
Scientific America reported Friday that, despite calls to shutter the U.S. nuclear program, President Obama remains supportive of the industry, contrary to his stated position opposing it before elected. In Friday’s report, Karl Grossman wrote:
“Indeed, if policymakers were able to divert the hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the U.S. nuclear industry every year to solar, wind and geothermal developers, there is no telling how quickly we could innovate our way to sustainable non-polluting energy independence and put the specter of nuclear power that much further in our rearview mirror.
As human lives are at stake, Bill Mason, a resident of Hartford, Conn. wrote to Scientific America, “Radioactive rain recently fell in Massachusetts, likely due to Japan’s nuclear mess. Given the threats of radiation, wouldn’t it be madness now to continue with nuclear power? How can President Obama include nukes as part of a ‘clean energy’ agenda?”