Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jaczko to visit Nebraska reactors to review flooding threats

Field trip reported by Nebraska “watchdog” journalist citing Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb)

Gregory Jaczko NRC March 2011Idaho Samizdat has learned that NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (left) is “considering” a visit to the Ft. Calhoun and Cooper NPP to personally review measures the reactor operators are taking to deal with the rapidly rising flood waters of the Missouri River.

The NRC told this blog the trip is being discussed at the agency and is expected to take place June 26-27.

According to an independent journalist, Joe Jordan, who runs the site “Nebraska Watchdog,” the following is known . . .

With Nebraska’s two nuclear power plants threatened by the raging flood waters of the Missouri River, Nebraska Watchdog has learned that the federal government’s top nuclear official is coming to the state for a firsthand look.

While the NRC says that both the Fort Calhoun plant and the Cooper Nuclear Station at Brownville remain safe, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko will soon visit the state.

A spokesman for Senator Ben Nelson (NE-D) has confirmed to Nebraska Watchdog that Jaczko is coming, although the details of Jaczko’s visit are apparently still being finalized.

NRC Response

Earlier this week the NRC issued a press release detailing the measures the regulatory agency was taking to keep on top of the situation in Nebraska. Today, an NRC spokesman confirmed to this blog that Jazcko is looking at making a personal trip to Nebraska to inspect the two reactor sites.

The date and itinerary for the trip are still in flux. Sen. Nelson’s press office did not respond to calls to his DC and Omaha offices. Updates will be posted when they become available.

Conspiracy theories

FTCalhounNPPThe flooding situation in Nebraska has been the subject of bizarre conspiracy theories originating in Russia and Pakistan alleging that a meltdown has occurred at Ft. Calhoun and that the government is covering it up.

One U.S. web site, Business Insider, ran with the story as legitimate and set off a huge round of copy cat reports on the Internet.

Ft. Calhoun nuclear power plant (right) in more tranquil times.

Reports of a U.S. news blackout are also part of the conspiracy theory even though Nebraska papers such as the Omaha World-Herald and the New York Times have run major stories on measures by the two reactor sites to prevent the flood waters from reaching important infrastructure such as switch yards.

Status of reactors

As of June 21 flood waters were below the levels of berms holding them back. The Ft. Calhoun reactor is in cold shut down having completed a fuel outage that began April 7. The Cooper plant is generating electricity.

Last year the NRC ordered the Ft. Calhoun plant to beef up its flood protection measures. Jackzo can legitimately take credit for these actions when he gets to Nebraska.

The enforcement action in October 2010 required the utility to raise the level of flood protection to 1014 feet. Even the Union of Concerned Scientists thought, for a change, that the NRC had done its job and done it well.

Ft. Calhoun is owned and operated by the Omaha Public Power District. The district has published a web page on “rumor control” related to the flooding. Copper is owned and operated by Nebraska Public Power District.

Update June 24, 2011

The New York Times has a piece to day which steps through some of the regulatory back-and-forth that took place last year between OPPD / Ft. Calhoun and the NRC over the adequacy of flood control measures. The NRC ordered the utility to make improvements which saved the reactor’s bacon this month.

Interestingly, OPPD fought tooth and nail to avoid the costs of making the changes to flood control measures. I wonder what would be happening now if they’d prevailed last year?

Prior coverage

# # #


embee4 said...

Ft. Calhoun is owned by OPPD, Cooper is owned by NPPD

djysrv said...

Thanks for the correction. The blog post has been updated.

Jeff Schmidt said...

Well, I, for one, am reassured that there must not be a secret meltdown - because I'm darn sure that Jazcko wouldn't even *consider* going within 50 miles of a reactor he thought was melting down.

It doesn't appear there's any real risk in this flood. However, it does have me wondering if the flood control walls and measures are quite adequate enough, going into the future. My understanding is they are already within 4 or 5 feet of the top of the flood walls (I think I heard the water was, at least at one point, at 1010 feet, and the water defenses are good to 1014 feet)?

I think I'd like to see a bit more margin than that - perhaps they need to think about raising the level to like 1025 feet or something, just to be on the safe side? I dunno, I'm no expert, but like I say, the water level seems pretty close to the limit to me.

Joffan said...

My understanding is that the original "deficient" defences were good to water levels of 1010ft, the enhanced defences are to 1014ft, and the highest flood water level was below 1007 ft. So the answer to your update, if I am correct above, is that without the NRC-driven improvement they would still have been OK.