Thursday, June 16, 2011

Spiking conspiracy theories about Ft. Calhoun NPP

The reactor is reported to be in no danger as the Missouri River hits flood stage

fort-calhoun-power-plantThe Missouri River flooding is bringing waves of concern nationwide about the safety of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant. (Photos)

Update June 22, 2011 - NRC Chairman Jaczko to visit Ft. Calhoun and Cooper NPP June 26-27.

Business Insider, a news aggregator, has a story and a video predicting all manner of nuclear catastrophe at the Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant. Readers might ask what is really going on?

The answer is that while the Missouri River is rising, the reactor is safe. As the flood waters continue to rise, a spokesman for Omaha Public Power District says the plant is at a "notification of unusual event" classification because of the flood.

Source Documents

The notification is required by the NRC because of the flood. That is the lowest level in an emergency. Company officials say there has been no release of radioactivity at Fort Calhoun Station due to the flooding and none is expected.

Plant in cold shutdown

The Omaha Public Power District has been prepared for the floods and the plant is safe. It has been in a cold shutdown since April because of a planned refueling. Although water from the Missouri is higher than the plant now; the vital area of the plant is surrounded by a 2,000-foot long berm that takes the protective level up about six feet -- to 1,010 feet or five feet above the river level. As of J10 AM June 16, the water is at 1,005 feet.

According to plant officials and the NRC the emergency power diesel are primed to come on if the loss of offsite power is imminent. Enough diesel fuel has been stockpiled to run the plant for a month, and the generators are in hardened (flood protected) bunkers. Provisions have been made for resupply if necessary. And extra diesel has been laid in. switchyard is protected with a berm up to 1011 feet.

FAA “no fly zone”

FAA logoAlso, there are concerns because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a “no fly” zone over the reactor. (Complete FAA NOTAM image)(large) What the FAA did is remind pilots of the ban which has been in place for all nuclear reactor sites since 2001.

I spoke by phone with Mike Jones, a spokesman for the plant. He told me that due to the rising flood waters, a lot of planes and news helicopters were flying over the reactor and some were coming in quite low.

The plant manager told the FAA he was concerned they might collide with power lines or each other. This is the reason the FAA re-issued a Notice to Airmen banning over-flights of the reactor. The NRC says this isn’t a problem regarding the potential release of radiation.

Here’s what the NRC’s spokesman said about it

“After last week’s Alert, and with all the interest in flooding on the Missouri, news helicopters began flying near the plant. We understand that the plant owner contacted the FAA and asked them to remind pilots of the basic NOTAM is still in effect. As far as we can tell that had zero to do with the plant operations and everything to do with assisting in flood relief.”

And now for the rest of the story

The Omaha Public Power District has a web page to spike other rumors. Here’s a summary.

Rumor: Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station is at a Level 4 emergency or level 4 alert.

  • This terminology is not accurate, and is not how emergencies at nuclear power plants are classified.
  • Fort Calhoun Station (FCS) declared a Notification of Unusual Event (NOUE) on June 6. A NOUE is the least-serious of four emergency classifications established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • FCS declared a NOUE because the Missouri River was projected to reach 1,004 feet above mean sea level. (It reached that height on June 9.)
  • The FCS plant’s reactor has been in cold shut down for a planned refueling outage since April 9. It will remain in that condition until the river recedes.
  • The reactor and spent-fuel pool are in a normal, stable condition and are both protected; there has been no release of radioactivity and none is expected.

Rumor: A no-fly zone was set up around Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station because of a release of radiation, similar to what happened with the Fukushima reactors in Japan.

  • There has been no release of radioactivity at Fort Calhoun Station due to the flooding and none is expected.
  • The flight restrictions were set up by the FAA as a result of Missouri river flooding.
  • OPPD’s extensive, preplanned actions to protect the FCS reactor and spent-fuel pool from the floodwaters have been effective.
  • The reactor is housed in a watertight containment building, and is in a normal and safe “cold shutdown” condition, covered by more than 23 feet of purified reactor coolant water.
  • In addition, OPPD has installed Aqua Dams® and other berms around such vital equipment and buildings at the FCS site.

Rumor: Because of a fire at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station on June 7, the plant’s spent-fuel pool was in danger of boiling and releasing radioactivity.

  • There was no such imminent danger with the Fort Calhoun Station spent-fuel pool.
  • Due to a fire in an electrical switchgear room at FCS on the morning of June 7, the plant temporarily lost power to a pump that cools the spent-fuel pool.
  • The fire-suppression system in that switchgear room operated as designed, extinguishing the fire quickly.
  • FCS plant operators switched the spent-fuel pool cooling system to an installed backup pump about 90 minutes after the loss of power.
  • During the interruption of cooling, temperature of the pool increased a few degrees, but the pool was never in danger of boiling.
  • Due to this situation, FCS declared an Alert at about 9:40 a.m. on June 7.
  • An alert is the second-least-serious of four emergency classifications established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • At about 1:15 p.m. on June 7, FCS operators declared they had taken all appropriate measures to safely return to the previously declared Notification of Unusual Event emergency classification. (See first item above.)

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Nancy said...

The same people that started the level 4 rumor are trying to tell people Ft. Calhoun is some sort of spent fuel storage for the entire state of NE and possibly other states. Again, untrue. I did some fact checking on it.

Anonymous said...

"The answer is that while the Missouri River is rising, the reactor is safe."

Are you kidding me? There is only 3.3' of water level left before it breaches the final flood barrier at 1010ft. (the current water level is approx 1006.7') The flooding is projected to continue for at least another month or so.

djysrv said...

The Corps of Engineers says that the Missouri River flooding, while expected to continue for most of the summer, will not crest at record levels.

Anonymous said...

Are you getting paid to post this stuff? ;)

Okay , look at the NWS forecast for Omaha NE (just South of the Ft Calhoun plant)... remember, I said the equiv for 1010' above sea level , is approx 36.5'? (That's the stage at which the *final* defenses of the plant are flooded , aka 36.5')

According to NWS, we are currently at 33.2' at Omaha NE, *only 3.3' short of breaching the final flood barriers at Ft Calhoun*.


OMAHA 29 34 TO 36 40.20-1952 28.74"

Okay read that again... "LONG-RNG FORECAST (FT)" for Omaha is "34 to 36 [feet]".

So there it is for you... the NWS long range forecast is 34' to 36'. Given that final flood barriers for Ft Calhoun are breached at 36.5' , that means the NWS is forecasting a flood stage only 0.5' below the level where the whole plant gets completely flooded (air intakes etc could be under water at that point).

I think it's fair to say that this (breaching of final flood barriers at Ft Calhoun) is a possible, and even a likely event, since it's consistent with rising water levels in Omaha and the future NWS forecast. The NRC, OPPD, etc. can say all they want about the plant being safe -- the facts do not back up this assertion.

djysrv said...

The primary containment building is water tight. The spent fuel pool is not at risk and the plant is in cold shut down. See the blog post about preparations for emergency power.

If the scenario your data presents comes to pass, there will be damage to the balance of plant including the switch yard.

It is important to make a distinction between damage to plant infrastructure and the potential for damage to the reactor itself.

Ian Goddard said...

Thanks for the accuracy!

There are scores of videos with "Level 4 Emergency" is the title. None of the posters I've informed about the falsity of the claim have bothered to correct it, and it takes but a few seconds to amend a video title.

Link is good for this week.

djysrv said...

One other point ~ no one pays me to publish this blog nor for any of the content that appears on it.

With billions of plant infrastructure at stake, the utility is going to do everything possible to minimize flood threats to the reactor.

Atomikrabbit said...

I think some people just enjoy running around with their hair on fire. It’s an adrenaline rush powered by apocalyptic fantasies. Maybe there should be a 12-step program called Fear-Mongers Anonymous.

I suggest Anonymous sign up.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog... I've worked one outage every 9 months for the last 20 years until I retired. This one looks like a doozy!

Was curious as to how outage workers get from their vehicles to inside the site... is there a boardwalk or jon boats?

hope their aux transformers are safely above max flood predictions or else it will beome an emergency power PIA.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog. Question: How is the plant prevented from loss off-site power if the swichyard is flooded?
Your Russian collegue

djysrv said...

Apparently, my "Russian colleague" didn't read the original blog post very carefully. If the switch yard is flooded, then according to plant officials and the NRC the emergency power diesel are primed to come on if the loss of offsite power is imminent. Enough diesel fuel has been stockpiled to run the plant for a month, and the generators are in hardened (flood protected) bunkers.

Futuro Nucleare said...

Thanks for your usual great detail in the information on your blog, Dan.

I've been really bummed to see how the public NRC blog had listed some incorrect information, saying that no NOTAMs other the post-9/11 one had been published, while infact on 6/6 a specific TFR (temporary flight restriction) area 2 miles radius and 3500' thick has been established above the Ft Calhoun NPP.

I am glad to see that the NRC blog post has now been partly corrected, but still only your blog post lists the true reason why the TFR has been established, and that is because OPPD and the FAA don't want to see news choppers hitting one another on top of the NPP, simply put.

I don't really understand why the NRC chose a "security thru obscurity" approach, instead of a much simpler and clearer full disclosure of the new TFR established on 6/6. And that is why I made my remarks in the comments on the NRC blog.

Keep up the good work on the blog, we need clear and positive information about nuclear, and full disclosure is always the best approach, even in difficult times.

Best regards,

Luca Bertagnolio
Futuro Nucleare
Milan, Italy

Steve from Canada. said...

I sure hope that you are right Dan.

I am reminded of that blog post that went viral back on March 12th about how Fukushima was safe: "why I am not worried about the Fukushima..." You may remember it. The first version even proclaimed that "no radiation would be released."

As events turned out the reality was in stark contrast to those first hopeful opinions.

I think that kind of thing and the way the accident was initially underplayed by the authorities, seriously undermined the public trust.

I think it is very important to be very cautious in making statements about these kinds of things.

I think it is important to frame this kind of information, which is very valuable, with a certain amount of caution, noting that although the situation is serious, it is not out of hand, because the authorities are treating it as a serious situation, which I am confident they are.

But it is serious.

thanks for you post.