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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ANS Social Media Meet Up June 28

blog symbolA meet-up of anyone attending the ANS National meeting in Florida June 26-30 who is interested in the use of social media in the nuclear industry will be held Tuesday June 28th, from 6:30-9:00 PM in Rm 307 at the Westin Diplomat hotel in Hollywood, FL. This is the conference hotel for the ANS meeting.

Conference registration information here

The ANS Public Information Committee is the official host of the social media meet up.

Our sponsors for the evening include:

  • ANS Idaho Section – Teri Ehresman
  • Areva – Jarret Adams
  • CoolHandNuke – Jeff Madison
  • HDP Group – Steve Aplin
  • Nuclear Energy Institute – Dave Bradish
  • Idaho Samizdat – Dan Yurman

This will be the third time such a meeting has been held. Prior meetings have been held at ANS winter meetings in Las Vegas, NV, in 2010 and in Washington, DC, in 2009. Because of the success of the meetings, and robust participation by conference attendees, we are expanding the schedule to include both ANS national meetings in 2011.

Fukushima media response

Fukushima_symbol This year the social media meet up takes on a special sense of urgency. The reason is the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear reactor crisis.

Since the March 11 ANS members have distinguished themselves by providing outstanding engagement with the mainstream news media.

We will use the session at the June ANS meeting to discuss the lessons learned in using social media and to take a look into the future about what we can do next.

Developments involving the use of social media which took place this year include 51 consecutive publications of the weekly Carnival of Nuclear Energy Blogs, the launch of several new pro-nuclear blogs, and the exploration of art as a means to communicate with the public about nuclear energy.

Also, at the June meeting we will discuss the use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and other social media channels to address nuclear energy topics in general.

History of prior meetings

The genesis of this series of meeting began in June 2009. At that ANS meeting some of the nation's pro-nuclear bloggers met face-to-face for the first time.

The second meeting took place in November 2009 during the ANS winter meeting in Washington, DC. There about 60 people met to discuss the use of social media in the nuclear field.

The meetings are now officially sponsored by the ANS Public Information Committee.

2011 Meeting agenda

The agenda for the meeting on June 28, 2011, starts with meet & greet with light refreshments from 6:30-7:00 PM. This will be followed some brief summary information about the impact of social media on the media related to Fukushima and the nuclear industry in general.

bloggingWe will then have a round robin discussion about Fukushima and how it is shaping perceptions of the nuclear industry. Finally, we will discuss what social media can do in this area.

One of the things people will want to hear from you is what you've been doing in the past year with social media in the nuclear industry. Bring your story to Florida.

Note there will be two special sessions on Fukushima at the ANS Meeting. The first will be held Monday 6/27 from 4:30-6:30 PM and the second Tuesday 6/28 also from 4:40-6:30 PM.

Plus there are two sessions on communications, advocacy, and social media taking place Wednesday afternoon June 29. See the ANS conference program for details.

ANS June 2011 conference program link

If you have any questions, please contact me via email at or Twitter @djysrv or call me on my mobile: 208-419-3881

Please share this message with your friends and colleagues or post it on your blog.

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Webinar ~ Fukushima & Nuclear Power

Fukushima and Nuclear Power:
Can we live without it?
Live Webcast June 29, 3 PM ET / 12 PM PT

Register Now

Following the earthquake and tsunamis that tragically impacted Japan in March, the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has captured public attention for months. Energy experts are now questioning the long term impact of the Fukushima disaster on nuclear policy, international power generation, and the global carbon picture:

  • How has the Fukushima crisis impacted public opinion and policy debates about nuclear energy?
  • What do countries like Japan and Germany stand to gain or lose by giving up nuclear power generation?
  • What is the carbon cost of giving up nuclear plants?
  • How will countries that move away from nuclear make up that power elsewhere?
  • Has the demise of the nuclear industry been exaggerated? While some countries are taking aggressive steps away from nuclear, some accounts suggest that overall, the number of nuclear plants continues to grow.

Join The Energy Collective's latest webcast as we seek answers to these questions and discuss nuclear power's role in our energy future. Hear from:

Matthew Wald is a Reporter for the Washington Bureau at The New York Times, covering environmental and energy issues, as well as transportation, aviation and highway safety. Having joined The Times in October 1976 as a news clerk in the newspaper’s Washington bureau, Wald held positions at the New York metropolitan desk, the State Capitol in Hartford, and as a national correspondent, covering a variety of areas including housing and nuclear power, before joining the Washington bureau in September 1996. Wald has covered the Fukushima crisis extensively in the New York Times. (Times Topics: Nuclear Energy)

Edward Kee is a VP at NERA Economic Consulting and a specialist in the electricity industry with experience in nuclear power, electricity markets, restructuring, regulation, private power, and related issues. For more than 20 years, he has provided testimony as an expert witness on a range of electricity industry issues in state and federal courts, before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and before other legal and regulatory bodies in the US and around the world. Mr. Kee also provides strategic advice to companies and governments on issues related to the nuclear and electricity industries. Mr. Kee holds an MBA from Harvard University and a BS in Systems Engineering from the US Naval Academy.

Jesse Jenkins is Director of Energy and Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute, and is one of the country's leading energy and climate policy analysts and advocates. He is the co-author with Devon Swezey of the "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant" report on global clean energy competitiveness strategies, and is currently working on an update to the report. Jesse has written for publications including the San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, Yale Environment 360,, and, and his published works on energy policy have been cited by many more. He is founder and chief editor of WattHead - Energy News and Commentary and a featured writer at the Energy Collective.

Marc Gunther is a veteran journalist, speaker, writer and consultant whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc is a contributing editor at FORTUNE magazine, a senior writer at, and a lead blogger at The Energy Collective. He's also a husband and father, a lover of the outdoors and a marathon runner. Marc is the author or co-author of four books, including Faith and Fortune: How Compassionate Capitalism is Transforming American Business. He's a graduate of Yale who lives in Bethesda, MD.

Register for the webcast

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Nuclear energy & social media

Who reads nuclear energy blogs?

branding strategySo, who is reading nuclear blogs? On the ANS Social Media listserv, I asked this question  recently and got some interesting results for the month of May 2011. Here’s a sample of the replies:

  • Michele Kearny, at the Nuclear Wire, a news service, reports for the month of May 18,812 page views. Michele’s blog is a fast-moving series of news links that keeps readers coming back for updates.
  • Will Davis, at Atomic Power Review, who has been publishing high quality, in-depth technical updates about Fukushima, reports 31,613 page views for the same month.
  • Rod Adams, who recently updated the template at his blog at Atomic Insights, reported his numbers in terms of absolute visitors. He cites Google Analytics as reporting 10,583 unique visitors for May. Rod emphasizes commentary and analysis across a wide range of nuclear subjects.
  • At my blog Idaho Samizdat, I can report 6,945 visitors and 24,938 page views for May 2011. The blog covers economic and political news about nuclear energy and nonproliferation issues.
  • At ANS Nuclear Cafe, this blog uses WordPress to track readers, reporting 24,476 page views for the same four-week period as the other blogs. During the height of the Fukushima crisis on a single day, March 14, 2011, the blog attained over 55,000 page views as people poured on to the Internet in search of information about the situation in Japan.

Over one million page views a year

Taken together, the four blogs that reported monthly page views represent 100,000 visits to online information pages on nuclear energy or an effective rate of well over 1 million page views per year.

These are real numbers and the data are just for a small sample of the more than two dozen blogs on nuclear energy that update at least once a week.

Another interesting set of statistics is who reads North American blogs overseas? It turns out that the international readership is concentrated in a small group of countries. They include, in alphabetical order for the same sample of blogs, the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Japan
  • United Kingdom

For more information on nuclear energy and social media read the complete details at ANS Nuclear Cafe online now.

Monday, June 13, 2011

NYT - Japan’s Prime Minister micro-managed Fukushima crisis

Distrust of the nuclear utility and government bureaucracy seen as too close to TEPCO cited as reason for some misguided interventions

naotoa kan via WikipediaThe Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, (right) personally interfered with crisis communications and gave technical orders on the use of sea water to cool nuclear reactors at Fukushima with little or no communication with TEPCO, the owner and operator of the six reactors affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. That’s the story that is being told in riveting reading in the New York Times for June 13 and it is well worth your time.

The newspaper reveals that Kan, rather than using a well structured crisis communications system set up for events like the ones of March 11, relied instead on a small group of close political aides who knew almost nothing about nuclear energy.

U.S. nuclear organizations who think that improvements to “crisis communications systems” will help in dealing with future nuclear incidents should pay close attention to the New York Times report.

Even more interesting is that the Fukushima plant manager did the unthinkable and disregarded an incredible order from Kan’s office to stop using sea water to cool the reactors. Apparently, the Japanese cultural preference for consensus outweighed common sense in the prime minister’s office, but not in the plant manager’s realm.

Early career experience shaped Kan’s response

The NYT reported that Kan’s interference with TEPCO’s sometimes stumbling response to the crisis was driven by a previous experience where blood donations tainted with AIDS were used and then covered up by the Japanese pharmaceutical industry and the health ministry bureaucracy which Kan headed at the time.

This personal betrayal and that of public trust has shaped Kan’s relationship with all government agencies including the Japan Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency which is housed in the trade ministry rather than being an independent entity. The IAEA in its recent report on the Fukushima crisis recommended the agency be strengthened to stand on its own.

The repeated clashes of Kan as a the charismatic political leader with the stolid and consensus seeking Japanese business / government consortiums is a classic retelling of the studies of sociologist Max Weber who foretold it over 100 years ago.

Remote sensing capabilities confirmed

remote sensing satellite image LANL Another revelation is that U.S. military remote sensing capabilities revealed a far graver situation in terms of radiation releases than TEPCO was sharing with the Japanese government or the U.S. ambassador. Also, TEPCO initially refused to meet with U.S. experts from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who were sent to Japan to help get control of the crippled reactors.

These developments may shed new light on the decision by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (right) to order a 50 mile evacuation of all Americans from the Fukushima plants much to the consternation of Japan which had ordered a 13 mile (20 km) limit. It now appears that the decision to issue the order came from the White House after U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos cabled that that Japan was refusing to share information about the crisis.

Gregory Jaczko NRC March 2011This blog reported on March 20 that the basis for Jaczko’s NRC decision could have been strongly influenced by data acquired from military aircraft and satellites. Further, this blog said at the time that it is a plausible scenario that Jaczko was presented with this information at the White House. Finally, it seems that he was then instructed to issue the 50 miles warning as a shot across Japan’s bow for failing to be more forthcoming about what was happening at Fukushima.

In other words, the plausible scenario now is that the reason Jaczko had limited or no consultations with his own crisis center staff at the NRC about the 50 mile order is that the decision was made at the White House and imposed on the NRC Chairman who was told to make it stick. The New York Times now confirms the basic thrust of this scenario.

Even so it took ten days for the Japanese government to begin to talk the more than three dozen nuclear experts dispatched by the NRC and Department of Energy and five days following Jaczko’s March 16th testimony to Congress in which he publicaly announced the 50 mile evacuation order.

We also know now from TEPCO that by this time the fuel in reactor units 1, 2 & 3 had been seriously deformed by heat and that in all likelihood there was melted fuel at the bottom of the reactor pressure vessels which were leaking radioactive water.

Missing important issues

There are a couple of issues which keep getting shoved aside in these revelations.

First, over 23,000 people are dead, or missing and presumed dead, from the earthquake and tsunami. This human tragedy keeps getting lost in the mainstream media’s fixation on Fukushima.

Second, an estimated 80,000 people have been displaced by the 20 km evacuation zone. There are radioactive hot spots (cesium-137) outside that zone that must be remediated before anyone can return.

Finally, TEPCO has not yet shown that it has control of the over 100,000 tonnes of radioactive water that have been generated since emergency cooling operations started on March 12.

A new report by the Japan Times on June 13 is that radioactive strontium-90 has been detected in groundwater and seawater around Fukushima. . SR-90 product of nuclear fission. It is present in significant amount in spent nuclear fuel and in radioactive waste from nuclear reactors. This is worrisome as nuclear experts familiar with the situation say this may indicate a breach of the primary containment structures of one or more of the damaged reactors

An aside on measuring radioactive bunnies

While anti-nuclear groups rant about earless radioactive bunnies at Fukushima, I can report that in my 20 years at the Idaho National Lab, I saw plenty of mildly radioactive bunnies out on the Arco desert. They all had their ears on.

RadioactiveRabbitRadioactive bunny poop that gets attention comes in at about 5,000 disintegrations per minute although this is not a fixed threshold.

Plant workers are instructed not to attempt to clean up the droppings on their own as part of routine maintenance. Instead, they are instructed to call RadCon for a survey and controlled removal of the material to a special landfill for low level radioactive waste.

Counts per minute (cpm) is a measure of radioactivity. It is the number of atoms in a given quantity of radioactive material that are detected to have decayed in one minute.

Disintegrations per minute (dpm) is also a measure of radioactivity. It is the number of atoms in a given quantity of radioactive material that decay in one minute. Dpm is commonly used as a measure of radioactive contamination.

One becquerel (Bq) is equal to one disintegration per second so with 60 seconds in a minute, one becquerel (Bq) is equal to 60 dpm. On a linear basis 5,000 dpm is equal to 83 Bq.

Radiation dose would depend on the type, length of exposure, and distance to the source. Frankly, as I saw it, the hawks that thrived on eating radioactive bunnies in Idaho, and also at Hanford, seemed to pursue their prey in any case.

There were plenty of other radioactive materials to worry about at Idaho including a million gallons of high level waste in underground tanks and remote handled transuranic waste sitting on surface pads inside interim storage containers. Safety practices that are derived from the mantra of time, distance, and shielding keep plant workers safe from these risks and from the rabbits.

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