Missouri River Flood Threatens Nebraska Nuclear Reactors

Missouri Mega Dams

As a result of one of the wettest winters in over 100 years flooding on the Missouri River is threatening two nuclear reactors located in Nebraska. The US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) has estimated that the nuclear facilities could be under up to ten feet of water and stay there for weeks during their controlled release of flood waters.

The two commercial nuclear power plants currently in serious danger from flooding are located near Omaha Nebraska. The 800 MegaWatt Fort Calhoun station north of Omaha has garnered the majority of the coverage so far. That station was closed in April for refueling and maintenance. However, the 500 MegaWatt Cooper Nuclear Station which is currently operating could eventually be worse due to the danger of levees that protect the unit from waters going several feet higher. The worst case scenario would be a loss of offsite power to keep the nuclear fuel properly cooled.

At 2 PM on June 6th the Omaha Public Power District declared an emergency at their Fort Calhoun nuclear power station located near Blair Nebraska. A pump for the spent fuel pond was knocked out for an hour during the incident as well as several problems with sewage leaks.

Due to the extreme winter including major rains in May the Corp of Engineers announced that it would release 150,000 cubic feet of water per second at Gavins Point Dam at Yankton SD, but was forced to increase that to 160,000 feet by June 24th. This would increase flooding by up to a half a foot. ACE also acknowledged that this level would continue into August. This is five times more water than the Corp has ever released before, and the rainy season has not ended yet (see below for June rain amounts). Besides the tornado season is still in full swing as one powerful tornado and 23 others ripped through central Nebraska according to kolotv.com on 6-20. Concerns also continue to mount around more water coming into the Missouri from tributaries below Gavins Point.

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YouTube Gavins Point Dam Releases

Levees are holding for now but are being carefully monitored due to several instances of breaching. The question will be can the dams let alone the levees withstand the coming weeks of flooding? The FAA has restricted any air travel over the endangered facilities, very likely at the request of the OPPD and NPPD after a local station went ahead and showed flooding at Fort Calhoun after being requested not to do so. Officials have expressed concern about the ability of a levee around the Cooper Nuclear Facility located 70 miles south of Omaha to hold up.

The danger exists where even greater levels of water could increase the flood levels well beyond the capacity of the levees and sandbagging operations that have been put in place, resulting in an American Fukushima styled nuclear disaster from flooding. There is growing anger at ACE for waiting so long before starting its controlled flooding. Some say that this was because the Ohio Flooding took precedent, but ACE claims that it was due to the heavy May rains as the cause.

Background

The Missouri River is the longest river in North America at 2,300 miles and and has hundreds of tributaries feeding it. It is also a tributary of the Mississippi River, making the entire system the fourth largest in the world. The river has a large floodplain (the full size of the river in the distant past) that averages between 10-20 miles across, with the river being about a mile wide prior to damming. From hard lessons, there was little human development on the flood plain until the coming of the big dams. An example of the power of the Missouri River came in 1964 when a newly completed bridge over the Missouri at Sioux City Iowa was destroyed during that year’s flooding.

The US Army Corps of Engineers completed a series of large 6 dams on the Missouri River by the mid 1960′s, the last of the six being located near Yankton SD called Gavins Point Dam. With the dams in place, everybody went back to putting farms, including two nuclear power plants on the flood plain.

The Corps of Engineers released a set of projected flood maps for the area from Yankton SD throughout Nebraska showing what they think will happen in terms of controlled flood levels in the region. Based on these maps, both of Nebraska’s nuclear facilities are in severe danger. The Fort Calhoun unit located 19 miles north of Omaha Nebraska is projected to be under water from 4 to over 10 feet of water (see map below). Note that in May of this year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC) hit Ft. Calhoun for poor flood control problems from flooding that took place last year. According to David Lochbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists, the NRC yellow tagged Ft. Calhoun’s owners last year over concerns that the facility couldn’t withstand the kind of flooding we are seeing this year. The NRC ordered that additional precautions be taken. The facility is a 500 MegaWatt Combustion Engineering PWR reactor that is currently shut down.

TheCooper Nuclear Station other reactor the Cooper nuclear station is located 70 miles south of Omaha and is an 830 MWe General Electric BWR reactor and is currently at full operation. this is a slightly newer General Electric design than the reactors that recently melted down at Fukushima in Japan. It is predicted to be under water from 4-8 feet. Behind the reactor and to the Northwest are located levees that are meant to keep at least reduce flooding by 2 feet.

Beyond Nuclear has submitted a Petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calling for the closure of all General Electric Mark 1 Reactors in the U.S. due safety concerns. Nebraska’s Cooper Nuclear Station and Fukushima are of the same design.

The Cooper Nuclear Station which is operated by the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) declared an Unusual Event on Sunday June 19th as flooding has reached beyond 42.5 feet, setting off emergency flood planning at the facility. The river rose nearly 4 feet since Friday the 17th reaching 44.6 feet and all time record, and flows increased nearly 50,000 Cubic Feet Per Second. The US ACE upgraded flood level from moderate to major.

The St. Louis Beacon did a piece showing that the current flooding is also endangering an old nuclear waste dump along the Missouri near St. Louis called West Lake landfill. The article also does an excellent job of pointing out the fact that inappropriate development has played a major role in the growing number impacts from flooding.

[/caption]Cooper Nuclear Station Fort Calhoun Nuclear StationFlood Stage Map for Cooper Nuclear StationFlood Stage Map for Fort Calhoun

Nebraska Nuclear Alert News


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  • Never would of thought something similar to Japan’s current nuclear energy situation would happen in the US and of all places Nebraska. Just kind of proves how we need to start relying on solar power, solar farms, wind farms and other renewable source for our energy needs.

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  • Andrew

    This is the best and most well written article on this topic I have found, and it’s coming from Hawaii. Way to go my Hawaiian friends. I suggest everyone share it, and post comments if you have updates. Thank you.

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  • Curtis

    Related is a diary posted on dailykos about the condition of the 6 dams upstream and how they have not used their spillways until now for the last 50 years. Lots of good internal links, especially to the St. Louis newspaper about the state of a lot of these dams built in the 60s.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/06/15/985281/-Attention!Ft-Calhoun-Nuclear-Plant-Flooding-DangerListen-toArnie-Gundersons-Concern?via=sidebyuserrec

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  • nancy

    this is getting ZERO attention on the nightly news. And our corporately owned president isn’t telling us about it either. We are so screwed.

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  • Sash

    Nothing you can do about it
    Relax enjoy the ride

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  • Max

    GREAT COVERAGE. THANK YOU. @Curtis, you’re absolutely right about the arrogance of the ’60s. Where I live (Bodega Bay, CA) “they” wanted to build a nuke plant ~10 feet above sea level on the Pacific Ocean within a mile of the San Andreas Fault. Fortunately a local waitress protested the plan and got it stopped. “They” had already dug the foundation and it sits there full of water today.

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  • Doug

    You have most of the information correct in this article but early on there is a mistake. Fort Calhoun is the nation’s smallest Nuclear Power Plant rated at approximately 500 MW of electrical generation, 1500 MW of heat generation. Brownville’s Cooper Station is roughly 800 MW of electrical generation. You have these figures correct in the rest of the article but just wanted to clarify.

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  • Curtis

    Build 6 dams on the Missouri River and then 2 nuclear factories in the Missouri River flood plain… boy we were so full of ourselves in the 60s. We are the new mother nature, we control the atom, we can win wars at the push of a button, we can go to the moon, blah blah blah.

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