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.
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.
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.
The 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.
Nebraska Nuclear Alert News
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
- HNN Huntingtonnews – US Accused of News Blackout on Nebraska Nuke Plant – Sorcha Faal
- Reuters – NRC tracking flooding at two Nebraska nuclear power plants – Lane Hickenbottom
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
- KETV 4 – Army Corps To Release More Water From Gavins Point
- St. Joseph News-Press – River watch continues for Cooper Nuclear Station – Ray Scherer
- Nebraska Watchdog – NPPD: Nuke Plant Could Be Shut Down “In Three Seconds”, Critics Still Worry
Monday, June 20, 2011
- AP Google – River falls short of Nebraska nuke plant shutdown
- New York Times – Flooding Brings Worries Over Two Nuclear Plants – A. G. Sulzberger and Matthew L. Wald
- Omaha World-Herald – Cooper was near flood shutdown – Kevin Cole
- Plattsmouth Journal – NEMA flooding update
- UPI – River level prompts nuclear plant warning
- Washington Post – Neb. nuclear plant avoids shutdown after Missouri River rises to within 18 inches of facility
- World Nuclear News – US plants on flood alert
Sunday, June 19, 2011
- FOX News – Missouri Levees Breached by Water Releases
- Gamut News – Video: U.S. nuclear plant remains closed
- HNN Huntingtonnews – Breaking…Rad Report: Unusual Event Nebraska Emergency Level 4 and Now Worse
- Nebraska City News Press – Cooper Nuclear Station declares “Notification of Unusual Event”
- Washington Post – Water flows over tops of levees in Missouri; flooding alert issued for Neb. nuclear plant
- WOWT – Declaration at Cooper Nuclear Station
Saturday, June 18, 2011
- Associated Content – Nebraska Nuclear Plant Faces Missouri River Flood Fight – Charles Simmins
- Dubuque Telegraph Herald – Officials: Nuclear plant safe
- KETV Omaha – OPPD Dispels Nuclear Meltdown Rumors In Ft. Calhoun
- Pakistan Nation – US orders news blackout over crippled Nebraska Nuclear Plant: report
Friday, June 17, 2011
- AP Google – Officials say Neb. nuke plant is safe from flood – Josh Funk
- Business Insider – Airspace Over Flooded Nebraska Nuclear Power Plant Still Closed – Ricky Kreitner
- Omaha World-Herald – NRC: No flood danger at reactor – Nancy Gaarder
- Reuters – Nebraska nuclear reactor dry though surrounded by flood – David Hendee
- The Examiner – Nuclear energy a solution for Texas? – Lori Lee
- Hawaii News Daily – Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant: How Bad Can It Get? – Tom Burnett
- KTTS – Regulators: Missouri River Threatens Nuclear Plants
- Omaha World-Herald – NRC: No flood danger at reactor – Nancy Gaarder
- St. Louis Beacon – Bad combination: Floodplains, nuclear materials and understated risk – Bob Criss
Thursday, June 16, 2011
- 9NEWS – Nebraska nuclear plant managers answer rumors – Jeffrey Wolf
- Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – Rising water, falling journalism – Dawn Stover
- Global Research – Nebraska Nuclear Reactor Flooded
- NIRS – Flood at Fort Calhoun
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
- Hawaii News Daily – Nebraska Nuclear Plant at Level 4 Accident – Tom Burnett
- Syracuse Post-Standard – Missouri River Flooding
- Westport-News – Neb.’s Terry calls for NRC chief to resign
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
- Nebraska StatePaper – Cooper Nuke Plant Will Get More NRC Oversight
Monday, June 13, 2011
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Monday, June 06, 2011
- Lincoln Journal Star – Low-level emergency declared at nuclear power plant