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The Rising River Puts Flood Preparations to the Test

Flood protection plans that the NRC requires for all nuclear power plants are now being put to the test by historic flooding along the Missouri River in Nebraska. Rising waters are lapping at three sides of the Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville. Fort Calhoun, located 19 miles north of Omaha, looks like an island in aerial photos.

One question is on everyone’s mind: Will the flood preparations be good enough?

Cooper, which is operating at full power, sits two and a half feet above current river levels. It remains under the Unusual Event declared on June 19. (Unusual Event is the lowest of four emergency categories established by the NRC.)

Nebraska Public Power District officials have installed barriers required to protect buildings and structures from flooding. A three-foot earth and stone berm has been assembled around the plant’s electrical switchyard for additional protection. If all goes well, floodwaters will not impact vital plant equipment.

The NRC has augmented its inspection staff at Fort Calhoun where there is now two feet of water in many areas onsite. In addition to the two resident inspectors, three more inspectors and a branch chief are there to provide around the clock coverage of licensee activities.

The Ft. Calhoun plant remains under the Unusual Event declared on June 6. Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) officials have not restarted the plant, which has been in a refueling outage since early April. This way they can devote their full attention to dealing with the flood rather than adding the distraction of startup, which can take several days of preparation.

The plant has erected an Aquadam around the powerblock – vital areas including the containment and auxiliary buildings. The water-filled berm is eight feet tall and 16 feet wide at the base, and provides protection for up to six feet of water. The dam also protects several pieces of equipment that have been brought onsite, including an additional emergency diesel generator for supplying AC electrical power, water pumps, firefighting equipment and sandbagging supplies.

An earthern berm protects the electrical switchyard and a concrete barrier has been built around electrical transformers to protect them. Satellite phones have been distributed to key workers. Extra food and water has been stockpiled.

Existing diesel fuel tanks have been topped off and two additional fuel tanks have been brought onsite. Special gas-fired pumps are available in the event of station blackout. If there is a complete loss of power on site the pumps can circulate cooling water through the spent fuel pool and reactor core.

The NRC’s inspections in 2009 revealed deficiencies in OPPD’s flood response plan. The NRC increased its oversight of Fort Calhoun while the plant responded, and today the plant is well positioned to ride out the current extreme Missouri River flooding while keeping the public safe.

The NRC’s Region IV in Texas remains a hive of activity with communications ongoing between the technical staff, the resident inspectors at both sites, and licensee officials. Several times each day, managers discuss flood preparations with their licensee counterparts and receive briefings from the resident inspectors. Licensee plans are questioned, critiqued and where necessary augmented with input provided by NRC staff.

It’s all designed to stay one step ahead of the rising floodwaters.

Victor Dricks
Public Affairs

13 responses to “The Rising River Puts Flood Preparations to the Test

  1. Moderator June 28, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Please see the latest blog post for updated information on the flood preparations at Ft. Calhoun and Cooper nuclear power plants.

    Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s website has a Spring 2011 Flood page with updated information here: http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/html/op-e/flood.html .

    Omaha Public Power District (Ft. Calhoun) press releases can be found here: http://www.oppd.com/AboutUs/NewsEvents/22_000812

    Nebraska Public Power District (Cooper) press releases can be found here: http://www.nppd.com/Newsroom/

  2. Bill June 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    “If all goes well, floodwaters will not impact vital plant equipment.”

    WHAT? We are talking the potential risk of radioactive contamination of our nation. It’s trite but true: failure is NOT an option.

    Since the AquaDam has been breeched already, I’m presuming the worst as nothing has been said on this blog about it. Are the pumps’ and generators’ buildings staying dry? Are you attempting to repair the dam?

  3. Anonymous June 23, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Was NRC consulted by the Corps of Engineers when they developed their flood release strategy

  4. Nancy Foust June 23, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Can someone post some clear numbers for Cooper and Calhoun? The sea level vs river level heights and the flood protection height can be very confusing. Calhoun sits at 1004 ft and has flood protection to 1014ft. What is the river height at 1004 ft sea level so we can compare where the water is? Cooper sits at 903 above sea level. How high are their flood protection efforts? IE: how high is any temporary levee, berm or sand bag walls above 903 ft sea level or just how high is that flood protection wall so people have a better understanding where things sit vs. the water?

  5. Anonymous June 22, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    A thousand thanks Mr. Dricks for this detailed update. Of course we will check back often to see if any new information and details have been added.

    Thanks again,
    Sincerely,
    Paul Christopher Anzalone

  6. Jane June 22, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    I personally do not like the idea of nuclear energy at all, I’ve never been asked if I want to live where they’re being used and I know that’s all over the world now but I think they’re dangerous even when they’re only a little bit broken or leaking only a little bit and I don’t know how much money was invested into this alternative energy but would like to know where I can go where I will not be effected by it.

    • Moderator June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      You can find a map of the U.S. with all the locations of nuclear power plants marked here: http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/

    • John June 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm

      Jane,
      The sad fact is that there is no where that we can go as to not be affected by it. Radiation was being picked up 10,000 away from Japan in Massachusetts rain water after the accident at Fukushima. If the Japanese hadn’t been lucky with the wind blowing out to sea the island would be cut in half for the next 300 years and we would be talking about North and South Japan.

      Not to make you worry but look as some of my posts on the blog post The NRC and the Write-in Campaign from 6-21-11 it goes into more detail about the danger of these plants. Here is a better place to look for info about the plants type in your address and see where the nearest evacuation zone go out to 50 miles the 10 mile designation was just pulled out of thin air by early regulators, a nuclear plant will destroy much more than that when it goes.

      http://www.psr.org/resources/evacuation-zone-nuclear-reactors.html

      I personally live about 15 miles from one that the NRC has just extended for another 20 years. There is too much nuclear industry money in politics to ever believe they will be closed until it is too late. My Senators are very pro-nuclear I found this strange until I looked at campaign donations and saw the nuclear company is the number 1 donor to one and the number 2 donor to the other one.

      • LoboSolo June 25, 2011 at 8:36 am

        A little hyperbole there don’t ya think? Cut in half for 300 years? Naw. There are people living in Nagasaki and Hiroshima and there was a lot worst exposure there. Those radiation detectors are so sensitive that they can pick up the radiation in bananas … Had a banana lately?

      • john June 28, 2011 at 8:52 am

        LoboSolo,
        No hyperbole at all my friend. In fact it is very conservative. I could have based that estimate on uranium-235 with a half-life of 700 million years or plutonium with a half-life of 24,200 years. Instead I based it on Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, meaning it will be in the soil for 300 years. Eat a banana that was grown in soil contaminated with cesium-137 if you like; it is after all your funeral, as they say.

        And the radiation released by an atomic bomb is a totally different thing as far as concentration and dispersion go. I believe there was around 25kg of uranium in the Hiroshima bomb, by contrast a nuclear power plant contains thousands of tons of high level radioactive waste its reactor and spent fuel pools. And much of the radiation from an air blast explosion is consumed by the heat of the blast or lifted into the stratosphere, there is some ground contamination but not like with a nuclear accident.

        Have you seen the census data for the area around Chernobyl lately? It is a much better idea to compare the damage from a nuclear reactor accident to Chernobyl than Hiroshima. I took the time to add a few articles to enlighten you so that you won’t mistake facts for hyperbole again. If you take the time to read the one about radiation in German boars keep in mind that the area in question is 1000 miles from Chernobyl.

        http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/nucene/fisfrag.html

        http://www.rerf.or.jp/general/qa_e/qa12det.html

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/19/radioactive-boars-on-the-_n_687379.html

      • Dolly June 29, 2011 at 8:28 am

        I live within 35 miles of Indian Point (NY) and there is no way in Hades Long Island and NYC could be evacuated during an emergency… and evacuated to where exactly? If it weren’t so serious, it would be laughable. Nuclear was pushed down everyone’s throats as the “cheap” and “clean” alternative to coal. The fact is other fuels have been suppressed for at least 100 years (since the time of Rockefeller’s philandering, pedophile grandfather, and Standard Oil). As always, “money” talks.
        Yes, it appears that a great swath of Japan should not be inhabited for many, many years to come, just like chernobyl. But will the loving Japanese government advise the Japanese people? Only if forced into it; and they’ll make it so it will be difficult for those who want to leave- unless perhaps the Japanese government pays other governments to accept those irradiated folks. SO—LoboSolo (down below) is the one who is hyperbolic. Ongoing exposure to radiation (at any level) isn’t good for humans. It mutates cells. It’s too bad that everyone’s cells (other than just LoboSolo’s) are affected.
        The bottom line—the pubic….er, I mean public, is never told the truth–certainly not the whole truth. You are not entitled to it. You don’t deserve it. You are chattel. You don’t matter. You are told Disney fairy tales and you’re expected to eat it up. You are given trivia as “news” every, single day. You are treated like children and ususally even worse; like dumb animals. You are to be used for your labor and discarded when you’ve out-lived your usefulness. So either continue to put up with it or do something else.

    • Risa Bear June 23, 2011 at 3:15 am

      Patagonia, maybe. :(

      I’m not being flippant. I wasn’t asked either, and I’ve seldom or never seen it come up for a vote.

      • LoboSolo June 25, 2011 at 8:44 am

        Patagonia? Depends on how close you want to be to the nuclear power in Argentina and Chile. Even Mexico has a nuclear power plant … I used to drive past it on my way to Veracruz.

        A utility must get permission from various regulatory agencies before building a nuclear plant especially the NRC. Some states have regulators who are elected but I think most are appointed by somebody you elected. IMO, the NRC has over-regulated to the point of discouraging it. I’m looking forward to more being built and to the day when molten salt reactors (MSR) are approved … especially a liquid fluoride thorium reactor tho I’d be happy with a uranium MSR.

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