U.S. NRC Blog

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Rumors and the Rising River

As of June 16, NRC officially remains in normal response mode as the levels of the Missouri River rise and flood preparations are underway at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska. But behind the scenes there is lots of activity designed to ensure the safety of the plant.

NRC is augmenting its resident inspector staff to provide around the clock coverage at the site. In addition to the two resident inspectors permanently assigned there, four other NRC officials have been sent to site. This includes three inspectors and the chief of the branch overseeing the plant. A roster of other inspectors has been drawn up from which additional inspectors can be dispatched if the need arises.

Officials at the NRC’s Region IV office in Arlington, Texas, have been conducting daily conference calls with the station’s managers to monitor preparations and potential impacts on the plant, which is located about 19 miles north of Omaha. Exceptionally heavy rainfall and snowpack runoff led to this spring’s flooding of the Missouri River Basin that is reported to be the most severe the region since the 1950s and 1960s. Flood conditions are expected to persist for months.

The NRC’s Region IV office has contacted the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to review weather and river level predictions. NRC also plans to establish regular calls with FEMA, states and local response organizations next week for coordination purposes.

Events at the site are being closely followed by regional news media and Internet bloggers, whose attention was galvanized on June 7 when the plant declared an Alert following a fire in a switchgear room. The fire was quickly extinguished, but briefly knocked out power to two pumps circulating water in the spent fuel pool. This triggered reports that the plant’s spent-fuel pool was in danger of boiling and releasing radioactivity, prompting unfortunate comparisons with the accident at Fukushima.

As the level of the Missouri River continued to rise over the past few days, more and more news media helicopters buzzed the area. This prompted Omaha Public Power District officials to contact the Federal Aviation Administration with a request that they remind pilots of the NOTAM, or Notice To Airmen, in effect since September 11th, 2001, restricting the airspace around the plant. Similar NOTAMS are in effect for all of the nuclear power plants in the United States, as well as other elements of the critical infrastructure, and are meant to discourage pilots from flying too low or lingering in airspaces.

Unfortunately, this was misinterpreted by some of the media who reported that FAA had closed the airspace over the site. This suggested to some Internet bloggers that things were much worse than officials were publicly admitting, spurring reports that the airspace over the plant had been closed because of a release of radiation. An advisory that had been sent by NRC to the Department of Homeland Security was similarly misinterpreted, leading to reports that operators had flooded the containment building to protect the reactor.

The rumors have been as difficult to combat as the rising floodwaters.

Victor Dricks
Public Affairs Region IV
Moderator Note: In addition to the NOTAM, which remains in effect for all nuclear plants, in response to a request from Fort Calhoun on June 6, the FAA issued an additional NOTAM tightening, but not closing, the airspace around the plant. Aircraft are now restricted from flying within a two-mile radius of the plant below 3,500 feet.

48 responses to “Rumors and the Rising River

  1. Anonymous June 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I would like to know what the hell you have to say about this?

    The lack of information is astounding and unacceptable. The PUBLIC has the RIGHT to know what is going on… NOT what YOU deem we need to know. We are grown and can handle the truth… this is a comment from a family member of mine in the area and I want to know what you have to say about it?

    “The berm failed @ Ft Calhoun and wowt is the only one with the story. The head guy from the nrc regulatory comm is coming here. There was a story a week ago saying if we got 2 & a half (exactly) inches of rain at once, the sh!t would hit the fan with the flood situation. Funny we got exactly that amount Sat night, the berm failed, 2 bldgs are surrounded and the press is too quiet! The streets downtown are flooding and the officials say to stay out of any puddles because they may have raw sewage in them!”

    How is that water berm working out for you? Water seeks its own level, not sure exactly HOW a water berm was ever expected to keep out water… it isn’t a sand berm… it is WATER!

    WELL?? What is going on?

  2. Tenney Naumer June 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    This post is from June 17. There are no replies to the comments and questions. In fact, I can’t find a shred of news on the Fort Calhoun plant from after June 20th. Does anyone here have more current news? Thanks,

    • Barbara June 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm

      I recieved my first and only reply on this matter from the IAEA in Stockholm, Sweden. I have been trying to get a decent overall reaction to the situation for 2 weeks. The Omaha ABC affiliate is covering the story now but I haven’t checked the site since yesterday morning. I didh’t stop to get the link.
      Be safe everybody, we are out here thinking of you.

  3. Anonymous June 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    So where’s the pictures now since the rubber weenie busted? I’m guessing there won’t be any….

  4. C Moore June 25, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    The 1994 report on the 1993 flood showed a lot of leakage into radiologically sensitive areas in the lower areas of the buildings at Cooper. I think important plumbing and electrical stuff is in there? It’s not the reactor itself, it’s the plumbing!

  5. Bill June 24, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Fine. Then you need to put out daily releases with a ridiculously high amount of media (still & video) so we can see for ourselves that things are well under control and not at risk of the same disaster at Fukushima. It was the WATER there that decimated that nuclear complex and cast all of Northern Japan into a horrible fate. It wasn’t the design of the plant that did it but greedy and terrible management.

    Having seen the very recent AP article that the state of the nation’s nuclear plants are rusting — to the point of leaking — and safety margins are being reduced, we do not trust you!

  6. Barbara June 23, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I response to the statement:
    “The rumors have been as difficult to combat as the rising floodwaters”
    I could argue on the point of reason, water has non, people do. Or that we are now more educated as a society after Fukushima and the subsequent Senate hearings, and to expect us to have our heads in the sand still is to underestimate our lack of trust in how nuclear energy is being handled in this country. This is not sensationalist produced fear. It is an honest intelligent response to an industry that is failing in many ways. If you would like my laypersons, joe public list I can follow up with that. At this point I would like to say that the rumors are a direct result of a failure to consider the needs of the public. We need to sleep at night, which means that we have to know if the nuclear plant down the road is stable, and if not, can we trust out regulatory system to inform us in a clear, honest and timely matter of the degree of instability? The loud and clear answer, proven by the hunger with which these ‘rumors’ were accepted and forwarded, is no.
    My point, that there was, and still is, a failure of clear and consistant information flow to the public is made in the link below.

    I thank you for offering this forum. I hope next time I do not have to go to the IAEA to get my first answer about what is true and what is rumor.

  7. Jonathan June 22, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    The latest NRC document NRC TRACKING FLOODING AT TWO NEBRASKA NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2011/11-030.iv.pdf includes the phrase “The NRC has augmented its inspection staff at Fort Calhoun where there is now two feet of water in many areas onsite.” This phrase has been picked up by the media e.g.http://missouri-news.org/midwest-news/nebraska/nrc-two-feet-of-water-at-fort-calhoun-but-nuke-plant-still-safe/6256

    Can you clarify that the reference to two feet of water is for areas not protected by the aqua dam, as the impression may be given that there is 2 ft of water within that protected area.

    Also, both this blog and the new document refer to rising water. Can you confirm whether water levels are rising or falling at the site and by how much. The OPPD Flood and Outage blog refers to levels falling slightly between June 15 and 17.

    • Anonymous June 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm

      More rain expected

      The NRC chairman to visit the plant

      Anyone who has lived in the midwest, like I did for 30 years, knows that June is the beginning of the stormy summers there…. lots of severe storms, tornadoes, RAIN… One cannot possibly believe that the levels of the river are going down… to the contrary, they will rise. They are not using common sense: 1. water seeks its own level, explain to me the logistics of a water berm holding out more ater. 2. the midwest summer weather pattern is not a secret… so explain to me how they can actually think people will believe the flood levels will not rise? 3. I have family in Omaha, and they are all watching the river RISE and the flooding get WORSE… water levels are not receding… we should be demanding the truth instead of buying into their lies, which a 6th grader could poke holes through.

  8. lightenup June 22, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Wednesday, 6:00Pm EST, and 8 inches away from the Cooper Nuclear Plant’s shut down point, concern is an appropriate response.

  9. Concerned about Transparency June 22, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    I’m writing here simply as a concerned citizen. I am very concerned about the what appears to be a failure by the NRC to abide by their own commitments to transparency and honesty as well as a failure to meet common sense expectations that the public holds for an essential public safety agency like the NRC.

    The NRC web site lists a news release for June 8th, 2011. That release describes the events that took place at the Ft. Calhoun NPP, specifically the failure of electrical switches due to flooding, the subsequent failure of the pumps that keep the spent fuel rods pools at the proper temperature and the situation was corrected. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that this was a newsworthy event on it’s own and that recent events in Japan would result in a strong increase in public concern about such an event.

    However, since that news release, there has been no mention of this in any other news releases from the NRC. Personally, I find this surprising and I’m very concerned about this glaring gap in reporting by the NRC. I’m not interested in hearing about standard reporting procedures as a explanation or justification by the NRC for failing to follow up with subsequent reports about this incident at Ft. Calhoun NPP. Common sense and simple concern about the public as well as a desire to avoid unwarranted rumors would dictate being as open and transparent as possible re: an event that is monitored by the NRC. Yet the delay in posting the the one news release and the absence of any follow show that the NRC is living up to those expectations.

    I will leave with a simple question and my hope is that I get and honest and simple answer:

    Why didn’t the NRC post any follow up information about the June 6th incident at the Ft. Calhoun NPP?
    Was the NRC subject to any outside orders or influence from the Executive Brance or any other government agency that affected it’s handling of the news reports re: the Ft. Calhoun June 6th incident? If so can you provide details about it?

    Many thanks,


    • C.A. Cooper June 23, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      “Why didn’t the NRC post any follow up information about the June 6th incident at the Ft. Calhoun NPP?” I would think the answer to that question is very simple. The NRC reported at that time, that the issue with the wiring for the cooling pumps was corrected, and there really has been no new developments since then requiring notification. If you expect the NRC to mollycoddle every curious person in the country, after they have reported all the pertinent information, why not just get your mother to read you a bedtime fairy tale, and maybe take same Valium to calm your nerves. They did their job, and that’s what they were supposed to do. And they are still doing it.

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