A First Hand Look at the Flooding

Chairman Jaczko views flood preparations at Cooper nuclear power station near the Missouri River.

The Missouri River usually meanders past Nebraska towns like Fort Calhoun, Omaha and Brownville at a placid 5-7 m.p.h. These days it’s racing past at about 15 m.p.h., and spreading out over the surrounding farmland, turning the rich Midwestern soil into a boggy light brown bayou. And it’s creeping up around the two nuclear plants – Ft. Calhoun and Cooper — that sit hard by the Missouri upstream and downstream of Omaha.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko visited both plants this week and also flew over the Fort Calhoun plant. He was checking in with the full-time NRC staff who work at the plants and the reinforcements the agency has sent to these sites, talking with plant officials and workers, and inspecting the substantial flood preparations made at both plants.

The pictures from the helicopter tour over the Fort Calhoun plant look worse than the situation really is. The plant is surrounded by water, but protected by flood gates, waterproof bunkers and other systems, many put in place by owner Omaha Public Power District as the result of an NRC inspection two years ago that found the plant’s flood protection systems lacking. Now, all the vital safety equipment is safe and dry, despite the fact workers wearing hip-high waders pulling boats laden with equipment walk through 3-plus feet of water around the plant’s perimeter.

Not every nuclear plant these days has life preservers nearby in case a worker or visitor falls off the quarter-mile metal catwalk built to get people and equipment from higher ground into the plant. Workers hauling in gasoline cans with fuel for small pumps pass those coming out with the empties on the catwalk. Nearby sit two huge tanker trucks with diesel fuel for the huge diesel generators tucked safely into watertight compartments deep within the plant.

The chairman talked with reporters at several stops along the way, mentioning what he saw in the flyover and that the loss of an aquadam around the Fort Calhoun site was not a problem because it was a supplement to what the NRC requires, and the NRC requirements protect the plant against an additional eight or so feet of flooding. Inside the control room was a computer monitor reporting on the latest flood stages, showing the river at about 1,006 feet above sea level. The plant under NRC requirements must protect critical safety equipment to 1,014 feet.

Chairman Jaczko also spoke directly with Fort Calhoun employees at their Omaha headquarters, telling them this is a challenge that will be with them deep into the summer. “You seem to be preparing yourselves to deal with those challenges and that’s good to see. In the end, the challenge is yours.”

Press coverage was wall to wall: the calls for interviews from the major networks were non-stop (he did the CBS Early Show and an NBC interview before heading to the airport, CNN and ABC the day before, and talked to the New York Times and virtually every local print and broadcast outlet and major wire service at a press conference that drew about 10 video cameras.)

Outside the two plants, the Missouri is rolling by carrying no less than 160,000 cubic feet of water every second, according to Col. Robert Ruck of the Army Corps of Engineers who briefed the chairman before the helicopter tour. It’s the highest flooding on the Missouri since the flood control dam structure was put in place back in 1952.

The chairman said the visit at Fort Calhoun was instructive. “I don’t think you can appreciate a flood like this and the force and power of the water until you see it up close. When you get down close and really see the flow, you recognize this is not a trivial thing.”

At the two plants – Cooper which is operating and Fort Calhoun which has been off-line and cold for months because of refueling and the anticipation of flooding – NRC resident inspectors are standing watch to keep an eye on the performance of the flood protection systems and the work of the plant owners.

Outside, the Missouri keeps rolling by.

Eliot Brenner
Director, Office of Public Affairs

For raw video of the chairman’s flyover of Ft. Calhoun go to: http://video.ap.org//

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

9 thoughts on “A First Hand Look at the Flooding”

  1. Update: This morning, Cooper terminated the Unusual Event declared on June 19 because projections by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show the river will remain at less than 899 feet at the site.

  2. Conditions remain stable and safe at both plants. The level of the Missouri River at Cooper Nuclear Station has fallen to 896 feet above mean sea level and the plant is continuing to operate at full power. At Fort Calhoun, which remains shut down since a refueling outage in early April, the river level remains at 1006 feet. Installation of a water-filled berm to replace the one that collapsed on June 26 was completed over the weekend of July 9-10, and the plant has pumped most of the water inside the protected area back out into the river. The plant is continuing activities to clean up the residual silt and debris from the concrete areas in the newly dried out portions of the protected area. Also, the plant has implemented several additional administrative controls for work activities conducted around the replacement berm to help preclude damage to the barrier.

    We will soon be posting a special page devoted to flooding at Cooper and Fort Calhoun. There will be a link to the new page from the NRC website at http://www.nrc.gov .

    Victor Dricks

  3. Howdy again,

    We were hoping for an update. We haven’t found an undate for the two stations in Nebraska. The last update was June 22, and 28, 2011. What is the latest? We’re sure everything is okay, but we’d like the NRC to take a moment for re-assurance. Often, the media moves on to other stories. As far as I’ve heard the river levels have not fallen in NW Missouri. Please give us the latest. Thank you NRC.
    Sincerely, Anzalone

  4. In 2004, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed its latest hydrology studies/dam break analyses for six dams on the Missouri River, to re-evaluate the flooding associated with the Missouri River, which led to the NRC inspections at Ft. Calhoun in 2009 that ultimately resulted in the enhanced flood protection in use now. The USACE reports had found that the flooding level originally used for site preparations were too conservative. The NRC staff requested data from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the Dam Break Analyses associated with 6 dams on the Missouri River to do follow up verifications of the analyses based on the yellow inspection finding at Ft Calhoun associated with inadequate flooding procedures. In summary, the staff is verifying the modeling data to ensure that there are no inconsistencies.

  5. Why did you wait until now to request Dam Break Analysis for Missouri River Main Stem System? It is too late for the NRC to do an assessment for specific flooding conditions at Fort Calhoun Station and Cooper Nuclear Power Plant and verification of the licensee’s PRA analyses.

  6. The Ft. Calhoun made the additional flood preparations the NRC identified from inspections in 2009, and these additional preparations are now in place and the plant (including its spent fuel pool) remains stable and safe. The plant had been in a previously scheduled refueling outage prior to the flooding, and the plant has opted to remain in this outage until river levels fall.

  7. It appears from the article that one of the shutdown plant has not completed the modifications for flood protection up to NRC requirements and remains shutdown, probably defuelled. We learned from Fukushima accident that continuous cooling of the used fuel pool is important. can you comment on its status?

  8. Excellent article. One of our band mates used to be a nuclear reactor operator. About 8 years ago, he wrote a song called “Time-Distance-Shielding”. Very timely song. Check it out on You Tube: “time distance shielding jacoby and SNS_0001.wmv”.

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