River Levels on the Rise – The NRC At The Ready

Lara Uselding
Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

NEW UPDATE: Currently, river levels are at 1000 feet 6 inches with levels not expected to increase more than a few inches over the next 24 hours. OPPD is returning the plant to full power. NRC inspectors provided around the clock coverage through last weekend and the agency will continue closely monitoring plant operations and river conditions.

UPDATE: Fort Calhoun began decreasing power at midnight, and is currently holding at a reduced power level. The river level is now predicted to crest at 1,002.4 feet on Saturday, which is lower than previously predicted. For comparison, the 2011 flood peaked at about 1,007 feet. Three people from Region IV will begin around the clock coverage today in support of the resident inspectors.

Three years ago this month marks the anniversary of the record Missouri river floods. Now, due to heavy rains, the NRC is once again watching rising Missouri River levels impacting Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant,  north of Omaha.

Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville is not anticipating a major impact this weekend.

Fort Calhoun’s procedure requires them to declare a Notice of Unusual Event and be shut down by the time river levels at the site reach 1,004 feet mean sea level. Thursday afternoon, river levels were at 998 and rising. Normally, river levels at the site range from 980 to 990 feet mean sea level.

Over the past week, NRC’s Region IV in Arlington, Texas, has been engaged in routine calls with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, states, and local response organizations to understand changes in the predicted river levels and assess potential impacts on the plants. 

Simultaneously, the NRC has been overseeing actions that Omaha Public Power District (Fort Calhoun) and Nebraska Public Power District (Cooper) are taking to protect the plant against impending flood waters. At this time, river levels at Cooper are not projected to be high enough to require a plant shutdown.

OPPD’s actions involve the use of sand bags, flood doors, and readying mobile pumps as river levels are projected to rise. They have also ordered equipment to protect certain buildings on site. NRC resident inspectors, who live in the area and work at the plant, have been monitoring the flood preparations.

The NRC is sending more staff to the plant to support the resident inspectors and provide around the clock coverage. During the 2011 flood, river levels at Fort Calhoun reached about 1007 feet and the plant remained in a safe shutdown condition. The plant restarted late last year only after extensive flooding improvements and other safety upgrades mandated by the NRC. Fort Calhoun remains under increased NRC regulatory oversight.

Region IV will continue monitoring the situation for both plants over the weekend.



Author: Moderator

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

13 thoughts on “River Levels on the Rise – The NRC At The Ready”

  1. Flooding is the last thing you will ever want there. I wish everything will be fine.

  2. How many NRC folks does it really take to make a nuclear plant safe?
    I feel much safer now that not one, not two, but three additional NRC folks are at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station. These are in addition to the two resident NRC inspectors assigned full-time to the plant. This will now allow the NRC to have a representative at the site 24/7. Yes I feel better but isn’t this really blatant window-dressing by the Commission? If more NRC folks at the site make things safer we should have over 40 inspectors at each site. There are around 100 nuclear power reactors and over 4200 NRC employees. The simple truth is that the number of NRC employees we really need at each site is zero. Each nuclear plant can handle things just fine. All NRC inspectors do is get in the way of qualified plant operators doing their job. The only time the NRC ever acts it is to come down on a plant after they screw up. They then do an awesome job of dog-piling on the rabbit.

  3. Gosh, I will be able to sleep tonight knowing that there will be not one, not two, but three additional NRC folks at Fort Calhoun Station soon. This plant is perfectly able to handle the situation without any “help” from the NRC. Just more NRC folks getting in the way of qualified plant operators trying to do their job. Just another self-serving piece of NRC propaganda unleashed by its PR department.

  4. You are spot on! The nuke plants would be the least of our worries if dams on the Missouri
    river failed. These dams are relatively unprotected from terrorism. The nuclear plants themselves are hardened sites by comparison. The NRC is working to help ensure these plants would survive such a casualty.
    However, data on the consequences of dam failure flooding is not being released to the public. Why are nuke plants being given this data and not other groups with a profound need to know so that they can protect public health and safety? These groups include FEMA, state, county, and local emergency responders for starters. If just how bad this flooding would be was common knowledge then folks would insist that appropriate action was taken. These actions might include greatly enhancing security at these vulnerable dams; maintaining or upgrading the physical condition of these aging dams; and making sure emergency flooding plans were adequate to help cope with such a catastrophe.
    This is an urgent matter of national security. Cloaking this matter in secrecy may result in it not getting the attention it really deserves.

  5. Yes that certainly would be a catastrophe. Surely thousands would be killed by the flooding that would ensue. However, the casualties, if any, stemming from any nuclear accident would pale in comparison.

  6. Forecasts from NWS have revised the predicted crest to about 3 feet lower than the above prediction.

  7. Sorry to hear this.
    Now would be a terrible time for one or more upstream earthen dams to fail. The failure of any one of the upstream dams on the Missouri River would result in a cascade dam failure of all those dams downstream. Not only would Fort Calhoun & Cooper Stations be affected but it would be the worst man-made disaster in US history. Makes these dams a prime terrorist target.

  8. Unfortunately I cannot Don. The NRC struck the 46-foot number from the public docket. So much for regulatory openness and transparency. Perhaps the NRC moderator can give us the link to the censured document.

  9. “Several years ago the NRC calculated that a 46-foot wall of water would surge down the Missouri River basin if a dam failed.”

    And you can provide the ADAMS accession number for said document? (love the inflated monikers on this blog)

  10. The NRC and the Corps have information on just how bad the flooding would be if an upstream dam or two would fail. Trouble is they are not sharing that info with the public.
    Several years ago the NRC calculated that a 46-foot wall of water would surge down the Missouri River basin if a dam failed.

  11. Flooding is one thing but dam/levy failures present a entirely different “threat” to NPP because Fukushima proved Nature can destroy any land based nuclear reactor, any place anytime 24/7…

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