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Open letter to readers: Today and tomorrow

By Lynda Waddington | 11.17.11

Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.

ACS lockout continues; plan emerges to repeal sugar protections

By Virginia Chamlee | 11.15.11

A recently introduced bill could have far-reaching impact on the U.S. sugar industry, including American Crystal Sugar, a farmer-owned cooperative that locked out 1,300 Midwest workers on Aug. 1.

Cain campaign: Farmers know more about regulations than EPA

By Andrew Duffelmeyer | 11.15.11

The chairman for Herman Cain’s Iowa effort says the campaign “relied more on the word of farmers than Washington regulators” in deciding to run an ad containing claims the Environmental Protection Agency says are false.

Mathis wins, Democrats maintain Senate control

Liz Mathis
By Lynda Waddington | 11.08.11

The Iowa Senate will remain under the control of a slim 26-25 Democratic majority when it reconvenes in January 2012.

Press Release

PR: Nation should work to address veterans’ challenges

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

BRUCE BRALEY RELEASE — As US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ends, it’s more important than ever that our nation works to address the challenges faced by the men and women who fought there.

PR: Honoring veterans, help in hiring

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

CHUCK GRASSLEY RELEASE — A difficult job market is challenging the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have protected America’s interests by serving in the Armed Forces.

PR: In honor of America’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

TOM LATHAM RELEASE — No one has done more to secure the freedom enjoyed by every single American than our veterans and those currently serving in the armed services.

PR: Honoring and supporting our nation’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

DAVE LOEBSACK RELEASE — Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the service of generations of veterans and to honor the sacrifices they and their families have made so that we may live in peace and freedom here at home.

View of the AquaDam on the northwest side of Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station. The dam burst early Sunday morning. (Photo: Omaha Public Power District)
View of the AquaDam on the northwest side of Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station. The dam burst early Sunday morning. (Photo: Omaha Public Power District)

Added flood protection at Nebraska nuclear plant fails

Officials remain confident plant can sustain flood's onslaught
By Lynda Waddington | 06.27.11 | 12:03 pm

A concerning situation near Omaha, Neb. took a new twist early Sunday when a temporary levee protecting the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station failed, forcing the facility to turn briefly to emergency generated power.

Two Nebraska nuclear stations — Cooper near Brownville and Calhoun near Blair (19 miles north of Omaha) — are coping with ongoing Missouri River flooding. Although Cooper was built above the flood plain, Calhoun was not. As a result, Cooper continues to operate, while Calhoun, which shut down for refueling in April, remains offline.

By mid-June, when this photograph was taken, flood waters from the Missouri River had surrounded the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station. (Photo: Omaha Public Power District)

Workers with Omaha Public Power District, owners and operators of Calhoun, had placed a massive AquaDam around the structure and its other flood protection systems. The AquaDam, a tube structure filled with water that was eight-feet tall and 16-feet wide, was punctured early Sunday morning during onsite work.

“Some mechanical equipment tore the side of the dam,” Victor Dricks, Region 4 spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told The Iowa Independent Monday by phone. “As a result, the plant switched to emergency power for a period of a about 12 hours.”

NRC inspectors were onsite when the incident occurred, and flood waters rushed auxiliary and other buildings at the site. The power supply was cut because water infiltrated the plant’s main electrical transformers. Power has since been switched away from emergency generators and to an off-site power supply.

Keeping power at the plant is critical since the reactor core has been refueled and spent fuel remains in a cooling pool. Dricks said the failure of the dam did not adversely impact either the core or the cooling pool. Dry cask storage of spent fuel has long been exposed to the flood waters and, as Dricks told The Iowa Independent last week, poses no risk.

Other, more solid berms were located inside the area also being protected by the AquaDam. Those protections are holding with minor seepage and, of course, additional rainfall being pumped away from the structure and back into the river.

“We do not expect the river would rise to a level that would threaten the cooling pool or the core,” Dricks said.

The Calhoun plant was built at 1,004 feet mean sea level, and can sustain flood waters up to 1,014 feet. On Sunday, when the dam broke, the Missouri River was at roughly 1,006.5 feet near the Calhoun station. If floodwaters reach 1,009 feet, the plant would likely switch from the lowest level of emergency status (where it has been since June 6) to the second of four emergency levels. Based on the latest figures given by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is gauging the release of water from dams upstream, flooding near Calhoun should peak at 1,008 feet.

In addition, workers at Calhoun are adding to the height of existing levees, hoping to strengthen the existing structures before waters rise near their peak of 1,011 feet.

As The Iowa Independent previously reported, both Cooper and Calhoun have stockpiled supplies of fuel for emergency generator power. Dricks said Monday that arrangements had been made for even more fuel to arrive by boat or aircraft if needed, both for the emergency generators and for pumps removing water from inside the levees.

Worst-case scenario plans are also in place if floodwaters should reach 1,014 feet, breech the levee and prohibit further use of emergency generators. In that highly unlikely circumstance, plant officials would tap into power lines running above the facility and/or utilize secondary backup generators housed at 1,036 feet.

Before floodwaters could flow into the cooling pool the river would need to rise to an incredibly unprecedented 1,038.5 feet.

Much of the good fortune at the plant during this crisis has been the result of earlier inspections by regulatory officials that revealed several imperfections in relation to flood preparedness at the plant. Because of the inspections and subsequent work by OPPD officials, many of problems that could have spelled catastrophe during this flood have been mitigated. OPPD workers first began flood prevention activities during the weekend of May 21.

Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the NRC, toured Cooper late last week, and indicated that the plant was operating safely and according to standards. Jaczko is scheduled to be at the Fort Calhoun site Monday for an official plant inspection at that location.

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  • Anonymous

    Good grief! Sounds to me like disaster will occur, perhaps not this time, but it is a disaster waiting to happen. Levees, remember Katrina? Who in this world thinks that the levees would be repaired or strengthened. Remember America is broke, we are busy using our treasury nation building overseas. 

  • Howard Garrett

    From the point of view of the plant’s owners, and the whole nuclear power industry, the worst disaster would be bad news about the inevitable risks of using nuclear power. Even if nuclear plants are 99% safe, that 1% failure can radiate hundreds of square miles so nobody can live there, and there is no safe plan for storage of hot used fuel rods. Look out Omaha. We need to think our way out of that box along with so many others we’ve put ourselves in.

    • Anonymous

      All sources of power production are hazardous to some extent.nuclear power is the safest and cleanest. Liberals are only scaring people W/BS

      • Anonymous

        Oops ans.  yucca mtn.

      • Anonymous

        *snork*  Right.  Because those destructive renegade windmills are killing millions as they march across the Midwest, leaving a wake of apocalypse behind them that dwarfs any potential nuclear exposure!

        Oh, wait.  No, they’re not.  They’re rotating gently.  I guess if you have vertigo, that might be…mildly disruptive.  Otherwise, they’re kind of restful.

  • Anonymous

    This is exactly what we’ve been warned for before.
    WHEN are we going to switch to a better world?!
    (Not ‘if’ but ‘when’..)

  • Eric Straatsma

    So let me understand this correctly. First they said the river would never flood the plant, because 4 dams protected from that.. Well, the river flooded the plant, causing the FIRST EMERGENCY situation. Except for NRC suggested flood protection measures, which were just completed prior to the flood, it would have spelled disaster.

    2nd EMERGENCY. Then a fire broke out a few days ago at the plant, causing another EMERGENCY situation, requiring evacuation of the whole plant, and loss of power for some time.. They say it was not related to the flood, but released no details of what caused the fire.. Was it rats, cats or gophers? This is not supposed to happen either, but it did. What if there had been an active  reactor going, instead of it being shut down, what would have happened? 

    Now the THIRD EMERGENCY. The emergency backup system berm that kept the plant from flooding was knocked out by some piece of equipment, which put a hole in it.. Huh? Again, this was NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN, but it did. Now water is surrounding the buildings themselves and the water from the flood shorted out the main transformers supplying power to the whole complex. 

    The plant worked on diesel backup generators for awhile, but no reports on how the onsite generators worked, did not work, etc.. So now they are operating the pumps with OUTSIDE POWER, as a backup to the backup systems at the plant.. The Flood has knocked out or disabled THREE EMERGENCY BACKUP Systems, and except for heroic measures, this plant would be toast right now. 

     I am assuming they went with outside power because diesel generators are not reliable and batteries would have failed quickly anyway, even if they are not flooded and shorted out. 

    They are saying that they are prepared with a FIFTH EMERGENCY BACKUP system, which is good, but it shows how Nature operates.. You cannot rely on just two or three backup systems… You better have five or more. Even then, it is still risky business when humans are added to the mix, Murphy’s Law and all that. 

    So what level of EMERGENCY are we at right now? Is this a Category 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or more? No one is saying, and no one seems to care? I am grateful there is any news at all coming out about this, as the first reports of the fire and evacuation and loss of power are not in the news, and a no fly zone was put in place. I figured this all would be covered up forever. 

    Can we really afford this risky business? This is hopefully as far as it goes, but with Mother Nature and imperfect humans involved, who knows? 

    Good luck with that plant.. In my book, it is not worth it. I would much rather see money put into hydrogen power, solar, wind, geothermal and other safer forms of non carbon energy production. Where there is a will, there is a way.. 

    • Brad Garday

      Hydrogen, Solar, Wind, Hydroelectric, and Geothermal.  Agree 1000%

    • Anonymous

      And we get better and more efficient as we utilize technology more.  Phones didn;t start shrinking until people wanted to put them in their pockets…

  • dra

    Visited the Calhoun plant with a college class a bit over a year ago.  Their PR people gave us an “Overture, curtains, lights.  This is it.  We’ll hit the heights and oh what heights we’ll hit…on with the show this is it!”  Yadayadayada stuff.  I was not impressed, but they really laid on the “Don’t worry boys and girls.  We’ve got it all covered.  Ain’t we grand!”  So I asked, yeah, but what if…?  And they said we’ve got backups.  And I asked, but what if your backups fail?  And they said, the backups have backups.  And I asked, what if that backup fails?  I just kept going down the line–my students rolling their eyes, taken in by the coolness of it all–and finally, for the coup de grace, I asked and what do you do with all the waste?  They ignored me.

    Back in Missouri, afterwards, some of my students thought I laid it on pretty thick and should have been more courteous to our hosts.  They were miffed by the discomfort they felt during my questioning.  So I said to them, tough s&%t, and that I was disappointed in them.  I wish I had them around to ask if they’d “feel comfortable” visiting the plant right now.

    • Anonymous

      Good for you.  The greater the potential for disastrous failure, the more scrutiny these facilities should be given.  And they should be able to meet the “what ifs” with contingency plans, not a chorus line of spin.

    • Anonymous

       I hope your not a TEACHER   

      • A D

        Where is Dean Wormer when you need him?

      • Anonymous

        @JBinGB…uh, what?  Do you… do you SEE the post you just made?  You do understand that it makes you look like a complete idiot, right?

  • Anonymous

    Why would whatever regulatory powers allow a nuclear facility to be built in a flood plain?

    • LyndaWaddington

      If you look at the plants, most are built by water because they need to use the water, especially to disperse heat waste.

      Here’s a PDF from the Union of Concern Scientists that tells more:

      • Anonymous

        Thanks, Lynda!

      • Anonymous

        Very informative.  I hadn’t realized what a wasteful method of production this was…I kind of assumed they harnessed the ‘waste heat’ in some beneficial way, rather than disturbing the local ecology.

        The more I learn about nuclear, the more I like wind, geo, solar….

    • IowaExpat

      Probably the same ones that approved the placement of
      nuclear plants in earthquake and tsunami zones in Japan.

  • Anonymous

    I saw some pics. the other day of Hiroshima as it is today.Liberals would have you believe that nothing could be there for thousands of years.Total  BS  Only 60 years ago!!  C/K it out   You would not believe, got to see for yourself 

    • Godd

      So you are saying it is okay to nuke Nebraska or what? What does your comment have to do with this story?

    • Anonymous

      Actually, Hiroshima continued to be occupied, and was rebuilt fairly quickly. Lots of people died of radiation-related illnesses.  But it’s the wrong analogue.  

      You need to look at Chernobyl and Fukushima.  The cost to these areas in terms of lives, property, and money was/is enormous.  Per Wikipedia, “ A Russian publication, Chernobyl, concludes that 985,000 excess deaths occurred between 1986 and 2004 as a result of radioactive contamination.[13] The 2011 report of the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) calculates a total of 1.4 million.[14]”

      Shrugging and saying, “Oh, it’ll be fine in 60 years” doesn’t make the immediate risk go away.  I’d like to stay in my home.  I’d like to not have cancer.  I’d like to continue being able to drive through Omaha.  I’d like my tax dollars not to go to an expensive attempt to ameliorate catastrophic contamination.  And I’d like very much for there to be no hefty death tolls in the name of ‘cheaper’ energy.

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