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.
NRC: Situation at nuclear plants looks worse than it is
Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has toured both Nebraska nuclear stations threatened by flooding and his agency says that the situation, especially from the air, looks much worse than it actually is.Jaczko visited the Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, Neb. on Sunday, and visited the flood-besieged Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station near Blair, Neb. on Monday. The Chairman also took an aerial tour over the Fort Calhoun facility. He came, according to NRC officials, to check in with full-time NRC staff who work at the plants as well as reinforcement staff the agency sent to the sites, to speak with plant officials and local workers and to inspect flood protections taken at each facility.
Speaking specifically about Fort Calhoun, which is taking a much harder hit by recent flooding, NRC Public Affairs Officer Eliot Brenner said, “the pictures from the helicopter tour .. 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 dray, despite the fact workers wearing hip-high waders pulling boats laden with equipment walk through three-plus feet of water around the plant’s perimeter.
There is a quarter-mile metal catwalk for workers at the Calhoun site, equipped with life preservers in case of a misstep, which continues to allow access to the plant. Stationed nearby are two tanker trucks with diesel fuel for “the huge diesel generators tucked safely into watertight compartments deep within the plant.”
While speaking directly with workers at Calhoun and reminding them that this flood crisis will be a marathon and not a sprint, Jaczko said, “You seem to be preparing yourselves to deal with those challenges and that’s good to see. In the end, the challenge is yours.” Flooding near the plants is expected to continue for several weeks.
Seeing plant preparations and the flood in person, he told members of the press, was important.
“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,” Jaczko said. “When you get down close and really see the flow, you recognize this is not a trivial thing.”
Workers at both stations, he said, have taken preparations seriously and appear well-equipped to continue to cope with the excess floodwaters.
“Water levels are at a place where the plant [workers] can deal with them,” Jaczko said. “The risk is really very low that something could go wrong.
“Right now the plants are safe.”
Rainfall and melting snow have forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release water at rates nearly double those of old records from several reservoirs upstream. The Corps anticipates that the unprecedented flow will continue through July and into August, and that communities down river will experience weeks of subsequent flooding.
Although the situation is the worst seen in the area for more than 50 years — prior to when a series of dams were put in place — Jaczko reassured members of the media that there has been no “nuclear releases or any accident” of that type, and that public safety is being protected.
OPPD, owners and operators of the Calhoun station initially installed an AquaDam as an additional layer of flood protection. That unit — an eight-foot high and 16-foot wide tube filled with water — was punctured early Sunday morning, forcing the plant to switch to emergency generator power for roughly 12 hours. The AquaDam was an additional layer of protection, according to OPPD officials, and the plant continues to be protected by other flood protection mechanisms.
All vital systems, say NRC officials, are protected from flood waters, which are not expected to crest above what is manageable by existing flood protection. Dry storage casks for spent fuel rods, which officials have said pose no threat, were not encased within flood barriers.
OPPD continue to work with federal regulation officials to keep the vital reactor core, recently refueled, and a cooling pool for spent fuel rods safe from the ongoing flood. The plants have multiple back-up systems in place to ensure that electrical systems needed to keep the fuel cool will continue to function.
With the specter of the March incident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan looming large, and current threats to nuclear power in the U.S. from floods and wildfires, some U.S. Senators are requesting a formal congressional investigation of safety standards and oversight of the nation’s 104 facilities.