Floodwaters Surge At Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant After Floodwall Fails

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We hadn't previously discussed the situation at the Fort Calhoun, Nebraska nuclear power plant, as there was still a possibility that it was containable, and the deterioration had been largely blown out of proportion. Alas now that the Missouri River flood waters have penetrated the last ditch water-filled wall, and have since surrounded the  containment buildings and other vital areas of a Nebraska nuclear plant, it may be time to get a little more concerned. As Reuters reports, "The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said the breach in the 2,000-foot (600 meters) inflatable berm around the Fort Calhoun station occurred around 1:25 a.m. local time. More than 2 feet (60 cm) of water rushed in around containment buildings and electrical transformers at the 478-megawatt facility located 20 miles (30 km) north of Omaha." Naturally, the severity of the situation is being downplayed by the NRC, very much the way Tepco and Japanese authorities pretended the Fukushima situation was under control, until it was uncovered that there had been plant meltdown within hours of the tsunami: "Reactor shutdown cooling and spent-fuel pool cooling were unaffected, the NRC said. The plant, operated by the Omaha Public Power District, has been off line since April for refueling." That's one version of the story. A far better one would be calling up the Octogenarian of Omaha and upon getting voicemail, inquiring in what part of the world he is currently residing until the Fort Calhoun situation is actually fixed. To everyone else, we would merely suggest they copycat Buffet, especially after seeing the picture of the plant below (taken June 16, which means the situation now is far worse), which makes the flooding at Fukushima look tame by comparison.

More from Reuters:

Crews activated emergency diesel generators after the breach, but restored normal electrical power by Sunday afternoon, the NRC said.

Buildings at the Fort Calhoun plant are watertight, the agency said. It noted that the cause of the berm breach is under investigation.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko and other officials planned to visit the site on Monday.

Jaczko will also visit the Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, Nebraska, another facility that has been watched closely with Missouri River waters rising from heavy rains and snow melt.

And some more from the Omaha World Herald:

“We put up the aqua-berm as additional protection,” said OPPD spokesman Mike Jones. “(The plant) is in the same situation it would have been in if the berm had not been added. We're still within NRC regulations.”

According to the NRC, the berm was eight-feet tall and 16-feet wide at the base. It was designed to provide protection for the plant's "powerblock" for up to six feet of water. Crews will look at whether it can be patched, OPPD officials said.

On Sunday, floodwater surrounded the nuclear plant's main electrical transformers, and power was transferred to emergency diesel generators.

OPPD officials said the transfer was precautionary because of water leaking around the concrete berm surrounding the main transformers.

Efforts were underway to reconnect to offsite power once all safety checks have been completed.

The floodwaters also surrounded auxiliary and containment buildings, which are designed to handle water up to 1,014 feet above sea level. The Missouri River is at 1,006.3 feet and isn't expected to exceed 1008 feet.

Once again, the NRC is here to save the day:

The NRC says its inspectors were at the plant when the berm failed and have confirmed that the flooding has had no impact on the reactor shutdown cooling or the spent fuel pool cooling.

In a statement released Wednesday, the NRC said there is a separate, earthen berm to protect the electrical switchyard and a concrete barrier surrounding electrical transformers.

Last week, the NRC augmented its inspection staff at Fort Calhoun. In addition to the two resident inspectors, three more inspectors and a branch chief were added to provide around the clock coverage of plant activities.

Both Fort Calhoun and Cooper Nuclear Plant, in Brownville, Neb., remain under “unusual event” declarations, the lowest of four levels of emergency notification.

Naturally, by the time the "unusual event" declarations escalate, it just may be too late.

That said, we urge readers situated in the vicinity to carefully consider their relocation alternatives, and until there is further clarity on the NPP flood, to possibly shift to safer environs.