Flooding in Nebraska Threatens Nuclear Power Plants

Posted by in Environment, News

From: The Progressive

By Matthew Rothschild, June 22, 2011

The sight of a nuclear power plant in Nebraska surrounded by the rising waters of the flooding Missouri River is cause for alarm, to say the least.

Just 19 miles from Omaha, the Fort Calhoun plant had been warned back in October by the NRC that it had inadequate flood plans in place, and that flooding could cause damage to the plant’s core.

Even as the water levels have risen all around the plant, its operators claim there’s no problem. “This is not something out of the ordinary,” said Jeff Hanson, spokesman for the Omaha Public Power District.

That’s one of the sillier comments I’ve ever seen, since the flooding is at record levels. And the New York Times reports that “water levels at the Fort Calhoun Station rose 1,006 feet above sea level Monday,” and that the reactor “is protected against floods that reach 1,014 feet.”

“Not everything is fine,” says Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s energy program. “We’re inches away from a nuclear plant being flooded. It’s already an island. And we still have a very real possibility of flood levels rising.”

Slocum says the operators are reaching “the upper levels” of their emergency flood assumptions, adding: “There’s always the possibility of the situation escalating, especially when we don’t control all the variables. That’s what happened in Japan.”

Slocum recognizes that it would still be possible to bring in back-up power generation in case the plant’s own systems are destroyed, unlike in Japan. But that doesn’t mean that everything is copasetic.

“There’s no question that there’s significant concern about the threat that rising flood waters pose to flooding certain operations of the plant that could disable certain critical safety features, including cooling systems,” Slocum says.

Another nuclear power plant in Nebraska, the Cooper Nuclear Station, is also in a flood zone, and the rising waters are causing worries there, too, Slocum says.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if this were a wind farm or if this were a solar power installation,” Slocum notes. “Nuclear power inherently poses enormous risks to our communities. We really have to start questioning whether nuclear power should be a viable part of our 21st century energy mix.”