Nuclear power plant incident in Nebraska?

June 19, 2011

A Pakistani newspaper, The Nation, should not be confused with the U.S. magazine of the same name, as I originally did.

Late Friday The Nation questioned an alleged news blackout around an incident at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant outside of Omaha, Nebraska:

A shocking report prepared by Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency (FAAE) on information provided to them by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states that the Obama regime has ordered a “total and complete” news blackout relating to any information regarding the near catastrophic meltdown of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant located in Nebraska.

According to this report, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant suffered a “catastrophic loss of cooling” to one of its idle spent fuel rod pools on 7 June after this plant was deluged with water caused by the historic flooding of the Missouri River which resulted in a fire causing the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to issue a “no-fly ban” over the area.

Located about 20 minutes outside downtown Omaha, the largest city in Nebraska, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant is owned by Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) who on their website denies their plant is at a “Level 4” emergency by stating: “This terminology is not accurate, and is not how emergencies at nuclear power plants are classified.”

So, we have some questions to deal with:

  1. Is there a serious incident at the Fort Calhoun facility?
  2. Has anyone ordered a news blackout, and if so, why?
  3. Is it likely that a Pakistani newspaper relying on Russian sources can better report on a nuclear power plant in Nebraska than, say, the local Omaha newspaper?

As much as we might like to give The Nation a chance at being accurate, how likely is it that a U.S. president could order a complete revocation of emergency safety plans for a nuclear facility, when, by law and regulation, those plans are designed to protect the public?  The story smells bad from the start, just on government processes in the U.S.

The Nation, Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, nuclear power plant

This is the photograph used by The Nation to illustrate its online article claiming a meltdown at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power station in Nebraska. It shows a flooded nuclear power station, Fort Calhoun we might assume. Is it? Does the photograph show any problem besides the flooding?

The Russian report is too strong, probably.  First, there’s no news blackout, as evidenced by local reporting.  Second, our American “be-too-conservative-by-a-factor-of-ten” safety standards make piffles sound like major problems.  The story’s being filtered through a Pakistani newspaper should give us further pause in taking things at face value.

According to the local Nebraska newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, the Fort Calhoun facility powered down on April 9 for refueling.  Because of the pending floods, it was not yet refired up.  A powered-down reactor is unlikely to melt down.

O W-H, Nebraska’s largest and most venerated newspaper, reports on a second problem at a second nuclear plant.  Reports on the second “incident” give a clear view into just how careful U.S. plants are usually operated:

Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, Neb., declared a “Notification of Unusual Event” about 4 a.m. Sunday when the Missouri River there reached a height of 42.5 feet.

The declaration, which has been anticipated by the power plant’s operators, was made as part of safety and emergency preparedness plan the station follows when flooding conditions are in effect.

The plan’s procedures dictate when the Missouri River’s water level reaches 42.5 feet, or greater than 899 feet above sea level, a notification of unusual event is declared. If the river’s level increases to 45.5 feet or 902 feet above sea level, plant operators are instructed take the station offline as a safety measure.

An earlier story at the O W-H dealt specifically with issues at Fort Calhoun, and the flooding — again suggesting there is little danger from that facility.

FORT CALHOUN, Neb. — Despite the stunning sight of the Fort Calhoun nuclear reactor surrounded by water and the weeks of flooding that lie ahead, the plant is in a safe cold shutdown and can remain so indefinitely, the reactor’s owners and federal regulators say.

“We think they’ve taken adequate steps to protect the plant and to assure continued safety,” Victor Dricks, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Thursday.

Tim Burke, vice president at Omaha Public Power District, said the plant’s flood barriers are being built to a level that will protect against rain and the release of record amounts of water from upstream dams on the Missouri River.

“We don’t see any concerns around the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station,” Burke said at a briefing in Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle’s office.

The nuclear plant, 20 miles north of Omaha, was shut down April 9 for refueling. It has not been restarted because of the imminent flooding.

Who do we believe, a Russian report issued more than 6,000 miles from Nebraska, reported in a newspaper in Pakistan, or the local reporters on the beat?

Fort Calhoun nuclear generating plant, flooded by the Missouri River, on June 17, 2011 - Photo by Matt Miller, Omaha  World-Herald

Photo caption from the Omaha World-Herald: "The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station from the air Thursday. OPPD was putting the finishing touches on federally ordered flood-defense improvements before flooding began. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD"

More, other resources:

UPDATE, June 20, 2011:  Let’s call it a hoax

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to call the claims of a serious accident, emergency and potential disaster at the Fort Calhoun site, a hoax.  The Russian report — if it exists — may not have been intended as a hoax, but coupled with filtering through the credulous and gullible foreign press (we’re looking at you, Pakistan’s The Nation), it has risen to hoax level, to be debunked.  Sure, you should be concerned about safety and security at Fort Calhoun and Cooper — but you should be concerned about safety and security at every nuclear power plant around the world, all the time.  This may be a good time for you to reread John McPhee’s brilliant Curve of Binding Energy.  It’s dated — Ted Taylor died October 28, 2004  (was his autobiography ever published?) — but still accurate and informative, plus, any excuse to read any work of McPhee is a great one.


Follow Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub on Twitter

June 19, 2011

Look to the column at the right, and you may notice that I’ve added a widget so you can subscribe to my posts and other ramblings on Twitter.

Missing the boat?  Facebook accounts fell last month in the U.S., suggesting social media may have peaked here.  I’ve had no great luck getting students to subscribe to my classroom blog’s Twitter account.  (“I don’t want to get reminders of tests and quizzes!  They depress me.”).

But let’s see what happens.  Before I did anything more than set up the account we snagged a couple of followers.

Maybe that was pure accident and they’ll bail out, now.

I’ll work to tweet on each post, and maybe a few other things I find from time to time.

Subscribe if you wish:


Gotta know some history — and myth — to get the joke: Greece’s financial crisis

June 19, 2011

From the highly-respected Borowitz Report:

Greece Offers to Repay Loans with Giant Horse

Steed Wheeled Into Brussels at Night

Trojan Horse, image via Borowitz Report

BRUSSELS (The Borowitz Report) – In what many are hailing as a breakthrough solution to Greece’s crippling debt crisis, Greece today offered to repay loans from the European Union nations by giving them a gigantic horse.

Finance ministers from sixteen EU nations awoke in Brussels this morning to find that a huge wooden horse had been wheeled into the city center overnight.

Sometimes I think we could do better than some of the state standards if we just used a New Yorker  cartoon standard:  Kids will be considered educated when they can explain all the cartoons in four consecutive issues of The New Yorker, and tell why they are funny.

In the same piece, Borowitz digs at Palin’s supporters and al-Qaeda’s new CEO.  It’s worth the click.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,332 other followers

%d bloggers like this: