Dirty Energy & Fuel

Published on June 19th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan

Electrical Fire Knocks Out Spent Fuel Cooling Pool at Nebraska Nuclear Plant

Update concerning current “Notification of Unusual Event” for a separate Nebraska nuclear power plant on the bottom of this post (in italics), and a featured reader comment.

Well, it doesn’t seem to be turning into the crisis that we have at the Fukushima reactors in Japan right now, but this is concerning.

Truthout reported the following this week:

A fire in an electrical switch room on Tuesday briefly knocked out cooling for a pool holding spent nuclear fuel at the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant outside Omaha, Neb., plant officials said….

As ProPublica reported earlier, fire safety is a continuing concern at the country’s 104 commercial reactors, as is the volume of spent fuel piling up at plants….

Officials at Fort Calhoun said the situation at their plant came nowhere near to Fukushima’s. They said it would have taken 88 hours for the heat produced by the fuel to boil away the cooling water.

Workers restored cooling in about 90 minutes, and plant officials said the temperature in the pool only increased by two degrees.

The fire, reported at 9:30 a.m., led to the loss of electrical power for the system that circulates cooling water through the spent fuel pool, according to a report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A chemical fire suppression system discharged, and the plant’s fire brigade cleared smoke from the room and reported that the fire was out at 10:20 a.m., the NRC said.

Well, good that it wasn’t worse than it was, but goes to show that things aren’t exactly as safe as should be in the U.S. when it comes to nuclear power plants and spent fuel pools either.

Coincidentally, back at the end of March, there were warnings about the safety level of this particular nuclear power plant.

“Fort Calhoun’s nuclear power plant is one of three reactors across the country that federal regulators said they are most concerned about,” KETV 7 in Omaha reported.

“Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said Fort Calhoun’s reactor is operating safely, but it’s still on the shortlist because they want to make sure it’s prepared to handle major emergencies, like flooding.”

The regulator’s only real interest seemed to be preparing the plant for flooding.

“We’re not worried about it on a daily basis, we think it’s very safe,” local resident Sue Harsin ironically (in retrospect) said at the time.

Update (June 19), from NCNewsPress:

Cooper Nuclear Station, an electric power plant in southeast Nebraska, declared a “Notification of Unusual Event” this morning at 4:02 a. m. The declaration was anticipated throughout Saturday by the power plant’s operators, who closely tracked the river’s steady increase in elevation due to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ releases from dams upstream.

The notification 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.

Here’s a featured reader comment from morning of June 20:

There is radiation in the water there now. Cooper wasn’t shut down as flood waters rise (at least 5′ more w/no more rain is coming from snow melt and past spring rains, thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes are yet to arrive for days, and weeks ahead. This is our Fukushima. Watch it unfold.

Related Stories on Planetsave:

  1. Japan Earthquake Triggered Volcano Eruption In Russia?
  2. Canadian Nuclear Plant Leaks Radioactive Water Into Lake Ontario

Photo via Marylise Doctrinal


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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009.

Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity.

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