Dirty Energy & Fuel

Published on June 28th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan

Nebraska Nuclear Situation Gets Worse

Well, it’s no Fukushima, but the concerning news from Nebraska, where one (Calhoun) nuclear power plant is shut down and waiting for flood waters to recede to start up again (something that may not be until the Fall) and another (Cooper nuclear power plant) has mostly been in operation but is under threat as well now. The news is that, yesterday, a dam (or AquaDam) built around the Cooper nuclear power plant and other flood protection systems broke. And that may just be a sign of things to come….

AquaDam Around Cooper Nuclear Power Plant Breaks

“The AquaDam, a tube structure filled with water that was eight-feet tall and 16-feet wide, was punctured early Sunday morning during onsite work,” the Iowa Independent writes.

“Some mechanical equipment tore the side of the dam,” Victor Dricks, Region 4 spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said today. “As a result, the plant switched to emergency power for a period of about 12 hours.”

Unfortunately, while those connected to the nuclear plant and nuclear industry keep telling us there is nothing to worry about, this is not quite convincing yet.

Engineer Ron Freeman writes (regarding the flooding Missouri River): “the Army Corps of Engineers state that less than 1/3 of the upstream water has been released and heavy rains continue.”

Yes, more water is a comin’, and it seems the people in charge of protecting the nuclear power plant are struggling to deal with the water already flowing in. And other possibilities (dams holding back some of the nation’s largest reservoirs) are beyond what anyone wants to think about.

The flood waters are tremendous, unprecedented. Here’s a great video/radio interview with a dam expert on the situation today (he sounds concerned):

Of course, this is no surprise to anyone who pays attention to the predictions of climate scientists, the projected impacts of global warming… unfortunately, that’s not enough of our citizenry or politicians.

In Nebraska, this is what’s resulting so far (from the Iowa Independent):

The power supply was cut because water infiltrated the plant’s main electrical transformers. Power has since been switched away from emergency generators and to an off-site power supply.

Keeping power at the plant is critical since the reactor core has been refueled and spent fuel remains in a cooling pool.

Crazy stuff.

Some of the experts are not too worried. Flood waters are ‘only’ projected to push the nuclear power plant to a level 2 (out of 4) emergency:

“We do not expect the river would rise to a level that would threaten the cooling pool or the core,” Dricks said.

The Calhoun plant was built at 1,004 feet mean sea level, and can sustain flood waters up to 1,014 feet. On Sunday, when the dam broke, the Missouri River was at roughly 1,006.5 feet near the Calhoun station. If floodwaters reach 1,009 feet, the plant would likely switch from the lowest level of emergency status (where it has been since June 6) to the second of four emergency levels. Based on the latest figures given by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is gauging the release of water from dams upstream, flooding near Calhoun should peak at 1,008 feet.

However, with such strong waters coming in, I wouldn’t place any bets on it yet.

“The dams holding back the flood waters on the longest river in the United States are under unprecedented stress,” Freeman writes and the video/radio interview above makes very clear. Levees are apparently failing every day in one place or another and there is not much hope that will stop for awhile. Which ones fail and how many and whether or not one of these big dams fails is what is uncertain.

As I stated in a previous article, the Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Plant is in danger only if the river experiences a sudden surge of perhaps ten feet.  No one can (or will) state that one or more of the dams upstream are not going to experience a catastrophic collapse.  As stated in the You Tube video, if this happens, it will be the most expensive disaster in American History.  Should a dam burst, the wall of water coming down the Missouri River would wash away two nuclear power station.  An event no one can fathom.  The Missouri River dams constitute the largest system of reservoirs in the United States.

We continue to receive heavy rains, both in Nebraska and all the way into Montana, which is just as bad.  It all has to go into the Missouri River.  On Saturday AM, parts of Omaha received 3 inches of rain; more is forecast for Sunday night and Monday.

Concerning. I’ll keep you updated.






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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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  • Yeah…there’s “no story” unless some major catastrophe hits…apparently, diligent coverage of a potential disaster, or a disaster in the making, is not “newsworthy”…fortunately, not everyone in the journalism field succumbs to the sensationalist ethos…

    So, we can add major river flood plains (along withe earthquake fault lines) as places not to build nuclear plants…

    Worst case scenario: the cascading dam failures wipe out both plants and successively contaminate every reservoir downstream of the plants..ruining drinking and agricultural water for millions…

    Yup, no story here…

  • The record releases from the upper Missouri River dams are so the integrity of the earthen structures are not comprimised. As long as they continue to release the water downstream these dams will be fine, just as they have been fine for the last 50 years.

    A dam burst would only result if the Corp of Engineers comprimised the structures by holding back more water in the reserviors than they were designed to do. That’s not happening. Gavins Point, the furthest downstream dam in the Missouri system has been steadily increasing the release…not decreasing it. I was there June 19th and saw it myself.

  • The fact that nobody has responded to this feed suggests the utter sensationalistic nature of the story. Check with the REAL news sources and report what is real. What is real is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is all over this situation, and the facility in question is not in danger in any way….unless somebody drops the ball on his/her shift and allows for a problem. It’s not an adventure….It’s a JOB. No story here.

    • Jeff, did you actually read the piece? It gives ample word to those who say there’s nothing to worry about and the issue it looks at is more about the dams that could break and the fact that levees (and even the nuclear plant’s AquaDam) can’t handle the strong, rushing water (& we haven’t even seen the worst of that yet). Let’s hope nothing goes terribly wrong, but right now the issue is escalating.

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