Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Water Around Fort Calhoun

Last night, I saw a “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” segment of a chat show that focused on Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun station, which is sitting in an area now flooded by the swollen Missouri River. The speaker stressed that, despite the mutual presence of water around Fort Calhoun and Fukushima Daiichi, the two incidents are not similar, though he did call Fort Calhoun a Fukushima-like event in slow motion.

Is it? Let’s allow our old friends the Union of Concerned Scientists to take this one:

The Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the nuclear-power industry’s toughest critics, sprang into action when the Missouri River flood threatened the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska.

But after looking into the matter, the scientists group was reassured. Precautions had been taken to deal with the floodwaters, and federal inspectors had checked over the plant on Monday.

You may be sure that if there were the tiniest concern, UCS would be taking the most dire tone imaginable.

No nuclear plant is without risks [though, we should note, many fewer than other energy generators], and the flooding will complicate getting the Nebraska reactor back up and running. But “basically what we found was … good news,” said David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project for the scientists group, which is based in Washington.

The NRC itself offers an interesting account of what Fort Calhoun is up to:

The plant has erected an Aquadam around the powerblock – vital areas including the containment and auxiliary buildings. The water-filled berm is eight feet tall and 16 feet wide at the base, and provides protection for up to six feet of water. The dam also protects several pieces of equipment that have been brought onsite, including an additional emergency diesel generator for supplying AC electrical power, water pumps, firefighting equipment and sandbagging supplies.

An earthern berm protects the electrical switchyard and a concrete barrier has been built around electrical transformers to protect them. Satellite phones have been distributed to key workers. Extra food and water has been stockpiled.

Because, as you might imagine, getting to and from the plant is more of a challenge. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko visited earlier this week and said the flooding looked worse from aerial photos than from the ground, so maybe you really have to be there.

The NRC also has a post about some of the dumber rumors swirling around Fort Calhoun – you can read that part yourself, as we don’t want to promulgate them here – but trust me: dumb.


Yesterday, we noted French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s re-embrace of nuclear energy but didn’t mention the occasion for the comments. This story from Environmental Finance tells that part of the story and tries an interesting tack:

France will invest €1 billion ($1.4billion) in its nuclear power program, bucking the post-Fukushima trend away from nuclear energy.

The €1 billion will fund ‘fourth generation’ nuclear development and research into nuclear safety, the president said on Monday.

Interestingly, another country “bucking the trend,” as the story would have it, is Great Britain:

Meanwhile, last week, the UK government also maintained its commitment to nuclear, confirming a string of sites for possible new nuclear builds.

Here’s why:

However, Ben Caldecott, head of European policy at asset manager and adviser Climate Change Capital in London, said the government has struck a fair balance between meeting energy demands and achieving emissions targets.

“I prefer renewable energy to nuclear power, but the fact of the matter is that if you didn’t replace any existing nuclear power stations, decarbonising the electricity sector would be that much harder. And that’s the challenge that Germany will be facing,” he told Environmental Finance.

Bucking the trend! Seems to me Germany and Switzerland are the countries bucking the trend.


gunter said...

Yeah, kudos to NRC for finally taking action to give Ft. Calhoun a "yellow" finding in October 2010 for non-compliance with severe flood protection requirements outstanding since 1978. Now there is some timely enforcement action.

Ft. Calhoun finally got busy for protective actions up to 1014' above mean sea level. And kudos to OPPD to still be plugging holes including the one discovered on June 16 at 1007'msl with the power block fully surrounded by water.

Were NRC,OPPD and the other plants as diligent about addressing underground safety related electric cable-unqualified for being submerged---of which all are now underwater at Ft. Calhoun.

Perhaps, the extensive flooding will put a match in somebody's shoe to bring this plant and the others into compliance by requiring the replacement of all those cables with qualified cable before resuming operation? Or is this another one of those voluntary industry initiatives?

Anybody know what happened to the guy who tore open the "Aqua Berm" with his Bobcat?

reactor safety pros said...

Your "Slow-Motion Fukushima" guy is none other than the award winning Mitchio Kaku, of Loop-String Theory fame. He has a cult following which makes him "credible" to the masses. See this:

I re-butted his comment on a radio program. You better get our side out there as honestly and unemotionally as possible, or the media will rip us apart.

Fort Calhoun cleary showed the Head is off the Vessel. The Refueling Pool is Filled (I didn't say "flooded up"). Some of the Core is in the Spent Fuel Pool. The Decay Heat is lessening by the day (although their Loss of Spent Fuel Pool Cooling did cause a MINOR temperature rise).

This means that I could Gravity Feed the Vessel with a garden hose if I wanted. So, this is a pretty safe configuration in all my years as SRO and Fuel Handling Supervisor (and Outage Safety Manager).

We are all suffering the loss of electrical generation during Summer Months. Let's try to help our friends at Fort Calhoun come through this by informing the public about its stable configuration, but be honest as you can.