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[Thunderstorms are gathering, both literally and figuratively in Nebraska this week. Article ortinally appeared in Counterpunch.]
When I wrote last week about the Nebraska reactor surrounded by floodwaters I, like most, still considered it a highly remote possibility of cataclysm.
Upon further investigation, it seems much more likely now. The New York Times has exposed some major criminal negligence and game playing with the safety of the nation by the plant's operator. Peter Behr's June 24th report examines what we've been told vs. what's there on the ground at Fort Calhoun's nuclear power station. This is truly frightening with water levels approaching the 1007 ft. above sea level mark.
The Ft. Calhoun reactor was repeatedly reported to be in "cold" shutdown, with an endless supply of happy talk in the press about how safe the situation remains. Not one of these reports gives the actual temperature inside the reactor. "Cold" is a relative term when dealing wtih nuclear reactors.
A June 22 Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) press release inspires no confidence whatsoever:
"If there is a complete loss of power on site temporary pumps that run on gas can circulate cooling water through the spent fuel pool and reactor core."
And reactor core? But I thought it was in "cold shutdown?" Why would that be necessary? The NRC release avoids the word "cold," and merely restates the term "shutdown."
The Omaha World Herald offers another clue:
"The NRC says its inspectors were at the plant when the berm failed and have confirmed that the flooding has had no impact on the reactor shutdown cooling or the spent fuel pool cooling." (Sam Womack, June 26)
The term "reactor shutdown cooling" implies it is not quite "cold" but requiring cooling still.
In an outstanding bit of hubris, the second threatened plant at Cooper is still operating at "full power." It's as if some are incapable of learning any lessons whatsoever.
CNN -- and almost all other news sources -- is still reporting the claims of the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) unquestioningly:
"The [Ft. Calhoun] plant is designed to withstand waters up to 1,014 feet above mean sea level, according to the OPPD."
That reassuring number ignores quite a bit. In the end it may prove to be the equivalent of the TEPCO assurances and the Japanese Government's claims that no meltdowns had occured.
"But a year ago, those new defenses were not in place, and the plant's hard barriers could have failed against a 1,010-foot flood ... at flooding levels above 1,008 feet, the plant "would experience a loss of offsite power and loss of intake structure" (NYT)
The NRC gave the operator OPPD a wristslap last October 6 to try and force some improvements of "substatntal importance" to the facility. The OPPD predictably stalled and tried to fight spending any money on improvements up through this year.
The plot thickened back in the 1990s, where a series of floods threatened the area. The Army Corps of Engineers warned the plant operator to increase its defenses by at least 3 feet, back in 2003. The plant however did not "properly act" on the "deficiencies." No surprises there.
When a senior nuclear investigator for NRC was asked how these situations can go on so long with no meaningful action taken to protect the public from disaster, Gerond George answered, "We only sample certain parts of their design basis..." This admission reveals gaping holes at the NRC.