The reactor is reported to be in no danger as the Missouri River hits flood stage

fort-calhoun-power-plantThe Missouri River flooding is bringing waves of concern nationwide about the safety of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant.

Business Insider, a news aggregator, has a story and a video predicting all manner of nuclear catastrophe at the Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant. Readers might ask what is really going on?

The answer is that while the Missouri River is rising, the reactor is safe. As the flood waters continue to rise, a spokesman for Omaha Public Power District says the plant is at a "notification of unusual event" classification because of the flood.

It is required by the NRC because of the flood. That is the lowest level in an emergency. Company officials say there has been no release of radioactivity at Fort Calhoun Station due to the flooding and none is expected.

Plant in cold shutdown

The Omaha Public Power District has been prepared for the floods and the plant is safe. It has been in a cold shutdown since April because of a planned refueling. Although water from the Missouri is higher than the plant now; the vital area of the plant is surrounded by a 2,000-foot long berm that takes the protective level up about six feet -- to 1,010 feet or five feet above the river level. As of J10 AM June 16, the water is at 1,005 feet.

According to plant officials and the NRC the emergency power diesel are primed to come on if the loss of offsite power is imminent. Enough diesel fuel has been stockpiled to run the plant for a month, and the generators are in hardened (flood protected) bunkers. Provisions have been made for resupply if necessary. And extra diesel has been laid in. switchyard is protected with a berm up to 1011 feet.

FAA “no fly zone”

FAA logoAlso, there are concerns because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a “no fly” zone over the reactor. (Complete FAA NOTAM image)(large)

I spoke by phone with Mike Jones, a spokesman for the plant. He told me that due to the rising flood waters, a lot of planes and news helicopters were flying over the reactor and some were coming in quite low.

The plant manager told the FAA he was concerned they might collide with power lines or each other. This is the reason the FAA issued a Notice to Airmen banning over-flights of the reactor. The NRC says this isn’t a an issue regarding the potential release of radiation.

Here’s what the NRC’s spokesman said about it

“After last week’s Alert, and with all the interest in flooding on the Missouri, news helicopters began flying near the plant. We understand that the plant owner contacted the FAA and asked them to remind pilots of the basic NOTAM is still in effect. As far as we can tell that had zero to do with the plant operations and everything to do with assisting in flood relief.”

And now for the rest of the story

The Omaha Public Power District has a web page to spike other rumors. Here’s a summary.

Rumor: Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station is at a Level 4 emergency or level 4 alert.

  • This terminology is not accurate, and is not how emergencies at nuclear power plants are classified.
  • Fort Calhoun Station (FCS) declared a Notification of Unusual Event (NOUE) on June 6. A NOUE is the least-serious of four emergency classifications established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • FCS declared a NOUE because the Missouri River was projected to reach 1,004 feet above mean sea level. (It reached that height on June 9.)
  • The FCS plant’s reactor has been in cold shut down for a planned refueling outage since April 9. It will remain in that condition until the river recedes.
  • The reactor and spent-fuel pool are in a normal, stable condition and are both protected; there has been no release of radioactivity and none is expected.

Rumor: A no-fly zone was set up around Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station because of a release of radiation, similar to what happened with the Fukushima reactors in Japan.

  • There has been no release of radioactivity at Fort Calhoun Station due to the flooding and none is expected.
  • The flight restrictions were set up by the FAA as a result of Missouri river flooding.
  • OPPD’s extensive, preplanned actions to protect the FCS reactor and spent-fuel pool from the floodwaters have been effective.
  • The reactor is housed in a watertight containment building, and is in a normal and safe “cold shutdown” condition, covered by more than 23 feet of purified reactor coolant water.
  • In addition, OPPD has installed Aqua Dams® and other berms around such vital equipment and buildings at the FCS site.

Rumor: Because of a fire at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station on June 7, the plant’s spent-fuel pool was in danger of boiling and releasing radioactivity.

  • There was no such imminent danger with the Fort Calhoun Station spent-fuel pool.
  • Due to a fire in an electrical switchgear room at FCS on the morning of June 7, the plant temporarily lost power to a pump that cools the spent-fuel pool.
  • The fire-suppression system in that switchgear room operated as designed, extinguishing the fire quickly.
  • FCS plant operators switched the spent-fuel pool cooling system to an installed backup pump about 90 minutes after the loss of power.
  • During the interruption of cooling, temperature of the pool increased a few degrees, but the pool was never in danger of boiling.
  • Due to this situation, FCS declared an Alert at about 9:40 a.m. on June 7.
  • An alert is the second-least-serious of four emergency classifications established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • At about 1:15 p.m. on June 7, FCS operators declared they had taken all appropriate measures to safely return to the previously declared Notification of Unusual Event emergency classification. (See first item above.)