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June 29, 2011
Nuclear Safety in the Spotlight
Flooding that threatens two Midwest nuclear power plants and fire that reached the edge of the top U.S. nuclear weapons laboratory put U.S. nuclear safety in the news this week. Government officials responded with assurances that all facilities had adequately safeguards in place to ride out natural disasters.
River Flooding Affects Nuclear Plants
On Monday, The New York Times reported that Fort Calhoun, one of the two nuclear plants on the flooding Missouri River, "came under increased pressure for a brief period on Sunday" when some heavy equipment "nicked an eight-foot-high, 2,000-foot-long temporary rubber berm, and it deflated. Water also began to approach electrical equipment, which prompted operators to cut themselves off from the grid and start up diesel generators." The facility returned to grid power later in the day. It is operated by Omaha Public Power District and located north of Omaha. Fort Calhoun, had been shut down since April for refueling but stayed closed in anticipation of flooding.
Cooper Station, near Brownville, Neb., is owned by Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) and is still operating. Storms and tornados that damaged transmission lines and cut power to customers last week seemed to be of more immediate concern to NPPD.
When asked on CBS's "The Early Show" on Tuesday about the possibility of a Fukushima Daiichi-type incident at the two plants, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who had just visited them, responded, "All of the vital systems, the electrical distribution systems, are being protected. They have emergency backup diesel generators in the event that they would lose their normal power supplies. So we think that all the right systems are in place. But just to be sure we have our inspectors here making sure, 'round the clock, that all the right precautions are being taken."
[Update 4:30 EST: It should be noted that nuclear plants are not the only ones facing difficulties as the result of flooding. The Kansas City Business Journal wrote about an hour ago that "buses and perhaps boats" would bring essential workers to Kansas City Power & Light's Iatan Power Plant, the area's largest, beginning immediately. Nonessential employees are being told not to report for work, but "the plant won't shut down unless the Missouri River water elevation reaches 785 feet above sea level."]
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