This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 22, 2011 2:34 AM. The previous post in this blog was In with the bike swag. The next post in this blog is The verdict from England: Fire David Shaff. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Trouble in the heartland

It's been a slow news day at the Fukushima meltdown site, and so nuke disaster chasers have been splitting their screens between Japan and Nebraska, where two nuclear plants on the flooded Missouri River have declared low-level emergencies. One of the plants, Fort Calhoun, 19 miles outside of Omaha, is completely surrounded by water. The river is now actually higher than the ground on which the plant sits. Apparently a six- or eight-foot-high temporary rubber wall is keeping the muddy river water out of the plant basement.

Company officials swear that the building is watertight, and that even if the rubber wall gives way or is topped, there'll be no radiation leak. The plant was shut down for a refueling in April and didn't fire back up because it was known that the floods were coming. The facility's crowded spent fuel pool, however, remains a major hazard.

The scariest thing we've read about the Fort Calhoun situation so far is that the plant is now accessible only by water, and it's expected to remain that way for quite some time. Flooding on the Missouri is expected to continue for another couple of months. If something nasty does happen, getting a proper emergency response to the reactor site could be quite a challenge. Just to give some perspective, nearby Interstate 29 is under around 10 feet of water at the moment.

Down river a ways, the Cooper reactor is continuing to operate at 100% power, even though the flood waters were at last report just 18 inches below the level at which the plant would be required by nuclear regulators to shut down entirely. The operator, a public power district, says it intends to keep running the reactor until that level is reached.

Both plants would be in deep kim chee if a dam or levee upstream should break. The reactors may be able to handle a few more feet of gradually rising river, but a wall of water several stories high could lead to Fukushima-like problems. As long as the plants have electricity to run cooling pumps, they'll probably be fine, but it's not inconceivable that a big enough flood surge could cause a blackout and thwart the backups for an extended period. That would not be good.

In other American nuke news, it's becoming increasingly clear what many critics have suspected for a long time: Nuclear power plants routinely dump radioactive liquid into groundwater and nearby bodies of water. In other words, they're killing us slowly. When something bad happens, they compare the latest dose to "background" radiation, but what they don't say, and people need to realize, is that the "background" consists in part of nuclear waste that the nuclear weapons-and-power industry has itself dumped into the environment over the past 70 years. And no level of exposure to ionizing radiation is without health risk.

Comments (3)

U.S. GAO: leaks at aging nuke sites difficult to detect

Great photo, too.

Hey, things could be even worse. We had an earthquake earlier this week near Waxahachie, south of Dallas. It wasn't a big one, but it was very near the site of the planned Superconducting Supercollider, which was shut down in 1993. At the time, several very geologically stable areas in Texas were proposed for the SSC's construction, but then-Senator Phil Gramm pushed hard for the SSC to be built close to Dallas. Experts pointed out that the final site was a bad idea, but Gramm had a lot of potential contributors in Dallas for his 1996 Presidential run, so who gave a damn if it was built in an earthquake zone?

Now, I'm not saying that the SSC would have nuked most of North Texas had it been constructed and running when that earthquake hit. I will say that politics overrule actual subject matter experts, all sorts of fun things can happen. Just look at what damage Gramm did to the economy when he gave up his position as "the esteemed Senator from Enron" and went to work for UBS, even though his only experience with finance of that sort was constructing legislation cutting out all of the New Deal-era safeguards. Maybe we should have put Gramm in the SSC pits when they were filled in.

Just when you thought you could stop paying attention to Fukushima:

"A magnitude-6.7 earthquake rattled northeast Japan on Thursday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

It was the same area of the Pacific where a massive magnitude 9 quake hit on March 11, triggering a deadly tsunami. At least 23,000 people were killed or left missing in those disasters, which destroyed hundreds of homes, offices and factories in northeastern Japan."


"The Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning for Iwate Prefecture after the quake, but canceled it about an hour later.

The U.S. Pacific Tsunami warning center said that it did not expect a destructive Pacific-wide tsunami.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in the quake that hit at 6:50 a.m. Thursday (2150 GMT Wednesday)."

Clicky Web Analytics