Who Is Really at Fault at Fort Calhoun?

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station shown above is currently shut down for refueling. Makeshift levees and a broken water berm have now led to water leaking into the plant. Since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had cited this plant in June, 2010 for not having “adequate procedures to protect the intake structure and auxiliary building against external flooding events”, why did it take three weeks for NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko (Obama appointee, May, 2009) to inspect the Fort Calhoun plant today (June 27th) since initial flooding started?

The following excerpt reports the finding by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the facility failed to maintain procedures against external flooding:

As a result of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspection conducted from January 1 to June 21, 2010, the NRC determined that Fort Calhoun Station (FCS) did not have adequate procedures to protect the intake structure and auxiliary building against external flooding events. Specifically, contrary to Technical Specification 5.8.1.a, the station failed to maintain procedures for combating a significant flood as recommended by Regulatory Guide 1.33, Appendix A, section 6.w, “Acts of Nature.”

As reported earlier, the idea of a makeshift levee surrounding a nuclear power plant that has been found to be out of compliance by the NRC for precautions concerning external flooding requirements is something straight out of a bad B movie plot.  The addition of a water filled inner tube (aqua berm) against flooding conditions expected to persist through August shows another level of government’s regulatory incompetance even if it had not collapsed.  

Where is the report from the NRC stating that this plant was in compliance with Regulatory Guide 1.33? What is the point of the NRC if over one year later, a power plant has not responded to their report and corrected the conditions?

Who is responsible for this situation and when is a more viable solution going to be implemented?

  1. Omaha Public Power is responsible for not having a waterproof facility even prior to the NRC report. Not responding and correcting this situation after one year should be cause for a Congressional investigation. 
  2.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is responsible for their lack of action here and at the Cooper Nuclear Station.
  3. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for their failure to manage the flooding of the Missouri river at all six dams. A Congressional investigation of their actions in the Missouri River Basin (including Minot, ND) should already be underway.
  4. The media for not covering this disaster as it unfolded. When are the no fly zone restrictions over Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Plant, Cooper Nuclear Station and Minot, ND to be lifted so that we can see the extent of the flooding?

David DeGerolamo

Related articles:

Aqua Berm at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant Collapses

No Fly Zone Over Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant Due to “Hazards”

Sand Bags and Nuclear Power Plants Don’t Mix

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2 Responses to Who Is Really at Fault at Fort Calhoun?

  1. Maddy says:

    What a sensationalist article!! You should be ASHAMED of yourself! The NRC commissioner announced early last week that he would be going out to see the plants on the river, before any problems occured!

    Last year’s citation by the NRC was about whether they should prepare for 1009 ft above sealevel or 1014 ft! Earlier plant analyses had a lower level calculated and the NRC revamped their “standard review plan” and methods over the past years, so the utility had to go back and be even more conservative in its analyses. The US nuclear community uses backups, alternative methods, like belt and suspenders to hold up your pants, and then you add another button at the fly, in case a button popps!

    The water level NOW is only about 1006 ft. The Army Corps of Engineers controls the flooding, levels etc. But the utility installed concrete barriers, permanent earth berms to handle the 1014 ft high LAST year. The utility built waterproof walls around the electical yard and sensitive equipment, since last year. The station was already shut down for a month, and they decided NOT to go back up to full power because the river flooding/runoff predictions already gave them a clue. The “aqua” berms, i.e. , filled donut shape water-filled bladder was an ADDITIONAL measure, not required by the NRC, not mandated by last year’s flodding assessment, and the utility put it up as an extra precaustion. Finally, the power plant staff brought in extra tankers of diesel oil, plant “expendables” or items they use up (gas bottles, lub oil etc.) to stock up just in case.
    This flooding at a once in a 500 years level, shows how robust, how independent the the US NRC with its 5 commissioner structure is from any government interference or politics.

    This event also shows how even with the “advisarial” relationship between the utility, the regulated entity, and the NRC, the regulator, both parties strive to make sure the nuclear plants are SAFE to the nth degree. This is 1000 times better than the cohort, collaborative, all-in-one sort of relationship demonstrated by the close-knit TEPCO and utilities and Japanese ministries, with overlapping jurisdictions, without absolute responsibility, and without independence. Also the Japanese ministries promote nuclear power and research and “regulate” it, or rather, “monitor” safety. Here in the US, the lines have been strictly drawn. The U.S. Department of Energy (formally ERDA and AEC) promotes nuclear power. The NRC was separated out as an autonomous federal agency with the sole mandate of ensuring safety, protecting the public by regulating nuclear power.

    Give me our NRC rules, regulations, vigilance and the self-questioning, continuous improvement of the US nuclear utilities any day!!

    • admin says:

      I am not ashamed of the facts in this article.

      1. As my previously written articles verify, this plant has been surrounded for over three weeks, not one week.
      2. I worked as an engineer at three different nuclear plants. For construction purposes, the utility submits a construction/design plans and their FSAR that the NRC then approves. Whether you are correct in the sea level elevation or not, the plant is now leaking. The NRC does not mandate temporary levees or aqua berms as part of their oversight: they mainly hold the plants accountable for their submitted designs requirments and common sense practices like making sure the plants do not flood.
      3. I understand redundant systems at nuclear plants since I oversaw their construction and this is not part of my report.
      4. I am not stating that a nuclear power plant on shutdown status is in danger of “melting down”. I am saying that a nuclear power plant that has been cited by the NRC for possible flooding issues over a year ago should have been better prepared and that the NRC should explain why this occurred.
      5. If Fort Peck dam undergoes liquefaction, you won’t have to worry about this power plant’s future.

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