According to numerous reports, the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) declared a Level 4 emergency at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant in Nebraska because of imminent flooding of the Missouri River.
However the alert appears to have been withdrawn or disappeared. When you go to the OPPD site you see this notice released on June 6, 2011.
"OPPD declared a Notification of Unusual Event (NOUE). This is the least-serious of four emergency classifications. OPPD declared a NOUE because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects the Missouri River level will reach 1,004 feet above mean sea level later this week, and is expected to remain at or above that level for more than a month."
Although, Fort Calhoun's single reactor has been shut down since April for refueling, on June 9, 2011
a fire in an electrical switch room knocked out cooling for a pool holding spent nuclear fuel.
"Officials at Fort Calhoun said the situation at their plant came nowhere near to Fukushima's. They said it would have taken 88 hours for the heat produced by the fuel to boil away the cooling water.
Workers restored cooling in about 90 minutes, and plant officials said the temperature in the pool only increased by two degrees.
The fire, reported at 9:30 a.m., led to the loss of electrical power for the system that circulates cooling water through the spent fuel pool, according to a report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A chemical fire suppression system discharged, and the plant's fire brigade cleared smoke from the room and reported that the fire was out at 10:20 a.m., the NRC said."
That's the official report. According to Lucas Whitfield Hixson, a global research contributor, this was a much more serious event.
"People were scrambling at the NRC to cover up the full extent of the damage at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant following an electrical fire that stopped the cooling system to the spent-fuel rods. The NRC originally reported that the fire was detected in a switchgear room at 9:30 am, by declaring a Notification of Unusual Event. Automated fire suppression systems activated as expected and the fire was confirmed out at 10:20 a.m.Thursday this was updated to an Alert, with no recognition by MSM, because the cooling systems were down for multiple hours.
The fire impacted two pumps, causing them to go offline. One pump was returned to service after almost 2 hours had elapsed, and the second pump required much more time until later in the day. This is extremely alarming if you also look at the report filed by the OPPD (Omaha Public Power District) just last month after inspecting the Fort Calhoun Station.
"During identification and evaluation of flood barriers, unsealed through wall penetrations in the outside wall of the intake, auxiliary and chemistry and radiation protection buildings were identified that are below the licensing basis flood elevation. A summary of the root causes included: a weak procedure revision process; insufficient oversight of work activities associated with external flood matters; ineffective identification, evaluation and resolution of performance deficiencies related to external flooding; and “safe as is” mindsets relative to external flooding events."
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.”
The FAA has issued a directive shutting down airspace over the plant:
Looking at the picture of the plant above, I am wondering how the workers are getting into the plant - by boat? The Missouri River is reportedly expected to continue rising throughout the summer up to 7 more feet. There are also several dams upriver of the plant that may be in danger of bursting.
UPDATE June 17/2011 - Some additional info:
This was a reply I was going to leave to a comment by James but it got so long I decided to add it to this post for the additional info it contained.
I can't seem to find out what controllers this plant uses however there is some circumstantial evidence they are likely to be using Siemen products. (I won't bore you with the details. ). I can't really tell if this event may have been precipitated by a virus such as Stuxnet because there is just not enough info on what actually happened but I am not ruling out the possibility.
The fire was in a switchgear room located in the basement of the plant. It is reported to have started at 9:30 am CDT with the control room receiving multiple alarms. An alert (HA2 EA1) was declared at 9:40 am CDT. I don't know what that means and the alert/emergency reporting system is very convoluted and confusing. I think some of the confusion is coming from the fact there were two alerts issued. The first one on June 6 that had to do with the rising flood waters and then a second one for the fire, which was then rescinded once they had the situation under control. There are scales and levels and there are Events and Alerts. Here is a comment I found on this crazy system.
"The International Nuclear Event Scale utilizes a 7 level classification system. The US NRC uses a 4 level emergency reporting system. The 4 levels of the NRC emergency reporting system are (from lowest to highest) Unusual Event, Alert, Site Area Emergency, and General Emergency.
I have seen and heard NRC folks use the term “level 4″ to indicate “Unusual Event.”
To add to the confusion, the International Nuclear Event Scale level 7 would be highest. (me and a few others are about to urge the International Atomic Energy Agency to create a “level 8″ since Fukushima is already above a level 7 for many reasons to be detailed later.
The NRC reporting scale, although it does not use numbers 1-4, has been commonly disussed by assgining the lowest level with 4, while highest level is 1.
There are numerous problems with both scales or levels. The confusion has been caused by the nuclear industry which still has not defined a clear definition of meltown 32 years after Three Mile Island. Furthermore there are 12 different scales to measure radiation…whew!!!
The Internation Nuclear Event Scale, while claiming to be a logarithmic scale, does not adhere to that strictly. The Fukushima was designated a level 7 at the same time that it had been assessed by the IAEA as having release 1/10th the amount of radiation as Chernobyl."
The plant fire brigade responded to the fire after the alert and could see smoke coming from the area but were unable to get into the room because of toxic gases. They requested assistance from the Blair Fire Department approx. a half hour later who responded to the site some time after that. It is not clear what these gases were although some were due to the Halon fire extinguishers that had automatically activated. The report says this: "During that time part of the plant was rendered inaccessible because of poisonous gases and gases that were used to extinguish the electrical fire." In any case, no one actually saw fire, only smoke and initially they were not able to go into the room because of the toxic fumes. You can read the entire NRC Event Report here.
The mainstream news reports are saying the plant had the situation under control in 90 mins but it actually took two hours to restore one of the pumps and the second one was not restored until after 1:30 pm (at least four hours later). I think the 90 min time frame they are using is the time it took them to get the fire under control and get back into the building, not the time frame for getting the pumps back running which actually took several hours.
The fire affected two pumps that are part of the spent pool cooling system which is a separate system from the one that cools the reactor core. (Incidentally, the reactor core is being deliberately flooded right now to keep it cool during the shutdown. One third of the fuel in the core had just been replaced and those replaced 'hot' fuel rods are now in the spent fuel pool. In addition, the pond is reportedly 'overcrowded' with more that 20 years of spent fuel rods stored there. Ft. Calhoun is the designated spent fuel storage facility for the entire state of Nebraska and possibly for more than one state.) The pool sits at ground level and is open, meaning the spent fuel is below ground level and also below the river level. Apparently, this is because it is easier (and more cost efficient) to pump water from the river into the pools then say, having them located at the top of the plants like Fukushima. Considering they are using sandbags and inflatable flood barriers to keep the rapidly rising river at bay, one can only guess at the disaster that will happen if the river breaks through and the plant is flooded. I can imagine massive quantities of spent fuel rods floating down the river including those that have just been removed from the the reactor core. And I don't know what would actually happen to the reactor core but I am assuming it could still meltdown and/or explode if the pumps for it's cooling system were to be flooded. They do have diesel back up pumps which, unlike Fukushima, are located on higher ground because of the danger of flooding.
The NRC event report says the fire was not caused by the flooding but I am suspicious of that especially considering the NRC determined that Fort Calhoun Station did not have adequate procedures to protect the intake structure and auxiliary building against external flooding events and that this fire was in a basement.
They also are reporting that no radiation was leaked. However, the FAA has imposed a 'no fly' zone over the area where the reactor is located. They say the restriction was imposed because of the danger from flooding but give no explanation as to why airplanes would be in danger from a flooding river and only over the area where this nuclear plant is situated. I think these guys need to enroll in Logic 101.
On June 13 another event was reported to the NRC, a release of groundwater and sewage into the Missouri River. I have no idea whether this is SOP and all such releases have to be reported to the NRC. This does make me wonder if the release may have been necessary due do to flooding.
OFFSITE NOTIFICATION DUE TO SEWAGE SYSTEM RELEASE
"At 0500 CDT, the lift station #4 sewage system, South of the Fort Calhoun Station Administration building, was released to the Missouri River. The release was a mixture of ground water and sewage; samples were taken by chemistry but dilution concentration is unknown. Approximately 105 gpm release started around 0500 on 6/13/2011. This condition is being reported pursuant to 10 CFR 50.72(b)(2)(xi) for an event related to the protection of the environment for which a notification of governmental agencies is required. Applicable governmental agencies have been notified per plant procedures."
The licensee notified the State of Nebraska at 1200 CDT. The licensee also notified the NRC Resident Inspector."©2000-2011 NRC
In the Arne Gunderson video I linked above he noted that all of the dams upstream of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant are full. The Army Core of Engineers are opening all of them up and letting their water cascade down to the next dam etc. And that the flood can't get much worse than it already is or else it is going to breech the walls of the plant. The reactor is within a foot of two of what it was designed for. If one of the dams breaks it would be the equivalent of the Fukushima tsunami event. The dams are not structurally sound like the Nuclear plant yet the plant is relying on the integrity of something that is basically a big earthen berm.
There are some people that are questioning the action of the Army Core of Engineers re the release of water from the dams. They say they waited too long to begin releasing it and that this flood is actually a man made disaster. Consider also that the flooding is expected to continue for several weeks and will not subside until sometime into August. There is a real possibility that one of these dams will burst and if it is one located upstream will it cause the dams below it to collapse as well...scary thoughts.
UPDATE # 2 -June 18/2011 - Arnie Gunderson interview parts 2 &3:
These are parts 2 and 3 of the Arnie Gunderson interview. I just found them (I didn't realize they were even available). He has lots more to say about the scope and scale of the fire, the toxic fumes etc. in part 2. In part 3 he addresses how Fort Calhoun didn't follow procedure during the crisis and call in emergency staff. He also talks about the extent of radiation from Fukushima at the end of this one.
Robert Knight: "When the plant entered it's emergency condition or status, the procedure was to have been to notify all the plant personnel that were essential to operation safety and or maintenance to come quick to the plant. They were supposed to have been paged in order that they might immediately return. Not a one of them were according to the reports from the NRC Event Reports. The employees were not paged. They don't know why that didn't work. What is the significance of not having the staff there during a time of emergency."
Arnie Gunderson: "Well, this time they got lucky and there is no significance but basically they got lucky. But you know when you have a fire of this magnitude and you know plants have fires every day, small that they never call in the outside fire department but when you call the outside fire department that's a big deal. And then, you are supposed to then get other essential people in to back up your staff. In this case they happened to skate through without needing those extra people but what amazes me about that is that they have procedure up in the control room and literally there is people up there checking in every minute, you can tell by that log, every minute they were checking in and making sure they were complying with the procedure. And fore some reason somebody missed that step. Now, because there's a flood the NRC has put in extra inspectors on site. So, there was an NRC inspector in that control room twenty four hours a day and the NRC inspector didn't see it either."
Or the paging system didn't function properly which I assume would be computerized and automatic. I am starting to think there may have been some operating control problems going on. Especially since OPPD has now said that they switched to an emergency pump that was on a separate power supply after the two main pumps were taken offline. See this comment. However, if you listen to part 2 of the Gundersen interview he says that the pumps most likely went off line because in order to get into the switchgear room they would have had to deliberately turn off the wires that were powering the fuel pool pumps . So, maybe it was at that point they switched to the backup generator. I don't know why they wouldn't just come out and say they had done that and why.