Nuclear power plant incident in Nebraska?

A Pakistani newspaper, The Nation, should not be confused with the U.S. magazine of the same name, as I originally did.

Late Friday The Nation questioned an alleged news blackout around an incident at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant outside of Omaha, Nebraska:

A shocking report prepared by Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency (FAAE) on information provided to them by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states that the Obama regime has ordered a “total and complete” news blackout relating to any information regarding the near catastrophic meltdown of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant located in Nebraska.

According to this report, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant suffered a “catastrophic loss of cooling” to one of its idle spent fuel rod pools on 7 June after this plant was deluged with water caused by the historic flooding of the Missouri River which resulted in a fire causing the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to issue a “no-fly ban” over the area.

Located about 20 minutes outside downtown Omaha, the largest city in Nebraska, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant is owned by Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) who on their website denies their plant is at a “Level 4” emergency by stating: “This terminology is not accurate, and is not how emergencies at nuclear power plants are classified.”

So, we have some questions to deal with:

  1. Is there a serious incident at the Fort Calhoun facility?
  2. Has anyone ordered a news blackout, and if so, why?
  3. Is it likely that a Pakistani newspaper relying on Russian sources can better report on a nuclear power plant in Nebraska than, say, the local Omaha newspaper?

As much as we might like to give The Nation a chance at being accurate, how likely is it that a U.S. president could order a complete revocation of emergency safety plans for a nuclear facility, when, by law and regulation, those plans are designed to protect the public?  The story smells bad from the start, just on government processes in the U.S.

The Nation, Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, nuclear power plant

This is the photograph used by The Nation to illustrate its online article claiming a meltdown at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power station in Nebraska. It shows a flooded nuclear power station, Fort Calhoun we might assume. Is it? Does the photograph show any problem besides the flooding?

The Russian report is too strong, probably.  First, there’s no news blackout, as evidenced by local reporting.  Second, our American “be-too-conservative-by-a-factor-of-ten” safety standards make piffles sound like major problems.  The story’s being filtered through a Pakistani newspaper should give us further pause in taking things at face value.

According to the local Nebraska newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, the Fort Calhoun facility powered down on April 9 for refueling.  Because of the pending floods, it was not yet refired up.  A powered-down reactor is unlikely to melt down.

O W-H, Nebraska’s largest and most venerated newspaper, reports on a second problem at a second nuclear plant.  Reports on the second “incident” give a clear view into just how careful U.S. plants are usually operated:

Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, Neb., declared a “Notification of Unusual Event” about 4 a.m. Sunday when the Missouri River there reached a height of 42.5 feet.

The declaration, which has been anticipated by the power plant’s operators, was made as part of safety and emergency preparedness plan the station follows when flooding conditions are in effect.

The plan’s procedures dictate when the Missouri River’s water level reaches 42.5 feet, or greater than 899 feet above sea level, a notification of unusual event is declared. If the river’s level increases to 45.5 feet or 902 feet above sea level, plant operators are instructed take the station offline as a safety measure.

An earlier story at the O W-H dealt specifically with issues at Fort Calhoun, and the flooding — again suggesting there is little danger from that facility.

FORT CALHOUN, Neb. — Despite the stunning sight of the Fort Calhoun nuclear reactor surrounded by water and the weeks of flooding that lie ahead, the plant is in a safe cold shutdown and can remain so indefinitely, the reactor’s owners and federal regulators say.

“We think they’ve taken adequate steps to protect the plant and to assure continued safety,” Victor Dricks, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Thursday.

Tim Burke, vice president at Omaha Public Power District, said the plant’s flood barriers are being built to a level that will protect against rain and the release of record amounts of water from upstream dams on the Missouri River.

“We don’t see any concerns around the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station,” Burke said at a briefing in Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle’s office.

The nuclear plant, 20 miles north of Omaha, was shut down April 9 for refueling. It has not been restarted because of the imminent flooding.

Who do we believe, a Russian report issued more than 6,000 miles from Nebraska, reported in a newspaper in Pakistan, or the local reporters on the beat?

Fort Calhoun nuclear generating plant, flooded by the Missouri River, on June 17, 2011 - Photo by Matt Miller, Omaha  World-Herald

Photo caption from the Omaha World-Herald: "The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station from the air Thursday. OPPD was putting the finishing touches on federally ordered flood-defense improvements before flooding began. MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD"

More, other resources:

UPDATE, June 20, 2011:  Let’s call it a hoax

I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to call the claims of a serious accident, emergency and potential disaster at the Fort Calhoun site, a hoax.  The Russian report — if it exists — may not have been intended as a hoax, but coupled with filtering through the credulous and gullible foreign press (we’re looking at you, Pakistan’s The Nation), it has risen to hoax level, to be debunked.  Sure, you should be concerned about safety and security at Fort Calhoun and Cooper — but you should be concerned about safety and security at every nuclear power plant around the world, all the time.  This may be a good time for you to reread John McPhee’s brilliant Curve of Binding Energy.  It’s dated — Ted Taylor died October 28, 2004  (was his autobiography ever published?) — but still accurate and informative, plus, any excuse to read any work of McPhee is a great one.

14 Responses to Nuclear power plant incident in Nebraska?

  1. […] Hoax claims died down a bit across the blogosphere, but the Missouri River still floods, and the two Nebraska nuclear power plants on the Missouri still face threats from the flood. […]


  2. […] Claims of a crisis in Nebraska are hoaxes,  I think.  The Russian agency from which the report is claimed to have come, does not show such a report. […]


  3. Ed Darrell says:


    I was born on that high northern, lava-covered desert, a bit south of Arco in Burley. It’s great dust, to me at least.

    Your blog struck me as surprisingly well-informed, especially for the “Samizdat” name.

    Keep up the good work, and holler if the Nebraska plants get in real trouble, will you?


  4. Dan Yurman says:

    Just so you know Dawn Stover and I have been exchanging notes about the situation at Ft. Calhoun, and yes, I am a former “nuclear worker,” with the dust of 20 years of the Idaho Arco desert in my shoes.

    Now I have a “white collar” job as a reporter for Fuel Cycle Week

    Thanks for citing my stuff.


  5. James Kessler says:

    Just to cite my source for the bit about Jack Kingston, its this:

    I especially like his ““Do we believe that McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Safeway and Kraft Food and any brand name that you think of, that these people aren’t concerned about food safety?” Kingston said on the House floor. “The food supply in America is very safe because the private sector self-polices, because they have the highest motivation. They don’t want to be sued, they don’t want to go broke. They want their customers to be healthy and happy.”

    Yeah, Morgan…every day your own party makes it more and more impossible for you to defend it against the charge that it’s actively attacking the average citizen of this country.


  6. James Kessler says:

    It would appear, Jim, they also want to deregulate food safety as one of them, Representative Jack Kingston of Georgia, has proposed getting rid of the nation’s food safety inspections in order to let the industry police itself. HIs reasoning? Well surely the food companies don’t want to be sued so naturally they would do everything possible to make the food we eat safe.

    ….Right and the 3000 people who die every year because of problems with our food is just a glitch….


  7. […] News Blackout – Nebraska This site feels its a hoax. Nuclear power plant incident in Nebraska? Millard Fillmore's Bathtub A Pakistani newspaper, The Nation, should not be confused with the U.S. magazine of the same name, […]


  8. Jim says:


    The anarcho-conservatives probably want to deregulate and privatize the whole nuclear industry, security included. Of course, we can trust corporations to do what is morally right and civilly responsible.


  9. James Kessler says:

    OH even better…they’re loosening the saftey regulations that nuclear plants have to abide by.

    Oh yes…there’s a genius idea…..


  10. Ed Darrell says:

    Keats, the reason Becker said the plant was operating at full capacity with no threat to anyone was because he was speaking of the Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownsville, Nebraska, which is still in operation since it’s not much threatened by flood waters. The Fort Calhoun Station, near Blair, Nebraska, has been shut down since April 9, and remains so, as it is still surrounded by flood waters (but the plant itself is protected from the water) — still not a threat to anyone. It’s in “cold shutdown,” which is one step removed from being completely off-line forever.

    You can read the AP story in The Brandon Sun of Manitoba, Canada (there goes the claim of the impossible and improbable news blackout).


  11. Ed Darrell says:

    Keats — which plant was Becker addressing?


  12. Keats says:

    I mean OPERATING AT FULL CAPACITY is not synonymous with being OFFLINE IN A COLD SHUTDOWN. (Which it had been for refueling).


  13. Keats says:

    Why did Mark Becker, a spokesman for the Columbus, Neb.-based utility, state in a news article today that “The plant was operating Sunday at full capacity, and there was no threat to plant employees or to the public, Becker said. ” Um, it’s not at operating at full capacity is not synonymous with being offline in a cold shutdown. Also, UK papers cover American news, even small town news, better than American media. So, yeah, I think even the Ruskies can get it right.


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