Monday, June 20, 2011

Rising water, falling journalism

By Dawn Stover

Every evening, my father climbs the levee along the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and peers down into the black water that swallows the road. The water is rising, and the Army Corps of Engineers says the levee has never faced such a test. Dad, a retired professor, is packing his books and papers. If the levee doesn't hold, his one-story house could be underwater for months.

A little farther up the Missouri, at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Station near Blair, Nebraska, the river is already lapping at the Aqua Dams -- giant plastic tubes filled with water -- that form a stockade around the plant's buildings. The plant has become an island.

In Blair, in Council Bluffs, and in my hometown of Omaha -- which are all less than 20 miles from the Fort Calhoun Station -- some people haven't forgotten that flooding is what caused the power loss at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the disastrous partial meltdowns that followed. They're wondering what the floodwaters might do if they were to reach Fort Calhoun's electrical systems.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a "yellow finding PDF" (indicating a safety significance somewhere between moderate and high) for the plant last October, after determining that the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) "did not adequately prescribe steps to mitigate external flood conditions in the auxiliary building and intake structure" in the event of a worst-case Missouri River flood. The auxiliary building -- which surrounds the reactor building like a horseshoe flung around a stake -- is where the plant's spent-fuel pool and emergency generators are located. Read More