Journalism in the Public Interest

Electrical Fire Knocks Out Spent Fuel Cooling at Nebraska Nuke Plant

Officials at Fort Calhoun plant in Omaha, Neb., said the situation at their plant came nowhere near to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, where uncooled spent fuel released radiation. They said it would have taken 88 hours for the heat produced by the fuel to boil away the cooling water.


Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant (OPPD/Nuclear)

A fire in an electrical switch room on Tuesday briefly knocked out cooling for a pool holding spent nuclear fuel at the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant outside Omaha, Neb., plant officials said.

The safety of deep pools used to store used radioactive fuel at nuclear plants has been an issue since the accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant in March. If the cooling water a pool is lost, the used nuclear fuel could catch fire and release radiation.

As ProPublica reported earlier, fire safety is a continuing concern at the country's 104 commercial reactors, as is the volume of spent fuel piling up at plants.

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.

Mike Jones, a spokesman for the plant's owner, the Omaha Public Power District, said Fort Calhoun has a backup pump to provide water to the spent fuel in case the main system is lost. That pump, which runs on a separate power supply from the rest of the plant, was inspected and standing by on Tuesday, but plant operators restored main power to the pool before the emergency pump was needed, he said.

Fort Calhoun's single reactor has been shut down since April for refueling. The plant had already been operating under a heightened level of alert because of nearby flooding on the Missouri River, the NRC said. The cause of the fire remained under investigation this morning.

Captain Guy

June 9, 2011, 1 p.m.

“plant officials said the temperature in the pool only increased by two degrees” - they were sitting there, uncooled for 90 minutes (so the “official” story goes). I’m sorry, but after hearing just how hot these rods are, thanks to people finally admitting what went on in Japan, THIS water went up by FAR more than 2 degrees. I wonder if these “officials” are the same “officials” who reported on Fukushima?

Actually, it probably did only go up 2 degrees…Kelvin.

Before comparing this to Fukushima, you need the following: are there more or fewer fuel rods, are the rods hotter, cooler or the same, is the volume of the water more or less, is it shallower or deeper?

2 degress Kelvin, 2 degrees Centigrade, 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit—the difference is negligible. Firstly, the rate of heating is proportional to the size of the pool and the decay state of the fuel. We should assume they are both the same. If there is no leak in the pool (and why would there be at Ft. Calhoun), then the worst case scenario is an initial temperature of 0C and heating to boiling (100C). At 2 C per 1.5 hours, this would have taken 75 hours to boil. At Fukushima, they had their hands full for *days*.

We should appreciate the fact that our plants are operating under strong engineering controls and have done so for nearly 50 years. God bless uranium fission.

I don’t like the idea of all these stored rods needing active cooling.  What happens if civilization falters, even if only for a few weeks?  A large economic collapse, any number of large natural disasters, etc.  A number of circumstances could leave large areas without power for 90 hours, 90 days, who knows.  These facilities would boil off and potentially release contamination, making an already difficult situation worse for those in the area or downwind.

“If things are that bad, who cares about the rods?”
You would, if you were downwind of it.



US spent fuel pools are double racked with spent fuel because they have nowhere else to put it. A fuel fire due to loss of water could be caused by loss of water pumping or loss of power if it can’t be worked around with other equipment. There is a lot of fuel to burn including the rods they just took out of the reactor for refueling. Go look at what happened at unit 4 at Fukushima for what all of us could look forward to if Ft. Calhoun had a bigger problem. Where is the spent fuel pool at Ft. Calhoun? Is it down low and possible to mix with flood waters? Is it up high like the BWR units like Fukushima? Are the electrical systems at ground level or in basements? This is what really killed systems at Fukushima was their electricals were ruined by the water coming in.

Must chime in. The folks in Japan, lied. Russia lied. Do we actually believe that U.S. officials at plants in the U.S. wouldn’t lie? Do we actually believe for one second that the elite in Washington would tell the truth? You can’t sell me the Brooklyn Bridge nor could you convince me that plants in the U.S. are safe.

In response to Kradak - It would be easier for me to bless god for fission and heap accolades on nuclear engineers if this wasn’t happening 30 miles from where I send my kids to school.  As it is, it worries the hell out of me and makes me think we should use less energy and retire our nuclear facilities, at least the ones in my neighborhood.  If Kradak wants one in his backyard, have at it.

Westinghouse pressurized water reactors like Ft Calhoun have their spent fuel pools at ground level, in this case the flood plain. The next reactor south of Ft. Calhoun, a GE Mark 1 and identical to those at Fukushima is the Cooper Station at Brownville, Nebrasks. It’s fuel pool is in the containment, above the reactor.
  Cooper recently came within 24 hours of boiling it’s fuel pool after losing it’s cooling water circulation.
  The heating in the pools is proportional to the quantity of fuel stored there. And the pool temperature when cooling circulation is lost.
  The pools would never be at zero degrees centigrade as the water would freeze, and that would burst the pools themselves. Bad idea.

“nearby flooding”???  Have you guys seen the (few) photos which have made it to the media, depicting this plant completely surrounded by several feet of the flooding river?  Sandbags and pumps are holding back the surging river.  There seems a concerted effort by MSM to keep this story out of the news limelight.


June 9, 2011, 5:37 p.m.

I am the President (and a Board Member) of the Chicago-based NUCLEAR ENERGY INFORMATION SERVICE (NEIS), “Illinois’ Nuclear Power Watchdog Group.” It just so happens that, living in Council Bluffs, Iowa, I went to Dana College in Blair, Nebraska (in the vicinity of the Omaha Public Power District’s Fort Calhoun nuclear plant), from 1972-1976, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Degree in Biology and Environmental Studies. While at Dana College, I testified at the licensing hearing for the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant—arguing against giving Ft. Calhoun an “operating license.” ( I spoke about the dangers of the ionizing radiation to be released by the plant.) The electrical fire that “knocked out” the cooling for the irradiated (spent) fuel pool there shows us that: NUCLEAR POWER IS A VERY COMPLEX, INHERENTLY DANGEROUS AND ‘DIRTY’ ENERGY TECHNOLOGY WHICH IS HIGHLY VULNERABLE TO A WIDE RANGE OF UNANTICIPATED MISHAPS!!! What we need is a “nuclear construction moratorium,” the immediate removal of ALL direct and indirect federal nuclear subsidies (including loan guarantees and the Price-Anderson Act), and a speedy phase-out of the entire commercial nuclear power industry. We need to aggressively pursue a “‘CARBON-FREE/NUCLEAR-FREE’ ENERGY PATHWAY”—the best technically and economically feasible way for us to get off of all oil without nuclear (or coal) within 30-50 years. What we are talking about is a 100-percent U.S. renewable energy economy by 2040-2050, being based upon these things: (1) Greatly Increased Energy Efficiency; (2) Combined Heat-and-Power; and (3) Appropriate Renewable Energy Technologies.

Here we are…how safe is safe? How much risk is computed into the how safe is safe calculation?

Human error and technolgy failure are the two issues with any technology. Thus I have concluded years ago that humans will make not only technical design, and flawed engineering errors in almost everything from sticky floor mats in Toyotas causing acceleration problems, if it was the mats and not something else, to design and engineering problems in nuclear power plants.

What we need to do is use energy systems whose failure or exended use beyond the estimated useful life, won’t kill us or technolgy that does not cause long- term threats to public health and safety.

Society relies too much on technology and makes assumptiosn that technology is great and there are no consequences.

For years the American public has endorsed a “policy by body count” approach.

This means that we continue to believe everything we hear thats good about technology and when there is failure and there are bodies to count, we then consider change.

Warnings in advance don’t seems to have much clout.

Wow.  What a pile of misinformation.

@jimjohnson:  Ft. Calhoun is a Combustion Engineering PWR plant, one of the first two ordered from CE as commercial plants (the other being Palisades, in Michigan.)  I don’t know where you read that this is a Westinghouse plant.
@Dennis R Nelson:  You surely cannot expect anyone to take your point of view seriously since you admit to being a paid anti-nuclear activist.  Really.
@Nancy:  Fukushima Daiichi No. 4 is actually the least affected of all of the affected plants at the site.  The hydrogen explosion inside this building was produced by hydrogen gas backflush through a common vent pipe that was supposed to service No. 3 and No. 4 plants.  The spent fuel is undamaged in No. 4 spent fuel pool, as proven by video that TEPCO has released and which is available on my website’s YouTube channel.  For emphasis:  NONE of the damage at this plant’s reactor building was as a result of anything which occurred with the spent fuel IN this building.

Kevin Schmidt

June 9, 2011, 6:51 p.m.

@Wil Davis Wow. What a pile of misinformation from you, indeed!

You have the right to distrust Dennis R Nelson, but you do not have the right to dismiss his comment by using an ad hominem slur.

You surely cannot expect anyone to take your point of view seriously since you use illogical arguments.


June 9, 2011, 7:14 p.m.

Will Davis, you are “operating” under misguided, convoluted assumptions! I did NOT admit to being a “paid anti-nuclear activist”—that is what you simply assumed. My “position” as the President (and Board Member) of NEIS is STRICTLY VOLUNTEER—our only full-time paid staffperson is NEIS DIrector Dave Kraft. (I happen to do inside sales/telemarketing in Chicago—and the skills obtained from doing this have greatly helped my “energy-environmental activism.”) YOU SEE, MR. DAVIS, PEOPLE SHOULD TAKE MY “POINT-OF-VIEW” SERIOUSLY SINCE I HAVE BEEN “NO NUKE” SINCE AROUND THE FIRST “EARTH DAY” (APRIL 22, 1970)—AND EVERYTHING THAT IS HAPPENING SINCE THEN ONLY REINFORCES MY IMFORMED VIEW ABOUT THE “NUCLEAR ‘POWER FAILURE”” (GET IT?) MY PASSION AND COMMITMENT TO ENDING THE “NUCLEAR AGE” SHOULD BE THE “ISSUE”—BUT I, AS THE “SOLAR-POWERED ENERGIZER BUNNY” OF ENERGY-ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS, SHOULD NEVER BE A “TARGET!” You offer no concrete rebuttal to a “‘CARBON-FREE/NUCLEAR-FREE’ ENERGY PATHWAY”—the “principal architect” being Dr. Arjun Makijani, an engineer and a physicist, with the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) in Takoma Park, Maryland.

And the GE mark1 reactor at Brownville is a modified breeder core configuration that GE originally used so as to produce more plutonium than a conventional core configuration. They intended to reprocess it at Morris, Illinois for reuse in weapons production. They’d use the plutonium for H-bomb triggers and the depleted uranium for fissioning armor piercing munitions.
I’m wondering if Cooper at Brownville would, as we saw with the partially plutonium (MOX) fueled Fukushima reactor #3, explode with more vigor than identical, conventionally fueled reactors.
Sorry Will Davis but Ft.Calhoun is a Westinghouse designed pressurized water reactor. As for your hydrogen explosion diagnosis you have no way of knowing although hydrogen is always trotted out as the cause by uranium junkies as they could never admit that the fuel would ever explode. A video from TEPCO proves nothing.
  Full disclosure: Arjun Makijani is a friend of mine.

I used to work at a nuke plant in PA; now I design power plants (mostly gas-powered).  I can’t speak for Japan or Russia, but in the US the NRC keeps very close tabs on the nuke plants and investigates any ‘events’.  Even if you believe the gov’t would be willing to cover up bad news stories at nuke plants, with technology today (Twitter, You Tube, etc.) there would be plenty of workers who would make sure the real story was known.
I’ve been in plenty of coal plants and definitely feel safer walking around a nuke than a coal plant - much better maintained and much more oversight to ensure safety.  Plus, most people don’t realize that many coal plants emit more radiation than nuke plants - along with the coal there are lots of other heavy elements including uranium.
I’m a big fan of renewables, but for now we still need fossil power because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, but I always want to be able to turn on my computer or microwave or lights.  And I know we could go carbon-free, but the cost would be enormous and would put many businesses out of business - the cost to store large amounts of power for calm, cloudy days is not cheap.

Your item states: “With the disaster in Japan, we’re investigating questions about nuclear safety.”

No you’re Not!

What you are doing is repeating rumors in an attempt to create fear, uncertainty and doubt. Fukushima was an economic disaster to their owners. Nobody has been killed from the damaged reactors. 26,000 people were killed by a Tsunami that destroyed coastal villages that had ineffective seawalls.

In terms of dangerous energy sources somewhere the simple obvious truth seems to get lost among the media-hype: natural gas burning plants have blownup killing people - like the “Kleen Energy Plant” in Middleton CT last year. Hydroelectric dams have failed and killed people. Pollution from burning coal kills people.

So I have to ask: with the disasters involving natural gas explosions like Middleton CT, and San Bruno CA last January—- when will you undertake an investigation of natural gas safety?

You won’t because you are hypocrites!

Fort Calhoun page at the NRC site:

I think you’ll see that this is a CE plant; in case you cant figure this out by looking at this page, see the entry by “Reactor Vendor / Type”.  I really do not know where you folks are getting your information, but clearly it’s wrong.  While we’re at it, Cooper Nuclear Station is equipped with a General Electric BWR/4 reactor core in a Mk I containment.  Just in case you wanted all that.  I have just looked at the NRC license for Cooper and the core data looks like a conventional BWR/4 with 548 fuel assemblies, rated 2419 MWt.  What makes you think this is some kind of light water breeder reactor?

@jim johnson:  Reactor fuel exploding?  Really?  You must have not one minute of actual nuclear engineering education.  The explosions at Fukushima Daiichi were chemical combustion of hydrogen gas, liberated after zirconium-water reactions produced this hydrogen.  There was also probably a radiolytic hydrogen component, and possibly a boron carbide derived methane component although this latter would be tiny.  The reactor cores did not explode.  They melted.

@Kevin Schmidt:  Illogical arguments?  Interesting.  You think the description of the hydrogen explosion at No. 4 plant at Fukushima has some other more nebulous explanation?  What would that be?  Wait.. let me guess.  You’re subscribing to the Gundersen theory of fuel pool prompt criticality. 

@Dennis R. Nelson:  Your caps lock key is stuck.  Simply hit CAPS LOCK once more and it will unstick.  Methinks you doth protest too much.

“They’re funny things, accidents! They never happen till they’re happening.” from Winnie the Pooh

NRC page on Ft. Calhoun:

I really do not know where you people are getting your information.  Where did anyone read this was a Westinghouse-designed plant?

As to the design - Ft Calhoun was designed by Combustion Engineering in the 1960s.  ABB bought CE in 1990.  Westinghouse bought ABB’s nuclear division (including what was CE) in 2000.

And to Dennis R Nelson, please be advised that I don’t read posts that shout in all caps.  Writing that way only makes you look hysterical.

Richard Werkhoven

June 10, 2011, 9:30 a.m.

No gas plant has blown up causing decades of death and suffering.

No gas plant can blow up and make a large area of the country unliveable for decades.

These stupid comparisons are very selective in the comparisons of effect.

I have to doubt either the sanity or the intent of those who make them.

Comparison to Fukushima is unnecessary here - The NRC and others have estimated that the potential danger from a spent fuel pool accident in the US is major.

Unfortunately they also made arbitrary judgements that such an event was infrequent and therefore they would pretend was irrelevant.

The expectation is that 4 days is the time for a SFP cooling loss to turn into disaster.

The expectation is that an SFP event in the US would result in 176 short term deaths. Before you label me anything for that number - think about where it came from.

The events that could lead to that have a probability of 0 according to the NEI - and yet I can quote examples form the last few years.

In short the nuclear industry is unsafe and misrepresents the risks of which it is quite aware.

More people die from car accidents than from terrorists - so by the same logic - terrorism is acceptable. So jhickbel - apply your own logic and support terrorism or you are a hypocrite!

Yes - please investigate Natural Gas safety - I really dislike gas to the home - seems a bad idea and I am having it disconnected here shortly.

Dams are not only dangerous in many cases, they are environmental mistakes.

Now I don’t propose dams, and for the record I want coal burning plants stopped also - so don’t even bother with that comparison. I have heard it used so often now.

I am not against nuclear power - I am against inefficient and unsafe nuclear power.

Nuclear power is the least renewable of all energy sources.

Coal, oil, gas etc will all be slowly replenished - just at a rate much slower than our current use.

Solar, wind, etc are all obviously renewable.

Nuclear fuels were made in stars - they are not made on earth at all and are not deposited on earth in any sort of significant quantity,

Once we burn through Uranium and Thorium we will have to find another way - do we do that now or when the population is much greater?

Uranium and Thorium have uses besides power generation - we will lose those options due to inefficient nuclear plants.

The amount of energy in used fuel rods at Fukushima is enough to run to provide the world with it’s 2007 electricity consumption for 2,500 years.

Work out just how inefficient our current processes are?

Nuclear plants dump heat into the oceans - causing global warming without the CO2. They are not green at all.

Admittedly coal and gas plants do the same - but nuclear plants are actually less efficient and dump more of their heat,

Nuclear is unsafe, non-renewable, warms the planet and expensive.

sounds to me like everyone wants change but nobody wants to change.  you can’t have both.

No explosions at gas plants?  No, just flammable drinking water from extracting the gas.  Out power systems are not sustainable and getting the raw materials out of the ground are killing us.  Do I really have to explain the rest of this horrible scenario.

I have only one thing to say to all the nuclear power supporters and that is if it is so safe why do we have the Price Anderson Act which puts the taxpayer at risk rather than the corporations who profit from these plants . Buy the way,I too worked in the power industry and am very familier with the near meltdown of an experimental reactor and also had friends who did inspections of a nuclear facility that were covered up. As to the NRC,that is the fox watching the henhouse! Nuf Said!

kevin muggleston

June 10, 2011, 1 p.m.

American reactors can not explode like a nuclear bomb.  Spent nuclear fuel can not explode like a nuclear bomb. The only issue of concern unique to nuclear power plants comes down to radiation. Radiation can be dangerous to humans, so fear of radiation is certainly understandable. The issue then boils down to the level of fear, which obviosly varies significantly from person to person. It is well established that people tend to fear the unknown, and education and exposure tends to reduce fear. Of all the things we are exposed to in modern society, like thousands of organic and inorganic chemicals, drugs, insecticides, fertilizers, food additives, vitamins and supplements, radiation is a very basic simple natural phenomenon. It is well understood, highly controlled and regulated, and easily detected, measured and quantified. A simple comparison of the levels of radiation that people are routinely and willingly exposed to, against the issues associated with operation of a nuclear power plant that some people express extreme concerns about, reveals the huge disconnect between actual radiation effects and the fear of the effects of radiation. Look up the radiation exposure of a single MRI.  It is more then twice my total exposure in 30 years in the business.  Everyone gets at least 300 mR/year from solar/cosmic. Also, it is unlikely TEPCO lied, it just makes good sensational press.  They were experiencing a prolonged STATION BLACKOUT!.  The backup batteries were dead, including even emergency lighting. There are no windowns in the plant. Imagine pitch darkness, no working controls or instrumentation, just a hardhat and a flashlight and a walkie-talkie. They had no way of knowing much about what was happening in the plant. They provided estimates of plant status as best they could with very little information.  It was weeks before they were able to restore significant amounts of power to the station and begin to monitor status of plant equipment and piece together the actual sequence of events that had occurred.  They are still far from finished evaluating the event.  So when they revise the estimates of the degree of fuel damage, or damage to the containment structure of piping systems, they are accused of lying or withholding information?  Think about it, really.  I can assure you that the media reports inaccurate or incomplete information about anything nuclear 90% of the time, emphasizing fear and danger and leaving out any facts that don’t support the fear and danger angle.

This is an excellent article.

“Mike Jones, a spokesman for the plant’s owner, the Omaha Public Power District, said Fort Calhoun has a backup pump to provide water to the spent fuel in case the main system is lost. That pump, which runs on a separate power supply from the rest of the plant, was inspected and standing by on Tuesday, but plant operators restored main power to the pool before the emergency pump was needed, he said.”

Why did’t they use the backup system? Why did they wait 90 minutes when the backup system was avaliable? This is not right.

Breakdown of the statement from Mike Jones

“That pump, which runs on a separate power supply from the rest of the plant,”

This means an external source, and that is a mobile generator brought in from a local electrical repair company.

Which was, most likely, not available. At least in 90 minutes

The NUTS AND BOLTS of the situation


June 10, 2011, 1:41 p.m.

Ed Faber (Friday, June 10, at 7:28 AM) complained about my “posts that shout in all caps” which make me look “hysterical.” No, that is simply a “writing technique” which I use all the time to emphasize various points! For example, I used it in my written testimony supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “Mercury and Air Toxics Rule” (cutting pollution from our coal-fired power plants)—read at the USEPA public hearing held in Chicago on Tuesday, May 24, 2011.                                                                E Mac’s comment (Thursday, June 9, 11:31 PM) that “the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t always blow” underscores the need for advanced electricity storage technologies (like lithium-ion batteries) as a part of an updated, more efficient “super-[‘smart’] utility grid.” You can also have a “solar/wind hybrid system” (with storage, of course)—the solar photovoltaics (PVs) can generate electricity during the daytime hours, and the wind turbine can generate electricity at night when the wind is blowing.

kevin who pays you to spread this stuff.  You make it sound like a disney movie.  Nuclear is safe (until something goes wrong).  ANd I’m sure everyone is telling the truth about everything they do.  Companies like Monsanto, Exxon, BOA they are all nice trustworthy folk.  Gimme a break.  IF our government really wanted to make a difference in the energy situation it would be done in a heart beat.  But hey there is no money in it.  And the big corps. wouldn’t let them do it anyway.  When the criminals write the laws you know what happens.

What is the long term environmental impact with lithium-ion batteries?

This is the first time I’ve ever heard of you, Dennis R. Nelson, but I just want to say thank you.

If we had more courageous men like you running the world, we would all be much safer.

Ever notice that there is - in general - a direct correlation between the distance someone lives away from all nuclear facilities and the vigor of their defense of the nuclear industry?  It isn’t as clear-cut as the relationship that exists between the amount of money someone earns from the nuclear industry and the vigor of their defense of same, but it is most definitely there.

Of course, those relationships seem to be a constant across all industries that can or do emit anything that threatens the quality or length of human life.

Go figure.


June 10, 2011, 8:44 p.m.

After hearing all the “officials” lie about what was going on in Japan for as long as they did, I’m sorry if I just can’t bring myself to believe our “officials” when they say there is nothing to worry about.

The only reason we can’t move forward in America with new fuel technology is because we are a nation fueled by greed and we can not allow a new technology as long as someone is getting rich with old technology.

I read three or four comments… and that is enough for me.  While some of your concerns may be valid, you aren’t a specialist, you do not have the ability to comprehend all the variables.  You probably aren’t even smarter than a 5th grader.  Let the experts do their jobs, if you think they aren’t doing a good enough job, go get your masters or PHD in nuclear physics.  In the mean time… STHU! :)

Travis Smith emoted 7 minutes ago:  ““While some of your concerns may be valid, you aren’t a specialist, you do not have the ability to comprehend all the variables.”

Hey, I remember that argument!

That was the same one Wall Street and banking used when they told us to “Don’t worry, be happy!” when concerns were raised about credit default swaps, special investment vehicles, and mortgage-backed securities.

If radiation is so ‘safe’, why have I suffered all my life because of nuclear fallout as a Downwinder from all the Nevada nuclear tests in the early 60s? Or from living near Rocky Flats in Colorado for many years? Why did my mother suffer the same? Why did my best friend die from a brain tumor caused by nuclear irradiation? Why is cancer pandemic since these tests? Why is there still a dead zone around Chernobyl? I don’t know of any dead zones near coal plants or gas plants. Are there? There will be a dead zone around Fukushima for many years to come. And many more people will suffer the consequences of nuclear ‘power’. I’d rather have solar panels on my home and a windmill in my yard, and give up a few ‘luxuries’ in order to know our future children will actually have a future.

There are a lot of passionate posts both pro and anti nuke power and its dangers and/or safety.  Well like one other writer mentioned - every single form of power has its drawbacks.  Coal, gas, and nuke plants have all both directly and indirectly killed people.  Wind and solar affect animals and their habitats plus they aren’t always available.
I hope that in addition to writing and/or reading these posts, you all consider changes you can do to make a difference.  Replace your lights with CFL (which contain mercury - so that’s another trade-off), raise your thermostat in the summer and lower it in the winter, turn off lights when you aren’t in the room, etc.  After you’ve made all of the changes in your life that you’re willing to make for the sake of using less power, encourage your family and friends to do the same.
And realize that we’ll still have power plants, there will still be accidents, people and animals will still die, but that’s the choice we all make and the risk we all agree to when we have power and gas lines hooked up to our houses.  We may disagree on the level of safety between the various options, but they all have risks.  I hope you can focus on the biggest impact you can have in this regard - by making changes to your own personal habits.

as far as I can see reading event 46932 (nearer the bottom) on the NRC page (, nowhere does it mention 90 minutes in that report, so where did this figure come from?

I live 16 miles downriver from the plant, and I work there.  I have worked there and in other nuclear plants for more than 30 years, so I probably know more about the “nuts and bolts” of the things than anyone who has posted here so far.  First, the primary cooling for spent fuel was lost for 90 minutes.  This water is extremely pure so that the fuel is not damaged in any way.  If the backup source of cooling would have been used, water that is not so pure would have been used.  While this is OK in a real emergency, there was no need to do this during the current event since the plant had over 80 hours to restore cooling.  Also, the cooling load in the spent fuel pool is pretty low since the hottest fuel is being stored in the reactor itself which has five main pumps and three backup pumps that can be used to cool it in the current configuration.  These pumps were not lost.

To address the issue of truthfulness in reporting, I will agree that often things are sugar coated.  However, the difference between here and Japan is that we are not a compliant and homogenous society.  There are three Unions at the Fort Calhoun Station, and they do not trust Management there any more than some people who have posted above.  In fact, dealing with Management day after day, they trust them less.  In addition, these people live anywhere form one to thirty miles from the plant, most of them downriver.  If there was any danger to the public, it would be impossible for Management to keep a lid on it like the did in Japan or Russia.  The workers themselves would report the situation is Management did not.  Also, there are an increased number of NRC inspectors at the plant due to the local floods.  There is not much that is going to happen there that you will not hear about within hours, if not minutes.

As to Mr. Nelson, he should stick to a subject that he does know.  From what I have read above, Nuclear Power is not one of those subjects.

Don't Be Naive

June 11, 2011, 6:54 p.m.

I don’t believe for one minute that we’d hear about it if there was a radiation release from a power plant in the U.S.

They’d clamp down on the information just like they’ve done on the radiation from Japan that was found in U.S. milk, water, vegetables, air, and will soon be on the west coast via the Pacific Ocean currents.

Did you know that?

Google cesium-137 milk or UC Berkeley radiation monitoring.

Also google the heartbreaking photos of the Japanese children being tested for radiation contamination. 

There have been so many “near miss” problems at U.S. nuclear power plants. 

Don’t even take the chance that your children or grandchildren may be exposed to a nuclear meltdown.  Vote for anti-nuclear candidates who will phase out nuclear energy for safe, clean, non-deadly energy.

Steve Schnarr

June 11, 2011, 7:09 p.m.

Here’s some local video coverage of the flooding at Fort Calhoun Plant. It’s pretty stunning. The river is still expected to rise another 2-3 feet (or more). Nuclear Power Station Property&vt1=v&at1=News&d1=116166&LaunchPageAdTag=News&activePane=info&rnd=56940747

There is enough BUNK out here that it warrants intelligent response.

(1) Nobody has ever been killed from a US designed nuclear power plant. People are killed every year from explosions in natural gas fired power plants. People die by the hundreds with coal pollution. How did we conveniently forget about that?

(2) Natural gas plants are dependent on long high pressure gas transport pipelines that are aging. They will leak and they will cause fires and deaths -such as occurred in PG&E’s gas pipeline in San Bruno California last January which as I recalled killed 5-6 and burned down a neighborhood. So we conveniently forget about that one too.

(3) Next we hear talk about hypothetical nuclear casualties. When you compare the results of “hypothetical” disaster scenarios involving nuclear facilities—they have to be hypothetical—they haven’t happened. When you want to know the rate of deaths from other sources of energy you just read the newspapers. People study disasters like airliner crashes to learn what went wrong and to improve air safety. Nuclear facilities have to rely on “what-if"studies because there is to little failure experience. I would ask the folks who tacitly assume that anything else is safer: “what is you basis?”

(4) Renewable energy will get us where we need to be for powering a modern society?? Really! Windmills have been around for centuries but they are intermittant. My grandparents had one to pump water for livestock—it typically didn’t run when you needed water the most. Rural electrification got them all the water they needed. Are we going to wait for the wind to blow to run our factories? People: Get real.

(5) Nuclear fuels are rare? Again—Not correct! Uranium is 40x more abundant than gold and silver, and other rare earth metals. Look at website:’s_crust

(6) nuclear plants warm the planet? Now This is really dumb. ALL thermal plants using a steam cycle to make electricity reject heat. A central station solar and geothermal plants will also reject heat if it uses a steam cycle. Nuclear’s principle advantage is that it does not emit greenhouse gases which trap earth’s heat.

(7) So why didn’t Ft Calhoun immediately hook up an additional cooling system? They didn’t need to. They would typically have 20ft of 70-80 degree water over the top of the fuel. To heat up that amount of water to the point it would boil off (212F) would take an awful long time. Its obviously easier to restore to regular cooling.

I doubt I would change some of the opinions—but I am posting this to make others recognize “facts” vs. “hysterics”

Dr. John H Bickel

Bernard Shanks, Missouri dam expert, did a piece a week ago which has appeared in various newspapers around the country (not in the OWH to my knowlege) in which he laid out an end-of-days script whereby all the dams on the Missouri would fail sending a 60’+ wall of water down destroying every bridge, water treatment plant and oh, yes nuclear power plant, In a follow up interview he said the probability of such an occurance at 1-3% as the aging dams continue aging with the increase in risk after a dam is 50 years old…the oldest Peck’s is 78 and the most at risk. Now if you take a 1% probability and x 100 years you are talking almost a sure thing, making the potential for radiation leakage a very real and very high cost.

I cannot comment on the actual probability of a dam break, but I can say that the Nuclear Power Plants downstream are only designed to have one dam break and not all of them. If one of the upper two failed,  all of them would likely fail. This is particularly true with the current water levels.

Gardner L. Harris

June 13, 2011, 8:37 a.m.

I want to emphatically state that I have ZERO technological understanding of the operation of a nuclear fission plant. However I do understand the basic concept of fission, heat, heat exchange, steam and turbine generators.  That said I also wish to say that I have little fear of the San Onofre system a few miles down the road from me going critical and inundating the area with radiation for the next century or two.  I can’t speak for the rest of the reactors in this country because I simply don’t know their possible failure modes.

What I do know is that the French have been operating their plants for decades without a single failure, leak or reported system outage for as long as any of them have been in operation.

So I have an honest question; what’s their secret and if their systems are so good why is not the US and every other country which depends on nuclear generation using the French methodology?

I am all for using renewable resources.  I have 38PV panels on my home for power and 18 panels on another section of the roof for solar heating of my swimming pool. My electric and gas bills are in the single digits each month and power outages with are common to many residents of So Cal are a thing of the past for us. Can sun and wind totally replace Nuke and Fossil sources?  Possibly but what would be the sacrifice in arable for solar mirror installations or the sacrifice in visual beauty to place wind generators atop every available mountain top?  We are all missing some important concepts. What are they??

I hope the line-editor stops drinking de-caf or buys some new glasses.  “If the cooling water a pool is lost, the used nuclear fuel could catch fire and release radiation.”

The estimate of fatalities from Chernobyl, the world’s worse nuclear catastrophy vary all over the place. An article in IEEE Spectrum, May 2010 quotes numbers from 4000 to 8650. There could be more, or less, but it is difficult to specifically attribute deaths to Chernobyl because of the general rate of cancer deaths in the the population that were “at risk”. A number quoted is 1 million within that population overall but it is impossible to separate deaths due to smoking, genetic susceptability, environmental conditions including industrial emissions, e.g. radionuclides and particulates released from burning coal.

Let’s compare to the technologies we are all using, perhaps every day.
Since 1975 there have been approximately 1.5 million deaths from automobile ‘accidents’ in the US. In the same period, there have been (on a global basis) more than 10,000 fatalities due to commercial aircraft accidents.

Over the same period, how many deaths in the US are attributable to nuclear plant ‘accidents’ - specifically radiation?

One last point, my cancer was cured through ‘radiation’ - 70 Gray worth!

I don’t quite understand your argument, John Baron. 

Are you saying that since we are willing to tolerate the risks posed by nuclear facilities, then rather than eliminate the former we should apply the identical approach to all other arenas where the use of, emissions from, or failure of technology poses a threat to the quality or length of human life?

I.e., are you arguing that we should abandon all efforts towards ensuring and regulating automobile and aircraft safety?  That we should again permit smoking anywhere and everywhere?  Since we are willing to tolerate the risks of both functional and failed nuclear facilities?

That sounds very…Koch brothers, in that the ones who will benefit the most are contained in the same set as those who will profit the most from said technology.

And congratulations on your “cure” can’t help wondering about the source of your cancer, however; I’ve yet to hear of a cancer caused by radiation being cured by radiation. 

(Although I have heard that the risks of second-hand smoke are ginned up as a means of concealing the consequences of exposing humans to industrial and radiological mutagens at a constantly escalating rate. 

Which itself is a hypothesis reinforced by a constant:  The unfailingly unidirectional application of the argument that “it is impossible to separate deaths due to smoking, genetic susceptability, environmental conditions including industrial emissions, e.g. radionuclides and particulates released from burning coal”.

Yet we do - based upon the argument that second-hand smoke contains substances that demonstrate carcinogenic or mutagenic characteristics under laboratory conditions in species other than human at exposure rates accelerated to meet the limitations of researcher time and funding - and without control studies wherein the control groups were selected for “genetic susceptibility” and/or exposed to “environmental conditions including industrial emissions, e.g. radionuclides and particulates released from burning coal”.

Conversely, we are asked to calmly accept the dangers of radioactives - which have demonstrated the ability to be carcinogens and mutagens “in the wild”...a.k.a. real life…or death, as it were.)

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Nuclear Safety

Nuclear Safety

With the disaster in Japan, we're investigating questions about nuclear safety.

The Story So Far

Following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, hydrogen explosions rocked three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Radioactive spent fuel stored in pools was also affected, especially at one reactor—the plant has a total of six—where multiple fires erupted. Evacuation orders were issued, potassium iodine tablets distributed, and plant employees used seawater and external electrical power to cool the stricken reactors, three of which had a partial core meltdown.

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