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.

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John Baron

June 13, 2011, 2:51 p.m.

In reply to ibsteve2u.

No, I am not saying any of those things you imply.

I am pointing out that there are many hazardous conditions that we live with on a day-to-day basis, nuclear power being one of them - and it is most certainly not the worst risk in terms of untimely deaths within society.

I had a friend who was so fearful of flying that he would not board an airplane at any costs. Howver, he thought nothing of skiing down mountains.

I suggest care in ascribing risk to nuclear plants whilst happily accepting greater risks.

John Baron

June 13, 2011, 2:54 p.m.

Again, for ibsteve2u.

The source of my cancer was a virus -(Epstein-Barr virus)


June 13, 2011, 3:32 p.m.

So, John Baron, you’re saying that the wise choice would always be choosing a safer alternative?

C Davis

June 13, 2011, 3:38 p.m.

I think you speak of the CHOICE your friend has about whether he risks his life by flying or skiing, whereas most people have NO CHOICE when it comes to irradiation from nuclear testing or nuclear power plant accidents

. Also…the public is being duped when the “authorities” fill us with propaganda to reassure us there are many more dangerous accidents and risks than can kill us…most of them are due to lifestyle CHOICES. A nuclear plant spews radioactive poisons as long as they are in operation. People living downwind have no choice (other than moving) about being subjected to the nukes toxins.

A nuclear accident leave the world with NO CHOICE about being poisoned, mutated, and riddled with various cancers for generations to come.

I also agree with ibsteve2u: “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.”

I have heard the same thing. Even read on the good ole ‘Net today about how radioactivity just flies through the air, lands on tobacco plants and ends up in cigarettes. Amazing how it doesn’t land anywhere else. *chuckle*  I wish I’d saved that link. Maybe I’ll try to find it again.

Mike Havenar

June 13, 2011, 6:49 p.m.

When the ship was invented, shipwrecks were invented as well. The invention of the car produced auto accidents; the invention of explosives produced explosive accidents, airplanes birthed plane crashes, and the invention of nuclear power, it follows, produces nuclear accidents. They are as inevitable as shipwrecks.
The question I have asked again and again since the Fukishima accident is this: Where are the robots?
Why isn’t the nuclear industry and government plunging headlong into the design, production and sale of robots that can enter a plant in crisis in order to investigate, produce light, take photos, turn valves, punch buttons, weld metal, clear debris, and patch holes in reactors?
Nuclear power will produce nuclear accidents.
People who profit from the design, construction, and sales of nuclear power plants seem willing to risk the very earth for their profit. They have many supporters, who are so only because they are addicted to the benefits of electricity, which is forgivable, because we all are. But it is plain to all that nuclear power is too dangerous. Even a flood can knock one out and depopulate a whole region of people fleeing in fear of a slow and painful death by radiation. Economic disaster of such magnitude ensues, that the economy of the whole world is affected. I agree with everyone who says that nuclear power plants must go. Tidal energy alone can power this entire country. Our long coastline can power the whole country, pollution-free.
I often ponder the possibility that the production and use of the despicable “uranium-depleted weapons” is impelled at least partly by the necessity of downsizing the impossible storage of spent nuclear fuel rods.

Stefan N.

June 13, 2011, 9:54 p.m.

@C. Davis - we actually do have a choice.  Every time that we switch on a light or turn on our air conditioning.  To make the power that we use requires burning fossil fuels like coal (which puts more radiation into the air than any nuclear plant) or nuclear.  Utilities are trying to use more wind, but the technology is too weak and the power too unstable.  Solar is not the answer since it consumes more power producing the technology than the technology currently delivers.  Of course, we have to keep trying solar and wind or we will never make the advances needed to make them viable.  But in the meantime, every time one of us uses electricity, we are making the choice to accept the risk that comes with its generation.


June 14, 2011, 8:43 p.m.

They do have a place for the spent fuel rod…Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but it’s closed down (kind of like they did with the Texas Super Collider project.

Most likely Yucca Mountain is really a secret government underground relocation center for when all SHTF!

Roger Blomquist

June 15, 2011, 11:03 a.m.

No these are not the same officials as the ones getting out information about Fukushima. Those ones are Japanese.

Russell Forrest

June 15, 2011, 3:23 p.m.

the FAA has closed the airspace over the plant:



June 15, 2011, 3:27 p.m.

Ever notice that those who defend nuclear power by contrasting accident rates in that industry with the accident rate in, say, the natural gas industry never use terms like “half-life” or “toxicity”?

Like, “The toxicity of the carbon dioxide and water that results from the uncontrolled combustion of natural gas poses a much greater risk of lethal mutagenic and carcinogenic cellular changes when compared to the uncontrolled combustion of spent nuclear fuel rods given water’s far greater half-life when compared to, say, Cesium-137.”?

Can’t figure out why…

Oh, wait.


June 15, 2011, 4:27 p.m.

I posted way back on this article something to the effect Nuclear power is safe until something goes wrong.  Well….........
Now what?
I tell ya what let’s just wait until one of these plants lets loose with a bunch of safe radiation.  Then we can sit there and say gosh everyone told me it was safe.  All the experts said that nothing would ever happen.  It makes me ill to listen to these sheeple

Ray Smith

June 15, 2011, 4:45 p.m.

I used to work in a 600 psi steam plant in the Navy.  Things can go wrong very fast.  One little drop of water on a turbine blade and that all she wrote.  If there was a steam leak I would have been cooked in seconds.  You risk your life when you work with these power plants.  I don’t care how many backup systems you have.


June 16, 2011, 7:13 a.m.

Will Davis, so there’s really no risk associated with this plant and the potential of flooding?

Even if the river crests the levels and starts flowing through the plant, that won’t be a big deal?  the plant is designed to handle such a situation?


June 16, 2011, 7:38 a.m.

I find it interesting that the experts here comparing the total radiation released by a coal plant over 50 years to the release of a nuclear plant operating normally, as if this is comparable.

The concentration of radio-nucleotides matters.

As an analogy, everyday we consume low levels of arsenic and it’s completely safe to do so. But if you take a lifetime’s exposure in one meal, you’ll die.

A coal plant releases very low level diffuse radiation over a long period of time spread in the atmosphere and in ash.

A nuclear accident produces a concentration of high energy radio-nucleotides over a short period of time in a more limited geographical area.

The folks saying this is the same, are implying that we are ignorant and stupid.

As the talk about the risks, imagine the economic damage one of these plants could produce. If we had a disaster in the upper North East what would be the economic costs of abandoning the area? What would be the cost of shutting down NYC and Wall Street, permanently?

These people are outright calling you stupid and ignorant when giving you stupid and ignorant statistical arguments. Low level radiation spread over a wide geographical area over a long period of time isn’t the same as a short period high energy release.

If we take one more analogy that applies to their argument. consider the case of low level long term lead exposure, compared to a bullet to the brain pan. These folks want you to believe there is no fundamental difference between the twov kinds of exposure to lead.

The y think you’re stupid enough to buy it, because they make it sound complicated, just as Wall Street called us all stupid when they said that derivatives can’t melt down because they are complicated.

Ray SMith

June 16, 2011, 10:16 a.m.

radiation exposure is cumulative a little here a little there builds up.  xrays, body scans at airports, it’s not just nuke plants.  So when they talk about radiation exposure they narrow it down to “well a mouth xray won’t hurt you”  it’s bull&*(t.  It’s all bout the money sorry to say.  But hey if the radiation doesn’t get you the massive doses of aluminum from chemtrails will.

Stefan N.

June 16, 2011, 10:45 a.m.

@ Weasledog - you said:

“A coal plant releases very low level diffuse radiation over a long period of time spread in the atmosphere and in ash.”

This is not true.  A nuclear plant exposes its workers to 60 - 80 times more radiation than a coal plant would.  However, a coal plant exposes the environment to 100 times the radiation that a similar sized nucelar plant would.  This is due to the concentration of radionuclides in the fly ash and the stack effluents.  Government studies (easy to find on the internet) show that people living within a mile or two of coal plants recieve much more radiation dose than those living next to a nuclear plant.  This is compounded by the fact that coal plants can be situated (and are situated) in high population density areas.  Utilities tend to put nuclear plants as far away from people as they can get them.


June 16, 2011, 10:51 a.m.

Ray Smith, you’re right, but that’s not the argument they are making.

They are making the argument that X amount of radiation spread over a large area is equivalent to X amount of radiation confined to a small space.

And look at the risks another way. No accident at a coal plant can destroy a major city and make it uninhabitable, but a nuke plant can do this. The risks may be comparable in some ways, but they are not equivalent.


June 16, 2011, 11:05 a.m.

Stefan N, you argument applies if humans and the systems they make are perfect. We aren’t and the things we make aren’t.

Chaos theory tells us that if enough plants are built, occasionally one is going to have an accident and meltdown. As the plants age, the odds that any given plant will win this lottery increases. Because of the very high costs of decommissioning, plants will increasingly be run to their limits before decommissioning. It’s what humans do.

I’ve been told all of my life that this is impossible. Then a special case of Chernobyl happened, then another special case of Fukushima happened. Chaos theory tells us that more special cases should be expected.

Your math doesn’t take the cost of an occasional meltdown into account at all. You’re intentionally understating the risks.

Three troubling facts that I’ve learned since Fukushima,

1. The nuclear industry commonly uses temporary contract workers for hazardous cleanups. If these workers die a couple of years later, they aren’t counting in the statistics, because they aren’t full time plant employees.

2. The nuclear industry on the whole makes it a policy to lie and engage in coverups. You can never be sure that officials or media spokespersons are telling you anything that resembles the truth.

3. The industry believes it’s own BS and doesn’t actually have a good understanding of it’s risks and limitations.

Folks here are trying to tell us that the Japanese are inferior to Americans, when it comes to technology and safety. That’s a load of crap. That nothing but hubris.

Stefan N.

June 16, 2011, 11:23 a.m.

@Weaseldog - You misinterpreted my post.  I was addressing only one statement that you made that was inaccurate.  As to your followup post, you will find little disagreement in me.  I have worked in this industry for nearly 30 years, and I am well aware of the risks.  I am also aware of many accidents that were never reported, at least not on a wide scale.  My support for nuclear power is very conditional.  I see it as a lesser of evils based on my knowledge of the big picture of power generation.


June 16, 2011, 11:33 a.m.

Stefan N, I’m not disagreeing with your correction.

Ray Smith

June 16, 2011, 12:46 p.m.


I guess what I’m really saying is and I can’t help but see things this way.  Is that the massive amount of energy used and environmental damage caused just to support this type of energy is saddening.  The cost goes far beyond how much radiation it takes to do harm an individual or a large group of people.


June 16, 2011, 2:21 p.m.

@Don’t be naive: “google the heartbreaking photos of the Japanese children being tested for radiation contamination”

Would you advise them instead not to test the children? Of course they tested the children, and I’d want mine tested too - so they can be showered and get a change of clothes and safely go on about their business with the contamination removed.

@Paul on June 11, 7:35 a.m:
That was an excellent resource. Thank you for sharing. ‘90 minutes’ came from the company spokesman apparently delivering the story to the press.


June 16, 2011, 2:31 p.m.

How do you get the contamination out of your child’s lungs and intestinal tract?

Ray Smith

June 16, 2011, 7:07 p.m.


If your serious about what you can do to heal radiation take a look here

Ray Smith

June 16, 2011, 7:08 p.m.


If your serious about what you can do to heal radiation take a look here


Stefan N.

June 17, 2011, 12:38 p.m.

@ weaseldog

I would not worry about the lungs and intestines at this point.  Worry about the bones.  The isotope that you want to look for is Strontium 90.  This is present in spent fuel (the stuff burning at Fukushima).  This was also a major concern during the Windscale fire of 1957.  Y-90 gets into the bones because it works like calcium.  From what I have studied, the effect is worse on children than on adults.  It is also particularly nasty since you get most of the dosage by eating contaminated foods or drinking contaminated milk.  This means that you can spread the stuff much further than the scene of the accident.

Patty McCredie

June 18, 2011, 1:19 p.m.

I can’t believe in conspiracy theories, because I think groups of human beings don’t have the ability to stay that cohesive. Leaks will happen somehow. We know that for sure from conspiracies that have taken place. But I think lots of people would like to be able to maintain conspiracies for their own interests. Assuming for the moment that nuclear plants (and some of them are very old technology now…) are virtually 100-percent safe—and I don’t think anyone believes that—what do we do about lies and greed in the industry? There are pretty clear examples of that. Look at the IAEA, and the history of the industry. I don’t advocate shutting down all our reactors now, but let’s not have license renewals on old plants. Let’s not build new plants. There are many good reasons that are quite unsensational (cost and disadvantages of mining, use of fossil fuels to sustain the nuclear industry in one way or another, lack of storage of nuclear waste, for a few examples) for phasing nuclear power out.


June 20, 2011, 7:23 p.m.

To Will Davis (June 10): My caps lock key was NOT stuck. “Me thinks that you doth focus upon the superficial too much!” Thanks, Anne (June 10), for your encouragement and kind words! Stefan N (June 11) claims that nuclear power is a subject which I know nothing about but then does NOT give one concrete example why! To jhbickel (June 12): Yes, renewable energy can power our entire modern civilization. On May 9, 2011, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its “Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN).” The IPCC’s “working group” of 120 researchers concluded that renewable energy sources alone can meet the world’s power needs by 2050—countering the burgeoning belief that nuclear power is the only viable solution. This represents a systemic, broad, impartial, and state-of-knowledge report on the present and future potential of a global “‘Carbon-Free/Nuclear-Free’ Energy Pathway.” The “renewable energy mix” studied by the IPCC includes bioenergy, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind.                                                                  I am doing to leave everyone with my remarks given “on-stage” at the annual outdoor “CHICAGO PEACE FEST” in Lincoln Park on Sunday, June 19, 2011: “NO NUKES, NO COAL, NO OIL—NO KIDDING!” My name is Dennis Nelson. I am the President (and a Board member) of the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS) here in Chicago. NEIS is “Illinois’ Nuclear Watchdog Group.” NEIS is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month. The nuclear industry has claimed that the chance of a major nuclear accident WAS ONE IN A MILLION—or about the chance of being hit by a falling meteorite. There must be alot of falling meteorites in Japan: THREE of the Fukushima reactors had COMPLETE CORE MELTDOWNS. “Pockets” of radioactive soil around Fukushima have reached the same levels of radiation as Chernobyl. There has been the real threat of radioactive water at Fukushima overflowing from service trenches. Excessive levels of very toxic strontium (a radioactive pollutant) have been detected in the seawater and groundwater at Fukushima. The Japanese nuclear disaster shows that nuclear power is INHERENTLY DANGEROUS AND ‘DIRTY’—that nuclear power is VERY VULNERABLE TO A VARIETY OF UNANTICIPATED EVENTS. There are 24 American reactors that have the same basic design flaws as the Fukushima reactors. FOUR of them are here in Illinois (Exelon’s Dresden and Quad Cities reactors). ALL 24 OF THEM SHOULD BE SHUT DOWN IMMEDIATELY! It is only a matter of time until a Fukushima-scale nuclear catastrophe happens on “U.S. soil!” We need to STOP PLAYING the “gamble of ‘nuclear roulette’”—a game that we can only lose!! This is a great day! I want to end on a “POSITIVE NOTE”: WE HAVE TO “PLACE OUR BETS” ON INHERENTLY SAFER AND CLEANER ENERGY SOURCES—ENERGY EFFICENCY ANF RENEWABLE SOURCES. “NO MORE FUKUSHIMA’S!”

david f

June 20, 2011, 10:06 p.m.

Pray that the water resides before any thing else happens and i would like nbc to stop ,they took out of the pledge ,they left out the only hope america has GOD . Pray for the people in japan and in america,  radiation will kill you and it last’s for a long time a very long time..

Mickey S.

June 20, 2011, 11:09 p.m.

D.R.Nelson, you & the UN & the rest of your fellow nut cases should be banned from USA soil forever. You are a brain washed progressive piece of work no different than the petty thieves of wall street that has been stealing the publics money in the name of false science bought & paid for by the PE’s who have undermined the Constitution for your own gain. Stefan N. is right you know nothing about nuke plants except what is written for you by your masters at the UN. May you be exposed for the fraud you & your group of so call experts are & are shown the way out of the USA for good.


June 21, 2011, 12:50 a.m.

Mickey: my goodness. We’re only using our brains.

Weaseldog: you the man!


June 21, 2011, 5:13 a.m.

Interesting, the many ways that one faction of my fellow Americans have found to use radioactives to manipulate my behavior…

Sometimes they would have me fear non-existent radioactives incorporated into non-existent nuclear weapons in far off countries which posed a non-existent threat to the American people…

Sometimes they would have me calmly accept existing radioactives incorporated into existing nuclear facilities which pose an existing threat to the American people…

One is left with the impression that the rest of the American people mean absolutely nothing to that particular faction…

Rather, one is ultimately forced to accept that the rest of the American people mean absolutely nothing to that particular faction.


June 21, 2011, 6:39 a.m.

One thing that has been nagging me lately, is the dishonesty we’ve historically seen from experts when the crap hits the fan.

When things go bad, a series of liars are paraded out to tell us that everything is fine. We’ve seen this in events large and small. The very first, the second and third tactics used by the nuclear industry is to tell the public lies.

Is it no wonder that in every forum that someone says, I’m a nuclear engineer and I work at Plant X, and everything is fine for the following reasons, that we all assume we’re being told lies?

If you folks in the industry didn’t lie 100% of the time when there is a problem, you might not be facing so much opposition.

The public knows that you folks are dishonest and can’t be trusted. We don’t know how to tell when you’re telling the truth.

Show hands please, who agrees and who disagrees with my argument?


June 21, 2011, 7:35 a.m.

@weaseldog:  I would disagree with the assertion that they lie 100% of the time.

That faction - the one that sees the sacrifice of humans for profit as nothing more than an acceptable cost of doing business - has become quite good at the judicious use of lies.

That is, they only lie until such time as the truth becomes impossible to conceal.

Stefan N.

June 21, 2011, 9:02 a.m.

@weaseldog - you should be carefull not to discredit yourself by making stupid statements like the one above.  It detracts from the often valid points that you are trying to make.  Nobody in the industry lies 100% of the time.  The industry is full of good people trying to make a living for their families just like anyone else.  However, there are those who do attempt to cover things up, and who would not be beyond telling falsehoods to stay out of trouble.  Then there is the “spin”, where what is said is not really a lie, but not the full truth either.

To begin with, the plant in question is a publicly owned plant and not an investor owned plant.  The very nature of this arrangement makes it difficult to conceal a lot of information.  In the first place, much of management is too incompetent to engage in a conspiracy to cover something up.  They are simply not that coordinated.  There are too many people who work there, and too many outside contractors to keep things quiet.  Unfortunately, we have the opposite problem.  We have too many people that do not have the full story (or the knowledge to understand it even if they did) who go home and spin a good yarn and start a lot of rumors.  It has been my experience that the truth is usually a bit worse than management puts out, and a lot better than the rumors floating around.

However, that being said, the core point that you are trying to make is a valid one.  The people in this country were indeed lied to when it came to nuclear power.  ALL technology has its dangers, and the dangers involved with nuclear are well known (and were to a large degree even in the early days).  I believe that Americans should have been given a choice to decide based upon the facts whether or not they wanted nuclear power as an option.  The French were pretty much given the choice.  They have no natural resources, the the choice was nuclear or kissing Arab hind ends forever.  The risks were accepted, and the industry was tightly controlled.  Here in the United States, nuclear was turned over to business, and the results are predictable.  Corporations have a much easier time keeping things quiet than Public Power Districts.  In addition, Corporations have to make a profit (and will do anything to protect that profit) while Public Power Districts are not allowed to make a profit, but must charge pretty much what it costs to generate and deliver the power.  Corporations can make wild promises like “safe, clean, economical” and “too cheep to meter”, particularly when they had the Federal Atomic Energy Commission on their side.  Well, the technology was never any more than “relatively safe” (and this was WELL known even in the ‘60’s), never more than “relatively clean” (spent fuel has always been a problem, even with reprocessing), and it never was really economical, which is why the Federal Government built most of the early “commercial” plants like Dresden 1 and LaCross.  Yes, it is economical when your utility can buy a plant from the Atomic Energy Commision for $1.

No, I disagree that the industry lies 100%.  In fact, I know better.  The problem is that when one lies even 5% of the time, it casts a shadow of doubt on everything that is said.  I work in the industry and have for all of my adult life.  I don’t believe all of the industry’s bull—-t.

@ Nelson - I don’t need to provide any examples.  Anyone who reads your drivel that does know anything about nuclear power would immediately dismiss you as an idiot.  Your shrill insistence that there are “inherently safer and cleaner” alternatives also indicates that you know little about solar or wind power, either.  Yes, they should continue to be developed.  But there is no way that nuclear generation can be replace with them at this time, or for the forseeable future.  Believe me, I wish it were otherwise.


June 21, 2011, 9:30 a.m.

Ibsteve2u and Stefan N,. you both make good points.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the industry as a whole has a solid track record of lying to the public whenever there is a problem.

I didn’t intend to imply that everyone in the industry lies 100% of the time. I was trying to imply that the industry lies 100% of the time when things first go wrong. When things are fine, there’s no reason to lie.

If you’d like to prove me wrong, cite an example of serious problem that’s occurred at a plant, that the public became aware of and in which no one in the industry made false statements about.

No, the industry can’t maintain a conspiracy. Of course not. But the industry can have PR people make statements to the press and hire PR firms to troll the internet to publish misleading information.

Everyone in the PR industry understands that the first statements made in a crisis, set the tone for the public sentiment. Those are the soundbites the media will repeat over and over.

If we take three examples, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, in the first few weeks, industry spokes persons, got in front of TV cameras and told lie after lie. There people got on television, representing everyone in the industry.

It doesn’t matter if some nuclear engineer I’ll never meet or see or hear is honest. He or she is represented by the PR people for the industry, in the public venue. This is why I say the industry has a credibility problem.

If I use your argument for the political arena, then should I assume that because there are honest politicians, that you feel the public perception is that politicians have reputation for honesty?

And might i ask, if a person you know, often lies to you about important things, and you keep catching them in lies, over and over, do you trust them?


June 21, 2011, 9:40 a.m.

Stefan N, another point, I don;t know that it matters to the public how the plant is managed or what management says.

The public really doesn’t hear them.

I’m in Texas, and the only news folks around here get is on YouTube and Yahoo. you folks seem to be in a news black out, which certainly feeds the rumor mill.

Further, the spokes people for the industry in the USA, are mostly coming out of Washington. What the NRC says, gets more air time than what your plant mangers say. And the NRC said that Fukushima was under control. Now they say that the Calhoun Plant is under control.

I apologize for mis-speaking about everyone in the industry lying when things go wrong. The folks telling the truth though, aren’t on international television. We don’t get to see folks like you giving press conferences. We see folks from the NRC doing that.

Stefan N.

June 21, 2011, 10:10 a.m.

@Weaseldog - What you are saying is not untrue.  However, much of it can be attributed to the public’s desire to know more than they are capable of understanding.  Being a publicly owned utility, we really cannot tell them to go away and let us handle it (nor should we for that matter).  When dealing with complex events, there are often no 10 second sound bites that adequately describe what is going on.  The public wants to know “is it safe”?  Well, “safe” for who?  In the current situation at Fort Calhoun; will the plant melt down spewing Chernobyl type radiation all over the Midwest killing hundreds if not thousands and polluting the water supply all the way down to New Orleans?  No, not based on any currently concevable event, including the complete failure of Gavins Point dam.  Could the plant be damaged to a state that it could not start up causing economic hardship for the area.  Yes, and that possibility is higher than we would like it.  In between is a wide range of scenarios.  To top it off, we have the kooks like Nelson filling the public with BS, making things even more difficult.  Often times this causes the appearance of untruth and people get confused.  With the Fort Calhoun event, we have the company suits going on TV saying everything is OK.  Even the most backward person looking at the faces of those working there know that it is not “OK”.  However, we are looking at different meanings of “OK”.  To the public, all they care is that no radiation escapes from the plant and that their lives are not impacted.  In that regard, things are OK, for now.  However, to a worker at the plant, things are far from OK.  The chances for an injury are much higher than before.  Half our fire exits are blocked with sandbags.  There is no way to get an ambulance into the place if someone gets hurt or has a medical emergency.  To top it off, if the plant is damaged to the point that it cannot be economically restarted, many of us will not have jobs when this is all over.  So, we have a completely different definition of what is OK and what is not.

I have studied the accidents in the industry, including many that are unknown to the public.  Many were covered up, or flat out lied about, particularly in the former Soviet Union and other plants abroad.  Others, like TMI, were not lied about so much as they were not fully understood (in some ways, more of a problem).  It is hard to get 100% accurate facts out, even if you want to do so, when you are dealing with a situation that nobody thought would happen in the first place.  It makes it worse when you actually believed your own BS and did not have instrumentation on hand to measure what was happening.  The unintentional misinformation in those cases is really not the problem.  The real problem is that with most “unforseen” events, the events were forseen and those that foresaw them were ignored.  When the Fort Calhoun event is all said and done, I would be willing to bet that the story will be rather interesting.


June 21, 2011, 10:23 a.m.

Stefan N, thank you very much for your reply.

Your reply just provided me with more useful information than I’ve gotten from reading a dozen articles.

As far as a dam break is concerned, what I worry about is a wall of water collapsing the plant. I hope that is unlikely. I have a Navy friend that likes to tell me about waves twisting thick steel hatches off of the ship. Water is a powerful force.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.


June 21, 2011, 2:54 p.m.

Stefan N. emoted Today, 11:10 a.m. “However, much of it can be attributed to the public’s desire to know more than they are capable of understanding.”

Ah…all knowledge is concentrated at a Fort Calhoun.  This is most unfortunate, for should they fail to use - to apply - their vast reservoir of knowledge in a manner that preserves their own lives….if they should fail to value their own lives and the lives of their surrounding countrymen and women above their reputations and the reputation of their industry…

Why, we will no longer be capable of understanding what the funny machines do…why some sticks spark and hurt us….why the tall houses with the moving boxes don’t fall down….why just getting close to some minerals makes us die…

I truly fear for humanity, now.  Guess we also shouldn’t concentrate all knowledge in such high-risk areas.

Stefan N.

June 21, 2011, 3:45 p.m.

@ibsteve2u - unfortunately, your sarcasm does little to further your point, nor does it provide a solution to the problem.  Of course, to your defense, there really is no solution to the problem.  As long as most of the public are content to be useful idiots for the corporations that run this country, we are pretty much doomed.  It would shock you to know how many people that I have run accross in the past years that could tell you who was quarterbacking any football team in the area, or who was the last American Idol, but did not even know that they had two nuclear power plants within 100 miles of them, one just 16 miles North of them.  Perhaps if more people spent time time studying issues that are truly life and death for them instead of having their brain sucked out of them by the latest moronic offering from Hollywood, we could start working on solutions to these problems.  As it is, it is these morons and their 20 second attention spans that our public relations people have to deal with.  What is sad is that there is so little real information out there for those that really want to know what is going on.  While much of the information on sites like this is bogus and far out, it certainly causes more questions to be asked (that need to be asked) than some talking head saying everything is alright.

And then, there comes the true downfall of our technical society - particularly nuclear power.  What are our choices?  We do not have a lot of dedicated professionals in the higher levels any more.  You have corporate hacks that will squeeze the places for every dime they can get and then walk away (look at how many times certain plants, like the ones in Wisconsin have changed hands), or you have publicly owned plants run by people who were elected by the same morons discussed above.

No, I disagree that Fort Calhoun Station is any repository of all knowledge.  There are some good people up there that know what they are doing.  Unfortunately, they are not the ones in charge.  I do, however, agree that in the end we are pretty much screwed.


June 21, 2011, 3:51 p.m.

Stefan, may I have your permission to repost your 11:10 am comment?


June 21, 2011, 3:51 p.m.

(I guess I could have just said “Oh, for pete’s sake…it’s only nuclear physics and thermodynamics wrapped in some layers of mechanical and electrical engineering…not witchcraft!!!”.

But that wouldn’t have been any fun.

lolll…of course if those who prefer the American people in their entirety to be incapable of knowing when they’re being lied to continue to enjoy success in their quest to defund education in America….

Well, I suppose one day we’ll import all - rather than just some - engineering and scientific talent from countries which routinely accept lying to the public and nobody will know ‘cuz “We, the People” will indeed be too ignorant.)

Stefan N.

June 21, 2011, 3:57 p.m.

Weaseldog - I don’t mind. If I did not believe it, I would not have written it.


June 21, 2011, 4:06 p.m.

Me, were I making policy for nuclear facilities, then pending their replacement I would make the involved designers and engineers carry out a hazard analysis program that quantified the amount of danger involved with any failure to include increases in danger that arise from the potential for cascade failures than any one failure introduces.

I.e., make the dangers of each nuclear design easily discernible to the American public (i.e. “Wow…that design down the road has 147 points of failure and 37 that increase the possibility of cascade failures!”) and keep them advised as the risk count ticks up or down with any failure at any facility.

If the American people can live with “The Doomsday Clock”, tornado watches and warnings, rising river levels, hurricane tracks, war news, and so on then they can - and deserve - to be kept aware of the intentionally obfuscated risks associated with nuclear facilities.

But then again I’m not getting richer foisting radioactives off on the public, so I may be improperly unbiased.


June 21, 2011, 4:27 p.m.


June 21, 2011, 4:46 p.m.

Ibsteve2u, With big complex systems, it’s impossible to know all of the modes of failure. You make your best guesses and do your best to account for them.

Sometimes designed problems aren’t obvious until you’re well into construction of the project.

Then there are tradeoffs made when it comes to economy and safety.

I don’t believe that anyone involved in the design of these plants, intentionally made decisions that compromised safety. They believed in what they were doing.

But they also thought that many of these plants would be shut down years ago. Engineers don’t think like MBAs. Even if you could make your plan work, eventually, the decisions would be taken out of the hands of the engineers and given to the bean counters, who will try to keep these things running, far beyond their safety limits, so long as it keeps the money moving.

But you seem to understand that already.

I have good reason to believe that nuclear power is on the way out anyway. Growth and depletion curves are exponential, and these days, they are not moving in compatible directions. Nuclear power lacks the scalability to see long term exponential growth, at a rate necessary to keep up with resource depletion.. The costs to run and maintain existing plants is going to become a serious problem. Folks like Stefan are going to have to work harder and harder to maintain them without proper budgets, parts and tools. It will likely require a serious failure to wake the public up and force the NRC to change roles from a PR company to a regulatory agency


June 21, 2011, 9:18 p.m.

I find it to be fascinating that I hear two arguments: 

First, we are informed that the engineers and physicists at Fort Calhoun alone understand nuclear reactor systems. 

That is, “the public” - which would include everybody else in America such as the engineers and physicists at similar nuclear installations, reactor operators and engineers past and present from the United States Navy, the faculty and staff of research universities throughout America and the rest of the world, the very engineers and designers of the Fort Calhoun facilities, etc. etc. etc. - are just too…daggone….ignorant….to understand them.

And then we have the argument that installations such as Fort Calhoun are far too complex for the engineers and physicists at Fort Calhoun - and the system’s designers and installers themselves - to be able to predict the potential points of failure.

A…most curious…dichotomy, in a thread such a this concerning such a subject.

Stefan N.

June 21, 2011, 9:32 p.m.

@ibsteve2u - all nuclear power plants were required to do this in the 1990’s.  It is called a Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) or Probabilistic Safety Assessment (PSA).  The latter started coming into use when some public relations types thought that “safety” sounded better than “risk”.  The NRC maintains an independent PRA for each plant, which is usually more conservative than the one the plant keeps (which should come as no surprise).  The NRC’s information should be publicly available through the Freedom of Information Act.  There are problems with the PRA, however.  As Weaseldog states, you cannot model what you cannot imagine.  Also, there are a lot of assumptions made in the PRA, making some of the risk calculations only as good as the assumptions. 

The NRC has started enforcing “Risk Based Regulation” since the 1990’s, and I have seen a tendency for plants to get away with far more than they should since that time.  Also, the NRC lets industry organizations like NEI and INPO self regulate way too much.  The taxpayers pay the NRC to regulate, not to dump rule making off on the industry that they are supposed to be watching.  This kind of relationship between the regulator and the industry is what resulted in Three Mile Island.  Yes, the hostile relationship between the NRC and the industry in the immediate post-TMI period was hard.  I leaned my trade in that environment.  However, I am not sure that “kinder and gentler” regulators are what you want with technology like nuclear power, even if it more comfortable to work in that environment. 

It is my opinion that the NRC should have shut down Fort Calhoun as soon as they found out that their flooding plans were not adequate and should have forced the required upgrades and replacement of the management that allowed this to happen.  That is what would have been done in the 1980’s.  However, all the NRC did was put them under “increased surveillance” and nobody got into trouble over it.  I have been on other blogs and websites where people are asking the obvious questions, like how can you possibly build a nuclear power plant in a flood zone with no dikes or levies protecting it.  Good question!  Too bad these people were not the first to think of it, or there may be an excuse for the current conditions.  We knew darn well that the area where the plant was built had seen flood levels of 1008’ above sea level in the 1950’s, yet the plant was built at 1004’ above sea level with no dikes or flood walls.  Now we are relying on a rubber tube filled with river water to hold back the river at 1006’, and nobody figured on the current that we are seeing.  Supposedly, we were able to handle a flood up to 1014’ above sea level with two days notice.  From what I have seen of the incident in Japan, I have my doubts that this was possible regardless of what the engineers and managers say (or the NRC for that matter). To top it off, all of our flooding plans were based on the river rising quickly and then going back down again (like it did in 1993, the last time we saw floods anywhere near this level).  The current situation looks like it will be this way for months. 

And yet, all of the above pales compared to the ultimate stupidity that caused this.  Six dams were built upstream to prevent this kind of event from happening, but the Corps of Engineers was not allowed to release water from them because some stupid birds and fish may not like it.  And, the water brought tourism to that God forsaken area of the Dakotas that are so worthless that we gave most of it to the Indians.  Well, I hope the tree huggers are happy about the suffering that they have caused to the people downstream.  And the ironic thing is, the damn fish are going to die anyway since the river is far higher and faster now than it would have been the last two years had the Corps of Engineers been allowed to release the water in the manner that the dams were designed to do.

Yes ibsteve2u, I also fear for humanity. Fish are more important to some people than humans. Perhaps we do not deserve to be preserved.

Stefan N.

June 21, 2011, 9:40 p.m.

@ibsteve2u - you only hear two arguments because you want to.  First off, there is a difference between “the public” mentioned in the post regarding information release, and the people that you mention above.  You defined “the public” that way.  I did not.  Your definition would be considered stupid by most of the groups that you mention, particularly other power plants, the Navy, Engineers and others.  Information for these people is readily available, and they know where to find it.  There is no dichotomy.  Only your poor attempt to twist what was written.

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