Nebraska Nuclear Plant Officials Reject
Comparisons To Fukushima
June 28, 2011|By
Brian Todd, CNN
Tim Nellenbach is on a mission as he shows a small group
of journalists around his workplace. The manager of the Fort
Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant and his colleagues are bent on
dispelling rumors about the condition of their facility:
rumors about a meltdown, about a loss of power. The rumors
are patently false, they say, and it's frustrating to have
to deal with them while also battling a genuine crisis.
These officials are also acutely aware of comparisons to
the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March,
which crippled a nuclear power plant there, leading to the
worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
"There's no likelihood of a Fukushima-like incident
here," Nellenbach says.
So does Gary Gates, CEO of the Fort Calhoun plant.
"It is not another Fukushima. The difference is the rapid
flooding that occurred at Fukushima. This was a predicted
event, to a degree, from the Corps of Engineers. The
floodwaters at Fort Calhoun are outside the plant. There is
no water inside the plant. The reactor is covered with
borated water. The spent fuel is covered with borated water,
which we want it to be. That's intentional. That's where it
should be. The floodwaters are outside Fort Calhoun, not
inside," Gates explains.
Still, there is a genuine crisis at the plant.
Floodwaters from the swollen Missouri River have engulfed
this facility. The parking lots are underwater. The river's
fast-paced currents are swirling against several buildings
in this compound. Catwalks had to be constructed to allow
workers to move from one building to the next. The buildings
housing the reactor core, the spent fuel rods and other
crucial components are protected by small levees and aqua-berms.
But outside those barriers, the water is at least 2 feet
above ground level.
Officials are keeping a close eye on the network of power
transformers here. The transformers are surrounded by
floodwater and high-velocity pumps are continually pumping
water away from them. The transformers power internal pumps,
which operate cooling systems keeping the reactor core and
the spent fuel rods from overheating.
"Maintaining electrical power, operating the pumps, is
our biggest concern for the station, and we're able to fully
do that at this time," Nellenbach says. Officials say the
plant went off the power grid temporarily on Sunday and was
powered by backup generators, but they say it is now back on