The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant, near Omaha, Nebraska, is currently surrounded by flood water from the Missouri river. The reactor has remained in a cold shutdown situation since a planned refuelling outage, which started on April 9.
Although the photos look dramatic, the key areas of the plant are protected from the flood and the reactor and used fuel pond are in a stable condition. According to owner and operator Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) the plant will stay shut until the floods recede, which may be some weeks or months.
Separately, on June 7 there was a fire in an electrical switchboard that resulted in power to used fuel pools being cut, knocking out two pumps circulating water. In the 90 minutes before a back up pump was switched on the temperature in the pool rose a couple of degrees Celsius, however the temperature remained in the low 30s Celsius.
There is some understandable concern, but this concern is being raised unnecessarily by some highly inaccurate and speculative reporting. Much of this seems to reference a single report carried on Pakalert Press. This article links to its source - an author called Sorcha Faal on a website called whatdoesitmean.com. This website features a confused series of articles on various religions, global conspiracies and the apparent imminent end of the world. The Pakalert Press site itself carries a similar range of outlandish stories. The story carried on Pakalert Press has been posted verbatim on many other websites and the report is cited by other reports (e.g.) questioning what is happening at Fort Calhoun.
It seems incredible that so much of the rumours that have been circulating draw on on this highly dubious source. To try and address some of the claims in the article here are the facts on a number of the claims made in the article:
An INES Level 4 event has been declared at the plant.
Incorrect. The Fort Calhoun stations declared a “Notification of Unusual Event”, the lowest of four emergency classifications on a scale used by the NRC. This NRC scale has no relation to INES. The notification related to the expectation the Missouri River was going to reach over 1004 feet about mean sea level.
A no-fly zone was imposed after the fire on 7 June to protect against leaking radiation
Incorrect. There has been and there is not expected to be any release of radiation.
In a blog post the NRC says that OPPD contacted the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requesting that the FAA remind pilots of the NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) restricting the airspace around all nuclear power plants since September 11, 2001. NOTAM is meant to discourage pilots from flying too low or lingering in airspaces.
The owner and operator Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) says that broader flight restrictions were set up by the FAA as a result of Missouri river flooding.
For further information on this point please see the comments below.
There was a catastrophic loss of cooling that risked a meltdown in the used fuel pool
Incorrect. At the time power was lost it was estimated that the fuel pool would take 88 hours to heat to boiling. Backup systems were in place within 90 minutes. The temperature in the pool rose only a couple of degrees and stayed in the low 30s Celsius.
Note: some reports refer to temperatures in the pool being in the 80s. This is the temperature in Fahrenheit.
The plant operators have flooded the containment building to protect the reactor
Incorrect. An advisory that had been sent by NRC to the Department of Homeland Security was similarly misinterpreted, leading to reports that operators had flooded the containment building to protect the reactor. The reactor core is currently filled with water as part of the cold shutdown of the plant.
http://www.oppd.com/AboutUs/22_007105 OPPD Flood Rumour Control
http://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/2011/06/17/rumors-and-the-rising-river/ US NRC