How Safe are our Nuclear Reactors?

A June 14th picture of the Fort Calhoun plant surrounded by flood waters.

You may recall reading about my concerns about my two daughters who are in Omaha, Nebraska at the moment situated between two nuclear power plants.  One of the plants-the Fort Calhoun plant in Blair Nebraska run by OPPD–is already completely surrounded by water and has been shut down. The second plant at Brownville Nebraska–the Cooper plant run by NPPD–is about 1 1/2 feet of water away from being shut down.  Both face flooding and are part of a more serious problem. The biggest problem is they are both very old and none of the nuclear plants in this country would get renewed licenses to operate if it wasn’t for loosening of regulatory standards by our NRC.

I initially began my search for more on the possible danger to my daughters when I read about the two Nebraska reactors having ‘incidents’.  The mainstream media isn’t really reporting the story.  After reading so much about the flooding that devastated the Fukushima plant in Japan that started a spiral to meltdowns, I became concerned about the possibility of  a similar situation in the Nebraska plants.

Tensions are also rising over two U.S. nuclear reactors in Nebraska located on the banks of the Missouri River, which is now at flood stage. On June 20, the Omaha, Nebraska World Herald reported that flood waters from the Missouri River came within 18 inches of forcing the Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville, Nebraska, to shut down. Officials are poised to shut down the Cooper plant when river reaches a level of 902 feet above sea level. The plant is 903 feet above sea level. The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant, 20 miles north of Omaha, issued a “Notification of Unusual Event” to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on June 6 due to local flooding. That plant is currently shut down for refueling, but will not restart because of the flooding. Compounding worries over these two plants is a shortage of sand needed to fill massive numbers of sandbags to hold off Missouri River floodwaters. One ton of sand makes just 60 sandbags, and hundreds of thousands of sandbags are needed to help save towns along the river from flooding. Sand is obtained from dredging the riverbed — and the companies that sell sand can’t dredge the river while it is flooding. These plants are already in a risky situation, and the flooding in Nebraska could easily be worsened just by a summer afternoon cloudburst.

A few days later and a big up to my mom anxiety, Minx found a wild internet story at some Pakistani website about there being some kind of massive meltdown in one of the plants that was being ‘covered up.’  Operators of both plants and the NRC have both denied the rumors and have insisted the plants are in no danger.  The story is way over the top, but I found other things that are very worrisome that are not. Read the rest of this entry »


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

Political witch hunts are interesting things.  Ask me.  One of my senators used his senate cell phone to call up and hire prostitutes from the infamous Washington Madam. He’s still in the U.S. Senate after he made his wife beg the press to stop hounding the family and spent a summer fleeing any and all press.  The calls from Republican leadership for his resignation never came, yet Senator David Vitter broke the law and was caught with his “diapers down”.   Where’s the media outrage over this pervert?

So, here’s another story about a Breitbart Witch Hunt. A report by the “GAO Finds Little to Support Congress’ Abolition of ACORN: Grass-roots consumer organization was driven into bankruptcy by conservative critics”.  This was the predecessor to the current attacks on Planned Parenthood.  Unsubstantiated lies bandied about by partisan news outlets appear to be able to successfully take out liberal organizations and people.

A report issued today by the Government Accountability Office(GAO) finds little to support the charges that led to the demise of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a grassroots consumer advocacy organization driven out of existence by Congressional critics.

The GAO found that monitoring of awards to ACORN by government agencies generally consisted of reviewing progress reports and making site visits. Of 22 investigations of alleged election and voter registration fraud, most were closed without prosecution, the report found.

One of eight investigations of alleged voter registration fraud resulted in guilty pleas and seven were closed without action due to lack of evidence.

When will Democratic leadership and the press stand up to these witch hunts?

Robert Scheer has an excellent piece in The Nation called  “The Seven Republican Dwarfs”.  He points out at how the Republican candidates in the Presidential run are willfully ignorant of economic reality.  He doesn’t spare Obama either.

Obama, who has been inconsistent and weak in reining in the Wall Street greed that got us into this deep economic morass, is now under no pressure from the opposition to improve his performance. The Republican knee-jerk reaction—government bad, big business great, and don’t dare say that the Wall Street scoundrels who created this crisis need a timeout—gets Obama off the hook from legitimate criticism he needs to hear. As the Wall Street Journal headlined the non-debate: “Candidates Run Against Regulation.”

It’s as if the sound government regulation of the financial industry implemented in response to the Great Depression—not its polar opposite, the radical deregulation fueled by Republican free market zealots—was the source of our banking meltdown.

It’s only a matter of time before we experience similar problems.  It may come this summer if the game of playing chicken with US sovereign debt continues.  We shouldn’t be Greece but we are being set up to suffer their current fate by the inability of political leaders to do the right thing instead of the politically expedient thing.  The financial community is calling the current Greece situation the EU’s “Lehman moment”.  We may have a second Lehmann moment coming up shortly. If bond vigilantes don’t see progress in US debt ceiling talks  shortly, we may be facing increased borrowing costs.  Right now, the flee from Greece is helping us.  This disaster probably will not hurt the US unless the contagion goes from Greece to Ireland to Portugal and on to Spain.  However, many tea party Republicans seem hell bent on recreating the post-Lehman meltdown.

The euro lost more than 2 percent against the dollar in the past two days and the cost of protecting corporate bonds soared to the highest level since January, with credit-default swaps anticipating about a 78 percent chance that Greece won’t pay its debts. Equities declined around the world, while a measure of fear in fixed-income markets jumped the most since November.

Market moves suggest heightened concern that authorities won’t be able to keep Greece’s debt troubles from spreading after Moody’s Investors Service said it may downgrade BNP Paribas SA and two other big French banks because of their investments in the southern European nation. The collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008 caused credit markets worldwide to freeze as investors fled all but the safest government debt.

“The probability of a eurozone Lehman moment is increasing,” said Neil Mackinnon, an economist at VTB Capital in London and a former U.K. Treasury official. “The markets have moved from simply pricing in a high probability of a Greek debt default to looking at a scenario of it becoming disorderly and of contagion spreading to other economies like Portugal, like Ireland, and maybe Spain, Italy and Belgium.”

VP Biden held talks with his bi-partisan gang of six on Thursday.  He characterized the talks as progressing but also mentioned their are significant differences between the two parties.

Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that he and congressional negotiators have done a “first serious scrub” of the entire federal budget but differences remain over big-ticket items that philosophically divide the two parties in their quest for an agreement that would raise the nation’s debt ceiling while putting in place long-term reductions to the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt.

Those big-ticket items include whether to increase tax revenues – which many Democrats want – and making changes to expensive entitlements like Medicare – which many Republicans support.

“Everybody wants an agreement,” Biden told reporters after a meeting in the Capitol with the bipartisan group of lawmakers and other top Obama administration officials. “That is sufficiently realistic to get to $4 trillion over a decade or so – in terms of reductions.”

He said the group would meet four days next week, as opposed to three days this week, and that each meeting would be longer than the two hours or so each meeting has been to date. He also said their staffs would work “around the clock” to support the talks.

There’s some good news for the Arabian Oryx.  This is a fascinating herd animal that has been pulled back from the brink of distinction.

Believed by many to be the inspiration behind the legends of the unicorn, the Arabian oryx, Oryx leucoryx, is a species of antelope believed to be hunted to extinction in the wild in the 1970s.

However, with the help of the captive breeding program of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the species has been reintroduced into the wild, and a population has now grown back to 1,000 individuals.

The creature, known locally as Al Maha, jumped three categories on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species from “Extinct in the Wild” to “Vulnerable,” an unprecedented accomplishment.

“To have brought the Arabian Oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat and a true conservation success story, one which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species,” says Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Director General of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, in a press release.

“It is a classic example of how data from the IUCN Red List can feed into on-the-ground conservation action to deliver tangible and successful results.”

Other good news for animals comes from Georgia where Pelicans that were coated with Oil from the Gulf Oil Gusher have found a new home.  The brown Pelicans have no only survived, they have laid some eggs!

Brown pelicans that survived being covered in oil during the April 2010 spill in Louisiana are laying eggs and having babies on Georgia’s coast, according to wildlife officials, Savannah Morning News reports. Hundreds of the birds were scrubbed clean following the disaster and moved to Georgia and other states. Wildlife officials were not sure if they would live, much less have babies. But they did, and they are, and wildlife officials are thrilled.

Tim Keyes, a coast bird biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has reported what could be the first known successful nesting of brown pelicans at Little Egg Island Bar, a state-protected wildlife area about 60 miles south of Savannah, according to the newspaper’s website savannahnow.com.

Keyes told the newspaper Wednesday he has counted 17 brown pelican chicks since May spread among eight nests tended by a parent that survived the oil spill. The birds were identified as having been removed from the spill and released in Georgia by bands placed around their legs.

Nebraska has a nuclear plant that sits north of Omaha on the flooding Missouri River.  A breech has already occurred in a downstream levee and is flooding Hamburg, Iowa.  How safe is the plant? Well,historically, not very and it’s now on a yellow alert.  Here’s some information from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

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

OPPD has since taken corrective measures, including sealing potential floodwater-penetration points, installing emergency flood panels, and revising sandbagging procedures. It’s extremely unlikely that this year’s flood, no matter how historic, will turn into a worst-case scenario: That would happen only if an upstream dam were to instantaneously disintegrate. Nevertheless, in March of this year the NRC identified Fort Calhoun as one of three nuclear plants requiring the agency’s highest level of oversight. In the meantime, the water continues to rise.

Yup, my youngest daughter is spending the summer with my oldest daughter not very far from the plant.  Believe me, I’m not happy about all of the information provided in that report.  You should definitely read the link because it seems the press aren’t reporting anything about the problem plant.

So, that’s what’s been on my computer screen this morning! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?