The NRC has announced they will now investigate the risk of a dam failure on nuclear plants in the US. Last year Ft. Calhoun sat surrounded by flood waters with only sandbags and a rubber dam protecting it. Calhoun sits at river level and has no permanent or formal flood protection. Before the Fukushima disaster Calhoun didn’t even have a source lined up for sand to make sandbags.
Now the NRC is adding dam failure to the list of risks that must be looked at and intends to tie this into the Fukushima safety upgrades program. What makes all of this more worrying is that the NRC saw no risk from dam failure and only began taking it seriously after public criticism and Arnie Gundersen pointing it out on national TV.
People in the region knew how serious the flooding last year was. Nobody had seen anything like it since the dam system was built. The Corps of Engineers had no option but to release water as they were to keep the dams from being overrun. While the Missouri river dam system is generally well maintained for its age the record amount of stress for such a long period of time created a very high risk environment. A dam failure was certainly possible.
The operators of Ft. Calhoun have been giving the press very overconfident statements about how they are experienced dealing with flooding and how safe the plant is. The plant has no plans for permanent flood protection and so far nothing has been said about improving their “sandbags” method of trying to keep a nuclear plant safe. They also downplay the simple risk of having water get into the electrical systems or loss of the intake water system down at the river bank. Loss of either could put the plant into a serious accident scenario.
For now the NRC is keeping Ft. Calhoun in shutdown with no distinct plan for a restart. Commentary from local residents has been largely negative, most seem to want the aging plant shut down for good.
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