Given that floods triggered a devastation chain of events at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, many Americans are understandably worried about the situation at the Ft. Calhoun plant in Nebraska.
Located about 20 miles north of Omaha, the plant has been inundated by flood waters from the Missouri River, which continue to rise after breaching an 8-foot high temporary retaining bank last weekend. Dramatic pictures from the plant soon hit the Internet and rumors of a meltdown started to spread. Adding to concern, the plant was cited last year for safety violations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) which warned that "under the plan in place at the time, a major flood could cause core damage," The NYT reports.
But there is "now way a catastrophe like Fukushima is going to happen" at Fort Calhoun, says Prof. William Martin of Michigan's Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences.
Despite the apparent similarities between Fukushima and Ft. Calhoun, "the events are so different," Martin says, citing the following:
-- Speed Kills: The flooding at Fukushima was caused by a massive earthquake followed by a Tsunami, which overwhelmed the plant with little or no warning. The Missouri River, by contrast, has been slowly rising and Omaha Public Power, the plant's operator, had time to prepare.
-- Strength in Diversity: Whereas flooding knocked out all power at Fukushima, the plant at Fort Calhoun maintains a "redundant and diverse" system of electricity, which powers the water pumps necessary to keep spent fuel rods cool, and remains connected to the power grid.
Among other reasons, Prof. Martin says Americans should therefore be confident in the NRC's declaration the plant is "stable" and The KC Star notes the Union of Concerned Scientists has backed off from its dire initial assessment of the situation.
Let's hope they're right.