Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Unusual Event followup

In comments on my post about floodwaters around nuclear power plants in Nebraska, respjrat had this to say. You should read it:
i'm a resident of the omaha metro area. there are two nuclear power plants along the river being affected by the flood waters.

the fort calhoun plant, twenty miles north of omaha is in cold shutdown. an assessment last year concluded that it was at risk being compromised in a worst-case flooding event (the flood in 1993 was supposed to have been a thousand-year flood and it pales in comparison to what we're seeing now). apparently "corrective measures" have been implemented as of early 2011.

pulling from wiki some more "The Army Corps of Engineers indicated that with average precipitation, the Missouri River would not go above 1,008 feet (307 m) above sea level and OPPD officials stated that the current flood protection efforts would protect the plant to 1,010–1,012 feet (310–308 m) feet above sea level. Officials indicated the spent fuel pool is at 1,038.5 feet (316.5 m) above sea level." their precipitation models in relation to determining the release of waters from reservoirs upstream account for an inch of precipitation a week. we've had two nights of thunderstorms, blessedly short-lived, back-to-back. this week's forecast shows rain for four of the next 6 days. all rain that falls in the region is going to drain into the missouri.

since it's in cold shutdown, the spent fuel pool is the biggest concern. thankfully it is not fukushima-style and is elevated and not on the ground level, and the flood waters rising nearly 40ft is inconceivable. but then there's fun snippets like this.

[june 9th] "A fire in an electrical switch room on Tuesday briefly knocked out cooling for a pool holding spent nuclear fuel at the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant outside Omaha, Neb., plant officials said."

the fire extinguishing systems apparently took care of it before the cooling pool water could rise more than two degrees, but it does not fill me with confidence that random fires can break out in the spent fuel pool at ft. calhoun. and by the way, ft. calhoun is where the spent fuel for all of nebraska's nuclear power plants is stockpiled.

the official word is that there is little to no risk of an event. anyone who reads blog like this would obviously be skeptical of such statements. keep in mind, this entire flood is more or less man-made. we have not seen particularly heavy rains this season (in fact up until this week it's been pretty dry). all of the water is coming from releases from reservoirs upstream, reservoirs that were well over normal capacity as far back as december. however, the large controlled releases started less than a month ago. for me it stands to reason that if you've got a lot of fucking extra water, you might wanna, you know, let it go? maybe not wait six months?

i've got pottasium iodide, an escape route the fuck out of here that doesn't include the only interstate still open (between I-80 and I-29, only I-80 is open), and i'm sure as fuck not drinking the water.
Much gratitude to you, respjrat, for providing some essential, local information. Very glad to hear you have supplies and plans.

So, this situation might not (yet!!!) be as dramatic as the one at Fukushima*, but to me I think it's an even better indicator of the astonishing stupidity of civilization. Fukushima was merely the astonishingly stupid placing of an unimaginably deadly technology directly in the known vicinity of frequent unpredictable natural disasters. But the situation in Nebraska is much more than that--it's so complicatedly stupid that I'm going to have to abandon the parallel structure I was going to use and say: it's going into an area which naturally has regular flooding--which we call a disaster, which the river calls life--and littering it with incredibly destructive technologies which in addition to the destruction they cause on their own also change the natural pulsation of the river into an unpredictable chaos of disastrous flooding, mismanaging this already unmanageable system, and then placing an unimaginably deadly technology directly in the vicinity of these human-made disasters.

*Which, you know, just incidentally, a "former nuclear industry vice president" described the other day as "the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind." Which if you even just consider only the extremely recent competition is saying a fucking lot.

As respjrat says, the waters rising another forty feet seems inconceivable. But what seemed inconceivable has happened before--indeed, is happening right now--and even so, those forty feet are only necessary if everything we've been told is true. Which it always is, right? I'd bank on it!

Meanwhile, back at the comment thread, an Anonymous left two CommonDreams links, first to an article about tritium leaks at nuclear plants around the US, and second to a video from Russia Today about Fort Calhoun specifically (I unfortunately don't have a transcript for it). Gratitude to you as well, Anonymous.

The article is terrifying, but routinely so:
Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping, an Associated Press investigation shows.

The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation.
As I said to the Baronette the other day while we put on some sunblock that most likely had nanotechnology with unknown human-body repercussions in it, "Everything in the world we've made for ourselves causes cancer. What's one more thing?" Ha ha!

Then there's the video. The anchor, whose name I don't know, sensibly points out that in the wake of the Fukushima disaster all the trusted experts said everything was fine, so even if we don't reflexively distrust the trusted experts, maybe we should be a bit suspicious when they say the same thing now about Fort Calhoun. She also mentions the terrifying fact that there is an "ongoing no-fly zone" in the area, supposedly having nothing at all to do with the plant, but, uh, well, what does it have to do with then? It seems like a bad idea to impose a no-fly zone over a flooded disaster area, no? And that's just the prelude to the rest of the video, which admittedly is speculation--but speculation is the only thing we have open to us, because as Tyson Slocum, the interviewee (director of the "Public Citizen's Energy Program" which I admit I know nothing about), points out,
The bottom line here is that the lack of public information about our nuclear power plants, particularly after September 11, 2001, it was designed to keep critical information about vulnerable energy infrastructure like nuclear power plants away from terrorism, but what it's done is keep this critical information away from us.
(Apply sics as necessary; he was speaking extemporaneously and wasn't on one of the mainstream news networks, so he most likely wasn't groomed for television appearances from birth.)

Of course, you and I have a slightly different perspective on what this secrecy is "designed" for. Terrorism never stops being useful, ever.

So anyway, there's a lot of talk about working with congress (ha!) and more "cost-effective" renewable energy (ha!), but one valuable point they bring up is that even the insane evil geniuses who built these damn horrible things in the first place thought they would become dangerously in need of repair or replacement about....ten years ago.

Ha ha ha!

I guess really my summation of this whole thing is that no matter what level you look at any of this at, the whole situation is fucked. It's fucked when you look at the whole damn system of civilization, it's fucked when you look at individual pieces of it, and it's even fucked when you use the fucked assumptions of civilization to examine little bits of the ways that it's fucked.


Randal Graves said...

Not that I expected to find anything 'round here, but the local paper has mentioned zip outside the AP tritium leak story.

No one could have foreseen redux.

Anonymous said...

Ethan, thanks as ever - it's great to know there are people out there who share the same views on civilisation.
Btw, do you listen to Anarchy Radio with the great JZ on Tuesday evenings? You can find the old shows on


Ethan said...

Thank you, too, Nik--not familiar with Anarchy Radio or the great JZ, but I'll check it out--though I have to say I have trouble with audio-only spoken stuff. It's a personal problem.

Randal, I think CNN is starting to sleepily get around to it finally, but yeah. Sheesh.