Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Our Friend the Atom:" Power Plants in Harms Way

Are you old enough to remember who this is and what movie this frame is taken from?

Of course you recognize Walt Disney and you remember this frame from the opening scene of "Our Friend the Atom," released in 1957.

I remember this very well, because the film was shown at a general assembly we had in Junior High. The film was presented by a fellow from the Atomic Energy Commission. And following the film, I introduced myself to the gentleman, and invited him to dinner at our house.

Later, when I had the chance, I called Mom to let her know we were having a special guest for dinner! Like most of my peer group, I was totally excited about the possibilities from "Our Friend, the Atom."

While the "media" is all jammed up with the republican presidential "Court Jester-of-the- Day" shenanigans, the Missouri River relentlessly continues to threaten citizens and infrastructure.

The most serious situation involves not one, but two nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is closely monitoring both power stations:

  • Fort Calhoun Station, Unit 1
  • Cooper Nuclear Station

Fort Calhoun Station, Unit 1
  • Location: Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, 19 miles NE Omaha
  • Power Output: 500 MWe (mega watt electric*)
  • Owner: Omaha Public Power District Reactor
  • Model: Combustion Engineering
  • Reactor Type: Pressurized Water Reactor (PRW)
  • Commissioned: August 1973
  • Status: Shut down since April for "maintenance."
  • Complete NRC Profile.

Cooper Nuclear Station
  • Location: Brownville, Nebraska
  • Power Output: 830 MWe
  • Owner: Nebraska Public Power District Reactor
  • Model: General Electric Type 4
  • Reactor Type: Boiling Water Reactor (BWR)
  • Commissioned: January 1974
  • Status: Notification of Unusual Event (see "Emergency Classes" below)
  • Complete NRC Profile.

While plant operators display the "happy face smile," they know that the public is not in a "trust me mood," given the recent experience at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.
  • As you recall the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japanese government's sharing of critical information with the public alternated between incomplete, confusing, and contradictory. Moreover, the emergency is on going!
  • Cooper Nuclear Station is the same design, Boiling Water Reactor (BWR), and commissioned the same year, 1974, as Fukushima.
  • And, the British Navy is replacing the BWR type reactors in future submarine construction.

Based on NRC regulations, licensees classify incidents according to the plant conditions and the level of risk to the public. Nuclear power plants, for example, use four emergency classifications:

  • Notification of Unusual Event - Under this category, events are in process or have occurred that indicate a potential decline in the level of safety of the plant. No release of radioactive material requiring offsite response or monitoring is expected at that time.
  • Alert - If an alert is declared, events are in process or have occurred that involve an actual or potentially substantial decline in the level of plant safety. However, any release of radioactive material is expected to be only a small fraction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protective action guidelines.
  • Site Area Emergency - A site area emergency involves events in progress or which have occurred that result in an actual or likely a major failure of the plant's ability to protect the public. Any releases of radioactive material are not expected to exceed the EPA guidelines except near the site boundary.
  • General Emergency - A general emergency involves actual or imminent severe damage or melting of radioactive fuel in the reactor core with the potential for loss of containment integrity. Radioactive releases during a general emergency can be expected to exceed the EPA guidelines beyond the immediate site area. (From the NRC Blog Site)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has requested "no fly zones" over both plants, citing "the possibility of news planes colliding with each other."


This story is still evolving. Remember, these record flood levels are projected to continue into August! Flood control structures are going to be under considerable stress for several weeks.

Do you know where your nearest Nuclear Power Plant is located? The NRC stores a wealth of information on a plant near you!

The Physicians for Social Responsibility has an interesting web site, wherein you can generate maps showing danger zones surrounding nuclear facilities. If you live near one, you may find interesting information on this site.

* Megawatt electric; electric output of a power plant in megawatt. The electric output of a power plant is equal to the thermal overall power multiplied by the efficiency of the plant. The power plant efficiency of light water reactors amounts to 33 to 35% compared to up to 40% for modern coal-, oil- or gas-fired power plants. (ENS - European Nuclear Society)

See Also:
Missouri River: The Second Coming
Missouri River: Two-Lane Freeway
Longest River Quiz

1 Comments - Click here:

Wayward said...

"Our friend the atom" is just a little bit less friendly these days it seems. How times they do change.
Hard to imagine the dreams of nuclear powered cars, airplanes and homes that danced in our heads back then (right beside the megaton weapons). If we'd only known...

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