Like it or not, most of us will be affected in some ways by global climate change. As the situation becomes more serious and less of a political divide, we will be encountering new situations and problems. Some of them will be of our own making. Many argue that the global climate change situation has been largely instigated by human technological activity. While I personally side with that line of thinking, this is not what I want to address today.
As in many parts of the U.S., our part of the country is under multiple threats from record levels of precipitation. Especially the heavy amounts of precip that fell in the upper northwestern Great Plains. The runoff water made its way to the Missouri River watershed and its chain of hydro power dams. All of those dams are now full to capacity and must release water towards downstream areas. This activity will cause further problems to land and communities downstream.
In Northeast Nebraska, Gavin’s Point Dam’s Lewis and Clark Reservoir is completely topped out. The flood gates opened to release the pressure. A surge of water is heading downstream. The City of South Sioux City has been protected, so far, by their levee system. But that was all a close call, investigations are being requested.
Further downstream near Omaha, the situation is less clear and far more risky. There is a major metropolitan area at risk. Nebraska’s major airport is being threatened. A state prison may need evacuation. Worst of all, Omaha Public Power District’s Fort Calhoun nuclear power station could be damaged. Thoughts of Fukushima, Japan are in the minds of many people in the area.
Even though Fort Calhoun has been shut down for refueling, there remains the danger of overheating of the fuel storage pool. There was a recent non-flooding related fire in the switching room that knocked out power to vital areas of the nuclear plant. Of course there are many other factors about which that the general public is not allowed to know. So far, we’ve been lucky that the untested systems at Fort Calhoun have not failed.
The problems have been exasperated by the fact that residential building has been allowed to take place in flood plain areas. Housing in some areas of Nebraska and Iowa adjacent to the Missouri River has been evacuated. Personally, I would never consider living in a flood plain let alone purchasing real estate there. But whatever floats their boats (literally) is not for me to judge too harshly. Likely our tax dollars will go to compensate the homeowners for their losses.
The untested system of levees and dikes may or may not hold. The system was designed to withstand short term surges. However, the high waters have been present for several weeks. The structures could be saturated with water making them prone to breaches. Such was the case in Hamburg, Iowa when a portion of a levee broke through, allowing flood waters into the town.
All of the levees and dikes must be able to withstand high waters of several months’ duration. This is unprecedented along that stretch of the Missouri River. Meantime, what about the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant? What will happen if the surge is not contained? What safety measures are in place to protect Omaha, eastern Nebraska, western Iowa and northwestern Missouri?
The unexpected fire at the plant added another factor into the crisis. The flood waters are already lapping at the sides of the buildings from all sides. Will the fuel remain in the pool? If so, it will contaminate the river downstream. Will it be removed? If so, how will this happen in an area that is already covered with flood waters?
If the plant must be abandoned for awhile, will the diesel generators keep working to supply the needed energy for the reactor’s cooling system long-term? Reactors remain hot even when shut down or decommissioned so they must be cooled at all times. Where are the diesel generators located, in the basement or close to the rooftops?
These are crucial questions. I haven’t heard many of my fellow Nebraskans voice much if any concern about them. Should I be concerned? Yes! I live downwind from Fort Calhoun.
The Blue Jay of Happiness believes in the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared”.