BROWNVILLE, Neb. — Built high above the flood plain, Cooper Nuclear Station stands in stark contrast to its sister plant north of Omaha.
Levees along the Missouri River continue to hold the water at bay at Cooper, and the plant, 70 miles south of Omaha, sits 2½ feet higher than the levees.
Should the levees fail, water would spread across the valley, encircle the facility grounds but not immediately reach the reactor building. Sandbagged barriers four feet tall and other measures further protect the plant from that type of worst-case flooding.
Cooper continues to churn, supplying the Nebraska Public Power District with more than 30 percent of its electricity, which by extension feeds a significant amount of power to Nebraska homes and businesses.
This clearly is not Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station, which has been idled by flooding and on Sunday briefly turned to diesel-powered generators after disconnecting from the nation's electrical grid.
Cooper was built on a base that places it 13 feet above the flood plain, protecting it from most of the water that a worst-case scenario could bring, one in which a large upstream dam fails during a time when the Missouri River was already swollen with flooding.
“That's why we're dry right now,” said Demetrius Willis, plant manager.
Sunday, the nation's top nuclear regulator, Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, toured the plant as part of a two-day review of Nebraska's flood-threatened nuclear stations.
Jaczko arrived and left Cooper with his boots dry.
As he toured the plant, he saw the flood barriers that protected the plant's electrical supply and critical buildings. In the plant, he passed from one room to another where the floors and drains were dry.
He visited with the plant's operators in Cooper's control room, and as he chatted, a nearby computer screen told the best news of the day: a forecast of relatively slowly rising river levels.
On Sunday the river was more than 3 feet below the level that would require Cooper to shut down. NPPD thinks it can continue operating Cooper through the summer, based on river level forecasts by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Jaczko said he was pleased with what he saw.
“Fundamentally this is a plant that is operating safely,” he said. “Right now I feel that they are taking appropriate steps, and we'll keep an eye on them.”
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