River Inches Toward Cooper Nuke Plant Shutdown Level

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The Missouri River rose to record height Sunday at Brownville, prompting Cooper Nuclear Station three miles south of the community to declare a low-level emergency at 2:06 a.m.

By Sunday evening, the water level was only about 3 inches below the level at which Nebraska Public Power District said the plant would have to be shut down. But a National Weather Service hydrologic chart indicated the river level may have peaked and could be dropping.

“Our guys were reporting it was leveling off,” Mark Becker, spokesman for Nebraska Public Power District, said Sunday afternoon. But after he commented, the level rose another half foot.

NPPD said it would take the plant offline if the water level reached 902 feet above sea level. At 6 p.m., the level was 901.73 feet.

And the National Weather Service said there was the possibility of heavy rain Sunday night and even heavier rain Monday.

Also Sunday:

* The river topped several levees in northwest Missouri, across the river from far southeast Nebraska, deluging the state park and recreational area of Big Lake, across the river from Rulo.

* The Iowa Department of Transportation said it has closed all lanes of Iowa Highway 2 starting at the Interstate 29 interchange in Fremont County and continuing across the Missouri River to Nebraska City. It’s expected to be a long-term closure.

The Nebraska Department of Roads said Highway 159 running east into Missouri from Rulo and Highway 136 from Brownville running east into Missouri also are closed.

The Nebraska office emphasized that Highways 2, 159 and 136 are open in Nebraska, but motorists cannot cross the borders at those points into Iowa or Missouri.

NPPD, which owns and operates the Cooper power plant, said the “notification of unusual event” it declared was made as part of emergency preparedness procedures the station follows when flooding occurs. The procedures dictate that when the Missouri River’s water level reaches 42.5 feet, or greater than 899 feet above sea level, a notification of unusual event is declared.

Water levels at the Brownville gauge increased approximately two feet in a 24-hour period from 5:30 a.m. Saturday to 5:30 a.m. Sunday.

By Sunday morning, the river stage at Brownville had reached 44.4 feet, surpassing the previous record crest of 44.3 feet set in 1993 flooding. By 3 p.m., the Brownville gauge was at 44.7 feet, the equivalent of 901.2 feet above sea level. Three hours later, the level had risen another half foot.

NPPD said the flooding posed no threat to plant employees or to the public and the plant continues to operate safely.

A “notification of unusual event” is the lowest and least serious of four emergency classifications established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for nuclear power plants.

Nebraska’s other nuclear power plant, Fort Calhoun, already is shut down. Omaha Public Power District took that plant, north of Omaha, offline in April for routine maintenance. But it now is surrounded by floodwaters, and OPPD has said the plant won’t be restarted until the flooding recedes.

Col. Bob Ruch of the Corps of Engineers attributed the surge in the water level to heavy rain on the Nishnabotna River, which flows into the Missouri River, and to some erosion along a levee upstream at Hamburg, Iowa, that created a water pulse.

Water was flowing over a levee near Brownville and into farmland but the levee was being built up to alleviate that, said Jodi Fawl, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

Nemaha County emergency manager Renee Critser said that as workers were building up one section of the levee Sunday to alleviate the overtopping between Brownville and Nemaha, water would flow over in another spot. Workers continued Sunday afternoon to add sandbags along the levee to keep the water at bay.  MORE

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