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» »Unlabelled » Floods spur wild rumors of nuclear plant perils in Nebraska

In this June 14 photo, the Fort Calhoun nuclear power station in Nebraska is surrounded by Missouri River floodwaters. The photo alarmed some people who saw it.
In this June 14 photo, the Fort Calhoun nuclear power station in Nebraska is surrounded by Missouri River floodwaters. The photo alarmed some people who saw it. / ASSOCIATED PRESS

The sight of two Nebraska nuclear plants fighting off a severely swollen Missouri River this week has brewed a furious, Internet-fueled scare that warns of impending disasters of a scale similar to the tsunami-stricken Fukushima plant in Japan.

Operators of the Fort Calhoun and Cooper plants and the federal agency that regulate them say the reactors are flood-proof, are in no danger of leaking, and extra precautions have been taken.

"The rumors have been as difficult to combat as the rising floodwaters," said Victor Dricks, spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Much of the information on blogs, YouTube and social media has been inaccurate, the NRC reported.

A particularly inflammatory report originated on an English-language online newspaper based in Pakistan. The article claims that a Russian nuclear energy agency has obtained information about a June 7 accident at the Fort Calhoun plant near Blair, Neb., which it described as "one of the worst" in U.S. history. The report goes on to say President Barack Obama has ordered news organizations not to report the accident and imposed a "no-fly" zone over the plant because of radiation leaks from "a near catastrophic meltdown."

Several callers to The Des Moines Register this week suggested the newspaper and other "mainstream media" organizations were participating in a conspiracy to cover up news of a looming nuclear disaster. Most cited the Pakistani website as the source of their information. A Google search on the term "Nebraska nuclear plants" returned 1,171 hits for sites discussing the incidents.

The feeding frenzy has prompted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the owners of the Nebraska facilities to take the unusual step of confronting the rumors at their source — the Internet.

The nuclear agency, known more for straight-laced news releases loaded down with engineering jargon, created a blog of its own to discuss the Nebraska facilities.

The Omaha Public Power District, which operates Fort Calhoun, also created a special webpage on its site to dispel the rumors. It and the Nebraska Public Power District, which runs Cooper, say they have repeatedly addressed flood-related concerns on their websites and in news reports.

The incident that apparently ignited the blogosphere controversy appears to be rooted in a June 7 electrical fire in a switchgear room at Fort Calhoun. That fire disrupted cooling systems for 90 minutes, which critics said threatened to result in a radiation leak.

In fact, federal regulators who investigated the incident say there was no release and only a slight, fleeting increase in temperature in the nuclear rod storage facility.

Confusion surrounding two low-level alerts sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this month may have also fueled the rumor mill, agency officials said.

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