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Rising river could shut down NPPD nuclear plant

Source: 
Omaha World-Herald

The Nebraska Public Power District lost a small power plant on the Niobrara River because of flooding in north-central Nebraska. And hundreds of miles to the southeast, the utility has begun adding sandbags to the levee that protects its nuclear plant from the Missouri River.

Thursday morning, the hydroelectric plant at the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River was lost when the dam broke and a large ice floe jammed a hole in the building.

Although workers were inside the plant, no one was injured, said Mark Becker, spokesman for the Nebraska Public Power District.

In southeast Nebraska, the utility is monitoring the rapidly rising Missouri River.

Becker said that if the Missouri reaches the levels projected by the National Weather Service this weekend, the utility will have to declare an alert and take Cooper Nuclear Station off line.

According to computer simulations, the Missouri River could reach 45.5 feet sometime Sunday. At that level, the plant must be shut down.

Becker said workers were adding sandbags to the levee that protects the nuclear station and other key facilities from the Missouri River. When the river reaches 42.5 feet, which is forecast to be Friday, the utility is required to issue a Notice of Unusual Event to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and state and local officials. That simply means that conditions are not ordinary, and Cooper would still be able to continue generating power.

If the river rises a foot higher, to 43.5 feet, workers will start barricading internal doorways and taking other precautions.

During the historic summerlong flood of 2011, Cooper reached the level of an unusual event notice, and sandbagged and barricaded internal doorways, but the plant was able to continue functioning.

Cooper accounts for about 35 percent of NPPD's power. If the plant is shut down, NPPD will be able to get power elsewhere through its own facilities or through a power-sharing network that it belongs to.

"That's not going to be an issue," he said. "We're going to have enough electricity."

The loss of the hydroelectric plant also will not be crippling for NPPD. It was built in the 1920s, and the utility already had plans to discontinue the use of its electricity, Becker said. NPPD had been planning to sell the plant and its water rights to a group of natural resources districts.

nancy.gaarder@owh.com, 402-444-1102,twitter.com/gaarder

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