The nuke below the failing dam


Duke Power’s Oconee Nuclear Plant is nestled in the flood plain below Duke’s deteriorating Jocassee Dam in South Carolina. If the Duke dam fails, a 16-foot-high wall of water could smash into the nuclear plant like a tsunami, overwhelming the 4-foot-high flood wall and potentially destroying critical equipment and vessels, according to disgruntled Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigators.

The 385-foot-tall Jocassee Dam impounds four rivers, creating an 8-mile-long lake that covers about 7500 acres and is hundreds of feet deep. It may impound hundreds of billions of gallons of water.

But this dam apparently has years-old problems. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been complaining to Duke since at least 1992 about whether the dam threatens the 3 reactor, 2538-megawatt Oconee Nuclear plant from a catastrophe. (The damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan featured 6-1000 MW reactors) But Duke has apparently not responded adequately to the NRC’s concerns. Dozens of other US nuclear plants may also face similar dangers from failing dams.

The full story is in the on-line version of Cascadia Times, an award-winning environmental investigation journal.

I cannot say exactly whether the Duke dam could fail immediately, or never. Neither the Army Corps or the NRC will allow the public to know the general condition of that dam or others near nuclear plants.

We do know there are problems. Normally, the NRC lacks jurisdiction over dam safety, which is usually regulated by the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission and the Army Corps. But in this case, the NRC has been meeting with Duke periodically, with little, if any results. NRC’s worker bees are very concerned about the dam’s problems remaining unaddressed.

The Jocassee Dam’s condition falls into a bizarre grey area. Its condition is too dangerous for the public to be told about it, but it is not dangerous enough for the NRC to force Duke to fix it. Other faulty dams may endanger as many as one-fourth of the US’s nuclear power plants according to NRC insiders. That would mean about 25 of the nation’s 100-odd nuke plants are potentially threatened,

The NRC did generate a report about the dangers from the failures of the many failing dams in the United States that are upstream from nuclear plants. But the NRC is keeping that report in “draft” form, to avoid releasing it to the public. The draft report bears the snappy title of “Generic Issue #204.” In response to a recent Freedom of Information Request, the NRC said it would release a heavily redacted version of this report today.

Update: No report today, says NRC spokesman Gerald McClelland. “Your FOIA request is still being processed,” he said by email this morning. “Thanks for your patience.”

Dear NRC: Please tell Duke and the other plant owners to fix the damn dams today. Or release the report on the dams’ conditions and let the public tell Duke and the others what they think about potentially endangering thousands or millions of folks to floods and nuclear accidents.

Paul Koberstein