Category Archives: Places

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant Flooding, Part II

According to the Omaha World-Herald today, the NRC is asking the COE for its reports on what would happen if one of the Missouri River dams broke. Even though the COE reports no problems with the dams at the present time, it seems completely reasonable that the NRC would want to prepare as well as possible for contingencies. After all, what would have happened, had OPPD not been forced to upgrade its levee just this year?


Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant Flooding


Missouri floodwaters surround the nuclear plant at Fort Calhoun, just north of Omaha, Nebraska. Kent Sievers/The World-Herald, published June 30, 2011

Finally, some sanity is voiced on the issue of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant flooding! In a recent interview, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claimed that Nebraska’s two nuclear plants along the Missouri, Fort Calhoun and Cooper, were not being taken into consideration as the Corps determined how to manage dam releases and flooding along the Missouri. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson captures my thoughts exactly when he says this is “hard to believe”, and that the status and vulnerability of the nuclear plants should be a top priority in the Corps’ flood management decisions.

I’d like to be able to trust the statements coming from the NRC, OPPD, and COE regarding the flooding and the safety of the plant. However, confidence erodes when their stories keep changing from day to day. When I began following this story, word was that the plant was safe because it was protected by a few barriers: a concrete wall around the main electrical transformers, and an inflatable water berm surrounding the plant. A few days later, after the berm failed and the concrete wall was breached and then patched, we were told that yet other safety measures were the “real” security, functioning normally. What will happen when those safety measures fail, though? And has anyone bothered to ask or report on why someone was operating a Bobcat so close to the berm at 1:30 in the morning, resulting in the puncture? Do we have any information about why the concrete wall was breached, or how a patch can manage to be sufficient under these difficult circumstances?

Sure, it’s unlikely that all the conditions necessary to create a serious hazard at the plant could occur, but on the other hand, why aren’t the authorities taking this more seriously than the COE appears to be? Why aren’t they telling us details about the problems that have already occurred, and why aren’t news outlets asking these questions–either insisting on answers or reporting that they aren’t getting appropriate answers? When I hear a decent account of a) what was happening that caused the flood berm to be breached, and b) why OPPD and the NRC were previously speaking as if the flood berm was an important layer of protection, yet suddenly changed to regarding it as superfluous after the breach, then maybe I can trust more of what these folks are saying. Until then? Nah.

Douthat on Hell

In April, Ross Douthat of the New York Times made the case for continued belief in Hell and damnation, a belief that seems to have been increasingly abandoned by the religious faithful in the U.S. One could make more detailed arguments about this based on Biblical interpretation, but Douthat’s argument has one obvious flaw from the get-go. As Douthat puts it, “If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either.” However, if we do believe in Hell, then it seems that “our choices are real, and, indeed, that we are the choices that we make.” Douthat’s assumption seems to be that two completely separate forms of eternal afterlife–paradise and damnation–are required in order to lend meaning or moral weight to our choices in this earthly life. Our choices have real consequences now, though, and could still have such consequences sufficient to lend them meaning and gravity in an afterlife, even if souls are not sorted into these two final resting places.

Even without a Hell of fire and brimstone and devils with forks, we might still be punished for our choices or end up “distant” from God in some respect. The idea of sin as separation from God is horrifying enough to the believer, but even outside this religious context one might argue, Platonist or Neo-Platonist style, that leading the wrong sort of life dooms one to becoming trapped in that wrong sort of life, which is ultimately miserable. If the part of the soul that is separated from this embodied life is the best, purest, least materially-concerned part, and one has consistently neglected that part, then one is likely to have troubles in any existence beyond death. In short, the usual stories about Hell don’t seem required to accomplish the purpose Douthat suggests.

Why does Rep. Lee Terry want to rush through the Keystone XL pipeline?

According to today’s Omaha World-Herald, Rep. Lee Terry from Nebraska has succeeded in getting the House to pass a bill that would move the timeline for a State Dept. decision on the Keystone XL pipeline up to Nov. 1 instead of the end of the year. The bill then requires action from President Obama in 30 days rather than 90. Lee, what’s the hurry? Especially when the Republican Senator from your own state, Sen. Johanns, expresses reservations about the haste of the study and impact of the proposed pipeline route, when water experts on the faculty of your university are concerned that the unique territory makes it difficult to predict the true impacts of a spill, and when some of your state legislators want more time to pass a bill protecting Nebraskan interests.

Even if all of the naysayers are wrong, the pipeline and route are perfectly safe, and Nebraska property owners’ interests won’t be violated, this rush to approve the project makes no sense. Who is benefiting from this urgency? Why does Terry, in particular, care about two months of lost time? It’s not as if Nebraskans will have lower gas prices at the pump that much sooner, so what’s his motive? This is definitely a situation where the cynic in me says, “follow the money”, because there is no other likely explanation for these actions.

(Above: land southeast of Bassett, Nebraska, near the site of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.)

Sea Turtle on the beach at Punalu’u, Big Island, Hawaii

I took this photo two summers ago. Several turtles were sunning themselves on this fabulous expanse of black sand. Though many stopped to view and take pictures, I was glad that nobody went close to the turtles or bothered them. They lay taking their naps uninterrupted.

More on the Keystone XL Pipeline

[Above: near Burwell, Nebraska, west of the proposed Keystone XL route.]

After its recent suspension for safety reasons, the Keystone pipeline has resumed operations. Meanwhile, both Nebraska Senators Nelson and Johanns are encouraging state legislators to take up the issue of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s planned route through the Nebraska Sandhills. The headline and first paragraphs of the news article from the World-Herald make it seem like this is Nelson’s position, but later in the article Johanns is also quoted expressing concerns about the Sandhills location and the need for the state to take up the issue itself. It seems that Gov. Heineman and others in the Legislature are waiting for national action from the State Dept. or elsewhere, but the real responsibility for addressing local safety issues before the pipeline is built will come from Nebraska itself. The state cannot afford to defer or ignore this issue.

Today Reuters published an article on the EPA’s response to the most recent State Department report on the proposed pipeline. It includes much more detail and discusses Sen. Johanns’ letter to Clinton, requesting a meeting held in the Sandhills. He says, “(State) Department officials should wade ankle-deep in the water of the aquifer and feel the soft composition of the sandhills to get an idea of what will be required to dig a trench and bury a pipeline in such a sensitive environment,” the Republican stated upon releasing his letter. “Holding a meeting 100 miles outside the sandhills won’t cut it; the State Department needs to understand the fragile nature of the proposed route and ensure affected Nebraska landowners have easy access to the meeting.”

Powerful images

Since we cannot go to church today, and the theme of the sermon was to be something about “power”, here are some pictures to inspire reflection. My dad used to paint, and in the house where I grew up hung a painting of a scene much like the one above, in my parents’ light blue bedroom. The rocks were a little different, but the overall effect was quite similar. Now, the ocean scene calls to mind all the things that go along with memory of that room and its painting: security, comfort, relaxation, the presence of authority, the regular habit of reading, and little bowls of apples or oranges separated into segments! Parental power shares a few things with oceanic power: omnipresent, much greater than sometimes realized, with a natural ebb and flow, permitting and restricting, shaping and retreating.

Above is a volcanic rock from the Kona coast, Hawaii. This brings to mind not only the amazing activities of the earth that shaped it, but the ways that humans seek treasure from the earth and transform those treasures into instruments of power. Superstitions also tell against removing a piece of that lava from the Island. Maybe it’s always bad to give that sort of reason any power, but maybe it’s sometimes good when superstitious thinking leads us not to harm things?

And above is the kind of power I embrace and seek to cultivate in my life.