by: Jason Chan
I have been reading some local Omaha news sites and noticed that the OPPD (Omaha Public Power District) has created a rumor control page.
Yes, it is true that there was a semantics error with citizen journalists picking up on what a particular radio talk show host originally called a "level 4 emergency" and repeating this in their own reports, when the official reports show at the highest a level 2 emergency ("Alert") being issued, with the current severity level being set back to a level 1 emergency ("Notification of Unusual Event") with regards to the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station. This assumes the 4 level nuclear event scale used in the United States. Per the NRC's (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) Backgrounder on Emergency Preparedness at Nuclear Power Plants:
...Numbering from top to bottom, level 1 emergency=Notification of Unusual Event, level 2 emergency=Alert, level 3 emergency=Site Area Emergency, level 4 emergency=General Emergency with a level 1 being the least severe and level 4 being the most severe.
Emergency ClassificationEmergency Classification is a set of plant conditions which indicate a level of risk to the public. Nuclear power plants use the four emergency classifications listed below in order of increasing severity.
Notification of Unusual Event - Under this category, events are in process or have occurred which indicate potential degradation in the level of safety of the plant. No release of radioactive material requiring offsite response or monitoring is expected unless further degradation occurs.
Alert - If an alert is declared, events are in process or have occurred that involve an actual or potential substantial degradation in the level of safety of the plant. Any releases of radioactive material from the plant are expected to be limited to a small fraction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protective action guides (PAGs). Additional information regarding PAGs can be found on the EPA Web site at: http://www.epa.gov/radiation/rert/pags.html .
Site Area Emergency - A site area emergency involves events in process or which have occurred that result in actual or likely major failures of plant functions needed for protection of the public. Any releases of radioactive material are not expected to exceed the EPA PAGs except near the site boundary.
General Emergency - A general emergency involves actual or imminent substantial core damage or melting of reactor fuel with the potential for loss of containment integrity. Radioactive releases during a general emergency can reasonably be expected to exceed the EPA PAGs for more than the immediate site area.
Here is a possible scenario on how the "level 4 emergency" terminology error got started:
1. Robert Knight host of the 5 O'clock Shadow radio show interviews Arnie Gundersen, esteemed nuclear industry expert and says that Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station is at a "level 4 emergency". I believe this was an honest mistake in semantics. The "level 4 emergency" terminology slips by Mr. Gundersen's guard who compliments the host's overall summary of the situation at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station in the host's opening remark. Note, however, that the interview is excellent overall.
2. Conscientious YouTube activists and other websites pick up on the "level 4 emergency" terminology and it is propagated.
3. Jeff Rense, famous late night radio talk show host, says that Arnie Gundersen himself stated that Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station is at a "level 4 emergency". Arnie Gundersen never actually said this but rather did not correct Mr. Knight the interviewer from the 5 O'clock Shadow radio program. Robert Knight is the one who said Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station is at a "level 4 emergency". I feel Mr. Rense also made an honest mistake and his overall coverage of Fukushima or radiation dangers is excellent.
There is both a U.S. and international nuclear event scale where the U.S. scale has 4 levels and the international scale (formally known as the INES, or International Nuclear Event Scale) has 7 levels. The various event levels have a bureaucratic nomenclature and classification rules associated with them as well. It is easy to see how errors in semantics can occur when not everyone is a nuclear expert.
I first found out about the situation with Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station (and later Cooper Nuclear Station) from the Glowing Conversations Facebook group, where a group member had posted the viral YouTube video about Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station by a YouTube activist, not from corporate controlled news sources. Local newspapers and television stations have been reporting on the flooding dangers with regards to Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station and Cooper Nuclear Station in Nebraska but unless you live in the areas covered by the local news, you probably did not hear about it. What prompted me to do my own research is my social network and the YouTube activists.
The article titled Midwest Floods: Both Nebraska Nuke Stations Threatened by Rady Ananda of thepeoplesvoice.org is the best article so far that I have found which covers the nuclear power plants, flooding and nuclear event levels. I will defer to the article's explanation of the various event levels.
I noticed that the article also has a slight error in reporting with regards to Cooper Nuclear Station. The author, who correctly points out the "level 4 emergency" terminology is in error actually is entrapped by semantics/bureaucratic nomenclature himself. The sludge release per the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) was never classified as a NOUE (Notification of Unusual Event) as the article states, it was classified as a non-emergency event.
I do not blame the author or other conscientious people one bit for making semantics errors. I personally would choose honest reporting with semantics errors any time of the day versus overt propaganda or whitewash/deceptive reporting. Besides it is one's personal responsibility to check up on all news sources no matter where they come from.