NRC says Fort Calhoun plant is making progress -
Published Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:12 am
NRC says Fort Calhoun plant is making progress

The Omaha Public Power District is making steady progress toward restarting its idled Fort Calhoun nuclear plant, federal regulators said Tuesday in Omaha.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved 70 percent of a long list of corrective items at the plant, as well as five items on a broader 18-item checklist.

All of those problems must be remedied before OPPD can restart the plant, about 20 miles north of Omaha.

One-quarter of the remaining work items are nearing completion, said Michael Hay, NRC regional branch chief in the reactor projects division.

The latest major item cleared is an NRC “yellow finding” predating the plant's closing in April 2011 — yellow represents the agency's second-most-serious violation — related to the plant's flood preparedness.

District officials highlighted the steps they have taken since the 2011 shutdown: replacing equipment, beefing up training for engineers and moving to a new plant management model.

“A mountain of work has been completed,” plant manager Mike Prospero said.

To date, OPPD has incurred costs of $117.6 million working to restart the plant, according to an August report to the utility's board, spokesman Jeff Hanson said.

Some in the audience opposed restarting the plant, worrying that the oversight process has not been rigorous enough to protect public safety.

“I don't want that plant started up again until you can guarantee me you have a plan,” said Linda Ryan of Omaha.

OPPD plans to heat up the reactor core in the next few weeks for additional testing, and its budget assumes that the plant will restart next year, Hanson said. But district officials no longer are predicting a restart date.

That uncertainty was illustrated Monday when a vendor discovered a leaky floor at the plant.

Workers installing equipment were drilling holes in the roof, and pooled rainwater fell into a room where high-pressure steam lines carry water to and from the reactor, said Lara Uselding, NRC spokeswoman.

Some of the rainwater leaked through the floor's epoxy coating into the room below, which holds electrical switchgears connected to safety equipment, said Tony Vegel, NRC regional division director for nuclear materials.

It's not yet known how serious the problem is — whether OPPD needs to recoat the entire floor with new epoxy or just patch the leaks — so the extent of the setback was unclear.

“We're analyzing what the fix will be,” Hanson said.

Contact the writer: Cody Winchester    |   402-444-1216    |  

Cody Winchester is a metro-area watchdog reporter. He covers Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

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