The ratepayer-owners of Omaha’s public utility received a hard-earned reward this week from federal nuclear regulators.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission green- lighted the process of restarting the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station. The plant, located about 20 miles north of downtown Omaha, had been mothballed since before the 2011 Missouri River floods.
Regulators had dinged OPPD management and employees for a multitude of safety-related shortcomings, requiring nearly $180 million in upgrades, training, work and outside help.
The closure eliminated roughly a quarter of the power OPPD produced. Replacing that power and the costly fixes spurred sharp increases in electricity rates. All felt the pain.
Movement toward the reboot required 8 million OPPD worker hours and 23,000 hours from federal regulators to clear a 450-item checklist, as The World-Herald’s Cody Winchester reported.
So it is only right and natural to salute the work of public servants to get us to this point. And to remind OPPD management and experienced outside consultant Exelon Corp. that the public this time expects them to get this right. No excuses.
Many industry observers wondered whether the feds would ever allow the plant back online, particularly following the spike in international concerns about the safety of nuclear power after the problems at Japan’s Fukushima plant.
The climb was made harder by OPPD’s rank as one of the smallest national utilities to run a nuclear plant on its own. That’s why OPPD turned to outside help and why the utility shouldn’t be too proud to retain that help for as long as safety demands it, along with the informed consent of federal regulators and OPPD management.
Safety is serious business, and it should be the utility’s top priority.
It is good news for ratepayers to get back Fort Calhoun’s power generation capacity and the potential to export more power for sale. That helps keep regional electricity rates lower than the national average despite recent events. (The average OPPD household bill is up just $20 since 2003.)
But it is too soon to celebrate a battle won.
What’s important now, particularly as national questions arise about the future of older coal plants under federal Environmental Protection Agency regulation, is that OPPD retain as many options as possible for safe, clean power generation for the Omaha area’s future needs.
That cannot be cost-effectively accomplished without a high-functioning Fort Calhoun Station.
So let’s welcome the return of an old friend north of Omaha, one that has safely generated power for years. And let’s ensure, with the help of OPPD management, the OPPD board and Exelon’s international expertise, that it keeps safely producing power long into the future.