Another meeting on Neb. nuclear plant planned

Regulators return to Nebraska to discuss repairs to Fort Calhoun nuclear plant with public

Associated Press

BLAIR, Neb. (AP) -- The public will get another chance to learn more about the repairs being made to Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant when federal regulators return Wednesday for another meeting.

The public discussions between the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Omaha Public Power District are part of the strict oversight regulators have imposed on the plant about 20 miles north of Omaha.

Fort Calhoun has been shut down since last April when OPPD began performing routine refueling maintenance. The plant remained closed last summer because floodwaters surrounded the plant for months amid massive flooding along the Missouri River.

Regulators are watching Fort Calhoun closely because it has been closed so long and because several problems were found at the plant over the past couple years unrelated to last summer's flooding.

Utility officials said earlier this year that they expected to be able to restart Fort Calhoun sometime this spring. But now OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson said the utility has no firm idea when Fort Calhoun will resume generating electricity.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have to sign off on all the repairs and changes OPPD makes to Fort Calhoun before it can restart.

The problems at the plant don't represent a public safety threat, according to regulators and utility officials, but additional scrutiny is required because of them.

The operational problems that regulators have found include a fire last spring that briefly knocked out power to the cooling system for used fuel. That fire started in an electrical breaker that had been replaced about 18 months earlier.

During the fire, smoke and soot spread into Fort Calhoun's backup electrical system and knocked that out as well.

The NRC said OPPD officials were also too slow to notify state emergency response officials about the fire when it happened.

Regulators also found flaws in the utility's analysis of how the plant would withstand different accident conditions such as earthquakes, tornadoes or loss of coolant.

A key electrical part failed during a 2010 test at Fort Calhoun. That same year the NRC identified deficiencies in flood planning at the plant.

Recently, OPPD officials have had problems with the sirens Fort Calhoun uses to warn area residents about problems. The utility said it also has backup notification plans.

The NRC will determine whether the siren problems should also be considered a safety issue.

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Online:

NRC page on Fort Calhoun: http://1.usa.gov/GBq2TF

Omaha Public Power District: www.oppd.com

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