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Neb. utility meets with NRC on troubled nuke plant

Josh Funk, Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The utility that owns the troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska said Monday it plans to strengthen protections against tornado debris and flooding before restarting the plant, which has been idle for two years.

Omaha Public Power District officials updated the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Monday on changes being made at the plant that might require amending its operating license.

The Fort Calhoun plant, which is about 20 miles north of Omaha, has been shut down since April 2011. It initially went offline for routine maintenance, but flooding along the Missouri River and a series of safety violations forced it to stay closed.

The violations included the failure of a key electrical part during a 2010 test, a small electrical fire in June 2011, and deficiencies in flood planning that were discovered a year before the extended flooding in 2011.

The utility has been addressing problems at the plant and hopes to restart it this spring. But regulators are still inspecting the work, and they won't allow the plant to restart unless they're confident it's safe.

On Monday, the Omaha Public Power District told regulators about several changes that are being made at the plant to improve safety and some long-standing paperwork problems it hopes to clear up.

The utility is in the process of installing steel cages around equipment on the outside of the plant to protect the equipment in case a tornado ever sends projectiles flying in the area.

The building that brings water from the Missouri River into Fort Calhoun to cool the core of the nuclear power plant also has been modified based on lessons from the 2011 flood. The changes made to the intake structure will help protect the pumps from floodwater.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission official Tony Vegel, who oversees reactor safety in the region, said these changes should make Fort Calhoun safer in the event of a tornado or future flooding.

Other changes that might need to be made to Fort Calhoun's license deal with clarifying which rules and guidelines apply to structures at the power plant. Utility officials say Fort Calhoun's current license isn't always clear about whether building codes or newer NRC regulations apply.

Mike Ryan, with the environmental group Clean Nebraska, said he was surprised to hear that the NRC may allow the utility to make these changes to Fort Calhoun and possibly restart the plant before the license review process is complete.

"Everything with the whole process seems geared toward getting the plant back online and operating," Ryan said. "And we still have safety concerns."

Another meeting was planned for Monday afternoon, but regulators closed that meeting to the public because the planned discussion about flood protection involved security information.


Follow Josh Funk online at www.twitter.com/funkwrite



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

Omaha Public Power District: http://www.oppd.com