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Regulators to provide update on Neb. nuclear plant

Josh Funk, Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant has missed another target date for restarting, so the Omaha Public Power District might spend another summer buying electricity to help meet peak demand.

OPPD officials say they've addressed most of what regulators want them to do at the idle nuclear plant, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says more work remains.

The plant, which sits across from Iowa on the Missouri River about 20 miles north of Omaha, has been closed since April 2011. It initially shut down for routine maintenance, but significant flooding in 2011 and a series of safety violations forced it to remain closed. The violations included the failure of a key electrical part during a 2010 test, deficiencies in flood planning that were discovered a year before the Missouri overflowed its banks in 2011 and a small electrical fire in June 2011.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has established a list of more than 450 items that OPPD and the company it hired to run Fort Calhoun, Exelon Corp., must address at the nuclear plant before it can be restarted.

Along the way, OPPD has offered several projected restart dates for Fort Calhoun, but all those dates have passed. OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson said the remaining work has taken longer than expected, but the vast majority of the items on the checklist have either been addressed or are ready for inspection. It hasn't established a new target date for restarting the plant.

NRC spokeswoman Lara Uselding said a detailed inspection report on Fort Calhoun's progress should be released soon, but the utility is still working on addressing all the concerns regulators identified.

In the past, regulators have criticized OPPD and Exelon because many of the items that were supposed to be ready for inspection hadn't been completed.

The cost of the repairs to Fort Calhoun and the extended outage that forces OPPD to buy electricity on the open market remain a concern for the utility and its ratepayers. Already, OPPD imposed a 6.9 percent increase in electricity rates in January for customers across southeast Nebraska, largely to finance a $143 million bill to fix the problems at Fort Calhoun.

But that bill doesn't include all of the problems regulators identified at the plant.

Hanson said that the cost to repair Fort Calhoun has been manageable so far, and through the end of June, OPPD had spent less on power than it budgeted. But the highest demand for electricity in the area will come during the hottest part of the summer, which is yet to arrive.

The NRC plans to hold another public meeting where regulators and OPPD will discuss Fort Calhoun's status on July 24 in Omaha.