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Troubled Neb. nuclear plant making slow progress

Josh Funk, Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant is slowly moving closer to restarting, but federal regulators say the utility still must prove the plant is safe before they'll consider it.

Later this month, the Omaha Public Power District will meet with Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials to explain the plan for continuing to improve Fort Calhoun, which is about 20 miles north of Omaha. NRC spokeswoman Lara Uselding said that long-term plan is one of the 14 items remaining on the plant's restart checklist.

All of the items on the list must be resolved before regulators will consider allowing Fort Calhoun to resume operations for the first time since April 2011.

Fort Calhoun's troubles began in 2011, after it closed for routine refueling maintenance. The plant remained closed after massive flooding along the Missouri River that year and several safety and security violations.

The remaining work includes demonstrating that OPPD has fully addressed the problems that led to the extended shutdown, including deficiencies in flood planning, a small electrical fire in June 2011 and concerns about how workers responded to problems at the plant.

Most of checklist items are in the process of being addressed, but haven't been inspected by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, utility officials said. Or if inspectors looked at them earlier this year, they didn't sign off on the work that had been done.

"We've made substantial progress," OPPD spokesman Mike Jones said.

But the utility has stopped discussing target dates for restarting Fort Calhoun after several earlier predictions proved incorrect.

"We'll restart when we feel we're ready to restart and the NRC agrees," Jones said.

OPPD doesn't expect any additional rate increases this year to pay for the repairs. The utility increased rates 6.9 percent in January across southeast Nebraska, largely to finance the estimated $140 million cost of rehabilitating the nuclear plant.

At the Aug. 27 meeting in Texas, OPPD officials will have to explain how they would make sure Fort Calhoun operates safely and continues to improve if they get permission to restart. The public will also be able to listen in and ask questions.

Part of the discussion is likely to focus on OPPD's decision last year to sign a 20-year contract with Exelon to manage Fort Calhoun. Utility officials have said Chicago-based Exelon was chosen because of its experience and safe track record operating 17 nuclear reactors at 10 different power plants.


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