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Troubled Neb. nuke plant inches closer to restart

Josh Funk, Associated Press

FILE - In this July 14, 2011 file photo, the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant is surrounded by floodwaters from the Missouri River, in Fort Calhoun, Neb. The troubled nuclear power plant is inching closer to restarting as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issues a checklist this week outlining everything that must be done before the plant restarts. But it's still not clear exactly when that will happen because federal regulators say there is no timeline. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant is inching closer toward generating power for the first time since April 2011, but federal regulators say the utility still has significant work to do before the plant can restart.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a 48-page-long checklist this week listing everything the Omaha Public Power District must address, including policy reviews, training exercises and plant equipment upgrades. Some items are completed, but many remain unchecked.

OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson said the utility has already started addressing the items on the checklist, but having a formal list helps clarify the tasks that remain.

"We have made significant progress in our efforts and are confident in the work we have identified," Hanson said. "The remaining work is well understood with the right leaders and teams in place."

NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said Fort Calhoun, located 20 miles north of Omaha, won't restart until regulators are sure it's safe.

"They still have a lot of work to do," Dricks said.

The power plant initially shut down for refueling maintenance in 2011, but flooding along the Missouri River and a series of safety violations forced it to stay closed. The violations include 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 last summer's extended flooding.

David Lochbaum, nuclear safety director with the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, said the NRC checklist should give the public more confidence that the plant is safe should the NRC allow it to come back online.

"It's a road map for restart," Lochbaum said.

The NRC is also considering a petition from the Sierra Club of Iowa that asks regulators to revoke Fort Calhoun's operating license because of its history of safety violations. The environmental group, which opposes nuclear power in general, filed the petition in June.

Lochbaum said he expects the NRC to decide on the Sierra Club's petition before allowing Fort Calhoun to restart.

Clean Nebraska, another environmental group, also has asked the NRC to keep Fort Calhoun closed because the plant would be inundated by floodwaters in the unlikely event of a dam failing upstream. But NRC officials have those concerns don't have to be dealt with before Fort Calhoun restarts.

The NRC and OPPD officials were planning to hold another public meeting in Blair on Thursday night to update the public on the plant's progress and answer questions. Regulators have held several similar meetings over the past year.

Initially, OPPD officials talked about various target restart dates, but as those passed and the plant remained idle, utility officials stopped setting specific targets.

OPPD also hired Chicago-based Exelon Corp. in August to run the day-to-day management of Fort Calhoun. The company operates 17 reactors at 10 nuclear power plants in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and had been advising OPPD on Fort Calhoun's recovery since January.


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