More Woes at Flooded Nuke Plant

Wednesday, December 14, 2011 @ 03:12 PM gHale


Several new problems arose at the Nebraska nuclear power plant that suffered flood damage earlier this year, federal regulators said.

That means there will be stricter oversight for the Omaha Public Power District plant in Fort Calhoun and will likely further delay its restart from early next year until sometime in the spring as it makes repairs from the summer flooding.

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None of the new issues represents a public safety threat, but the growing number of problems, combined with the prolonged shutdown, requires more scrutiny, said officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Fort Calhoun has remained shut down since April, when it was undergoing a refueling. Then, as luck would have it, flooding along the Missouri River then forced the plant to remain closed as floodwaters surrounded the plant.

The new problems at the plant include deficiencies in the Omaha Public Power District’s emergency response and either a design or installation flaw that contributed to a fire in June, said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks. Inspectors also found flaws in the way the utility’s analysis of how the plant would withstand different accident conditions such as earthquakes, tornadoes or loss of coolant.

The plant was already facing extra oversight because of the failure of a key electrical part during a test in 2010 and deficiencies in flood planning also found last year.

“In light of all that, the senior managers of the NRC are going to increase oversight at Fort Calhoun even further,” Dricks said.

Utility officials began looking for ways to improve Fort Calhoun’s operations earlier this year after they identified the first couple of regulatory concerns. The utility has submitted a detailed improvement plan to the NRC that regulators approved. The utility’s chief nuclear officer, Dave Bannister, acknowledged the performance problems at Fort Calhoun and promised to improve.

“OPPD has and will continue to aggressively and thoroughly address these issues until they are resolved,” said utility President and CEO W. Gary Gates. “We are committed to returning Fort Calhoun Station to its normal high-performing plant status as soon as possible.”

At the height of the summer flooding, the Missouri River rose about 2 feet above the elevation of the base of the plant. The utility erected a network of barriers and set up an assortment of pumps to help protect its buildings. The plant remained dry inside, and officials said Fort Calhoun could withstand flooding up to 7 or 8 feet higher.

Two of the new violations relate to a small fire at Fort Calhoun that briefly knocked out the cooling system for used fuel in June. Temperatures at the plant never exceeded safe levels and they quickly restored power.

The utility declared an alert when the fire happened, but Dricks said it failed to notify state emergency response officials within 15 minutes, as required. NRC inspectors also determined the design of the part that caused the fire was either incorrect or the utility installed it wrong.

Fort Calhoun was one of two nuclear power plants in the nation at level four of the NRC’s oversight system. This new move will put Fort Calhoun in a special category for shut down plants where regulators will have broad authority to conduct inspections.



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