NE Nuke Still Not Ready for Restart

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 @ 03:07 PM gHale

The Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) might spend another summer buying electricity to help meet peak demand after the beleaguered Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant missed another target date for restarting.

OPPD officials said they addressed most of what regulators want them to do at the idle nuclear plant, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said not so fast, there is more work to do.

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The plant, which sits across from Iowa on the Missouri River about 20 miles north of Omaha, NE, has been down 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 discovered a year before the Missouri overflowed its banks in 2011 and a small electrical fire in June 2011.

The NRC 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 they can restart it.

Along the way, OPPD has offered several projected restart dates for the plant, but all those dates have passed.

OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson said the remaining work has taken longer than expected, but they have either already fixed a vast majority of the items on the checklist or they 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 available soon, but the utility is still working on addressing all the concerns regulators identified.

In the past, regulators criticized OPPD and Exelon because items that should have been ready for inspection were not ready.

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 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.

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