Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant

A view from the air of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant taken June 24, 2011. (Courtesy photo)

Courtesy photo

Plans to restart the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station in January have been pushed back indefinitely by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC moved Fort Calhoun into a special inspection category Tuesday and notified plant owner Omaha Public Power District by letter that it was delaying the restart of the plant because of significant performance and/or operational concerns that will require additional oversight.

"It's a very high level of oversight," said Victor Dricks, spokesman for NRC Region IV, based in Arlington, Texas.

OPPD spokesman Mike Jones said the inspection category is for nuclear power plants that have been shut down for a long time.

Fort Calhoun, 20 miles north of Omaha along the Missouri River, was shut down for a routine refueling outage in April and kept offline during Missouri River flooding as a safety precaution. Floodwaters subsided in September.

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

Jones said OPPD is working with the NRC to restart the plant sometime in the second quarter of 2012. Getting the plant ready will take time, he said, and some inspections that were scheduled earlier were delayed by the flood.

The NRC letter cited the following reasons for placing Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station in the special inspection category:

* Inadequate strategies to protect the plant from flooding; NRC finding issued Oct. 6, 2010.

* Failure of electrical components used to automatically shut down the reactor; NRC finding issued July 18.

* Fort Calhoun Station's placement in Column IV because plant performance has been degraded for more than four consecutive quarters. Column V is the worst. 

* A significant operational event on June 7 that involved a fire in a switch gear. NRC attributed the fire to inadequate design or improper installation of electrical components.

In its letter, the NRC said it made the decision to delay the restart of the plant because of performance concerns involving the fire and recovery actions associated with the flood.

"This decision, in part, was made due to the lack of a definitive plant start-up date, the need to perform additional extent of cause and extent of condition reviews to fully understand the breadth of performance issues, and the need to develop and implement corrective actions ...," the NRC wrote.

Dricks said the NRC also has concerns about the plant's emergency response program, saying OPPD failed to notify state and local officials within 15 minutes of declaring an emergency. Jones said the utility did so in 16 minutes.

In a separate non-emergency exercise, OPPD withdrew a "protective action recommendation" the utility had communicated to emergency responders, the NRC said.

So far, OPPD has spent $32 million to replace the electricity that would have been generated by Fort Calhoun, Jones said.

Most of that amount was spent over the summer when demand for power was high, he said. 

Overall, the Missouri River flood has cost OPPD $75.9 million, he said.

Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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