Several new problems have been found at a Nebraska power plant that suffered flood damage earlier this year, federal regulators said Tuesday, so inspectors will be watching the plant north of Omaha even more closely as repairs from flooding are made.
NRC spokesman Victor Dricks told The Associated Press that 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. 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.
Two of the new violations are related 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 power was quickly restored.
Before Tuesday’s announcement, Fort Calhoun was one of only two nuclear power plants in the nation at level four of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission‘s oversight system. This new move will put Fort Calhoun in a special category for plants that are shut down where regulators will have broad authority to conduct inspections.
“In light of all that, the senior managers of the NRC are going to increase oversight at Fort Calhoun even further,” Dricks said.
David Lochbaum, nuclear safety director at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, said he could think of only a handful of times when the NRC has used this inspection approach, but that’s partly because the nation’s 65 nuclear power plants are rarely shut down as long as Fort Calhoun has been. He said many of the regulations the NRC uses to measure how well a nuclear plant is operating are based on things that happen while it is running.
The reactor, about 20 miles north of Omaha, has been shut down since April 9, when it was taken off line for routine maintenance. What essentially was a planned two-month outage is heading toward its ninth month as a result of this summer’s flooding along the Missouri River.
According to OPPD’s monthly financial report, the utility spent $3.8 million in November replacing electricity that would have been generated by Fort Calhoun. For the year to date, that total is $32 million.
On Thursday, the OPPD board is scheduled to vote on a proposed rate increase of 5.9 percent. The final opportunity for public comment will be during the 10 a.m. meeting at OPPD’s downtown headquarters, 444 S. 16th St.
Under the proposal, the average residential customer’s bill would rise to $94.85 per month, up $5.30 from $89.54.
On Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission notified the Omaha Public Power District that it is creating a special panel of inspectors to oversee improvements and repairs at the reactor.
Even before Tuesday’s decision, Fort Calhoun had the worst grade a reactor can have and still operate. It is one of two plants in the nation with the second-lowest of five grades the NRC assigns.
Dave Bannister, vice president and chief nuclear officer at OPPD, told the utility’s board on Tuesday that he expects the plant to restart in the “second quarter,” which is April through June. He is hopeful it can start earlier.
Prior to Tuesday’s NRC announcement, OPPD could have restarted the reactor once it completed the NRC’s required checklist of repairs and improvements, Uselding said. With Tuesday’s decision, the NRC now controls when the plant starts.
Lara Uselding, commission spokeswoman said, “We’ll be watching the plant even more closely,” she said, which includes more inspectors, inspections and restrictions.
Source: OPPD Fort Calhoun plan:
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