US nuclear power plant remains shutdown with no restart date set

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Despite Omaha Public Power Districts’ statements related to making “fundamental changes”, hiring a new plant manager from Exelon, and spending millions of dollars, the fact remains that it’s unlikely the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant will restart before fall because of the poor state of the facility and lack of completed extensive inspections.

NRC Inspector Troy Pruett said he believes the NRC will be tied up carrying-out detailed inspections at Fort Calhoun throughout the summer.

“I’ve got a summer’s worth of inspections to be done,” Pruett said.

OPPD had expected to restart this spring, but OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson recently admittedthe utility has no firm idea when Fort Calhoun will resume generating electricity.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have to sign off on all the repairs and changes OPPD makes to Fort Calhoun before it can restart.

Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Omaha Public Power District met Wednesday evening in Blair Nebraska to discuss the situation.

During the meeting, OPPD officials filled the time with presentations on in-depth technical reforms,meanwhile the tension and disconnect between the presenters and those among the audience grew. Several of the meetings attendees voiced their disapproval and resentment at the plant’s management for what many called “malpractice and incompetency.”

Further frustration stemmed from a lack of allotted time for audience questions and concerns. Instead of allowing for an open forum like the previous meeting in January, participants were told to write down questions on a card, where they would later be asked to come in front of the stage and address both panels, leaving only 30 minutes for audience participation.

Dates for any future meetings have yet to be announced.

Fort Calhoun has been shut down since planned refueling maintenance began last April. Flooding along the Missouri River forced it to remain closed last summer.

Regulators are watching Fort Calhoun closely because of an embarrassing track record over recent years, with several problems found at the plant over the past couple years unrelated to last summer’s flooding.

The operational problems that regulators have found include a fire last spring that briefly knocked out power to the cooling system for used fuel.

On June 7, 2011, an electrical component in a switch gear room caused a small fire with Halon extinguisher activation which forced a partial evacuation.

The fire impacted pumping of coolant water through the spent fuel pool.  That fire started in an electrical breaker that had been replaced about 18 months earlier.  TheNRC later issued a preliminary red finding noting the significance of the event.

During the fire, smoke and soot spread into Fort Calhoun’s backup electrical system and knocked that out as well.

The NRC said OPPD officials were also too slow to notify state emergency response officials about the fire when it happened.

On June 30th, 2011, one of the pumps used to remove seepage caught fire when a worker was refilling it with gasoline. The worker put the fire out with a fire extinguisher but was burned on his arms and face and he was airlifted via helicopter to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Regulators also found flaws in the utility’s analysis of how the plant would withstand different accident conditions such as earthquakes, tornadoes or loss of coolant.

A key electrical part failed during a 2010 test at Fort Calhoun.

That same year the NRC identified deficiencies in flood planning at the plant.

Recently, there have been problems with the sirens Fort Calhoun uses to warn area residents about problems, during one test they did not sound the alarm when triggered, and in an unrelated event, the alarms did sound although there had been no alarm test scheduled.

OPPD spent around $20 million in June battling unprecedented Missouri River flooding and $6.1 million replacing electricity normally generated by idled station.

The NRC gave the plant a “D” rating in early September 2011 due to the 2009 flood mitigation and flood preparedness; and for a faulty electrical connector issue from 2010.

OPPD Chief Nuclear Officer Dave Bannister said the utility knows there is more work to do to get Fort Calhoun ready to restart.

“We clearly understand our need to improve our performance,” Bannister said.

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