Nebraska Nuke Plant Placed on Special Inspection Status

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COMMENTARY | The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken the extraordinary step of moving the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant to a special inspection status, Manual Chapter 0350. Fort Calhoun has been shut down since last April. Flooding by the Missouri River and a small fire that caused a power failure in a cooling system have contributed to the NRC's desire to provide enhanced inspection of the plant during its extended shutdown.

The move was announced by the plant's owner, the Omaha Public Power District, on Tuesday. The Washington Post reports the NRC's inspection revealed plant errors in providing incident warnings to local officials and a defective or improperly installed part that lead to the fire. OPPD states that they have "aggressively and thoroughly" addressed the issues. The change in status will allow the NRC to review process and procedural documentation, plans, maintenance and inspection reports and other material in an in-depth manner without affecting plant operations.

The Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant shut down in April of 2011 for routine refueling. In early June, prior to the plant coming back on line, record flooding of the Missouri River began in the area. The plant was surrounded by flood water but none of the critical areas were flooded. A complex series of berms and other flood control measures kept the reactor building and the building housing spent fuel rods dry. Areas of the plant that were unprotected, or were temporarily flooded, are now dry and have been returned to service.

OPPD spent $15.8 million to replace the electric power that Fort Calhoun would have generated during the flood. The costs of purchased electricity will continue to increase as the plant remains in extended shutdown. An added $28.7 million was spent on flood control measures at all of the OPPD facilities threatened by the Missouri River flood, including Fort Calhoun. The utility hopes that a combination of insurance reimbursements and federal flood assistance will allow recovery of most of these costs.

Plant operators had hoped to have Fort Calhoun in full operation by January. With the new inspection status, it is unclear when the plant will resume electrical production.

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