AP News

Neb. utility offers update on troubled nuke plant

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska regulators aren't likely to allow the troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant to restart anytime soon, despite a deal that brought in a private firm to run the facility.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Omaha Public Power District will hold a public meeting Tuesday evening to provide an update on the plant that sits about 20 miles north of Omaha. The meeting will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Dana College's Gardner-Hawks Center in Blair.

Fort Calhoun initially shut down for routine maintenance in 2011, but last summer's flooding along the Missouri River and several regulatory violations forced it to remain offline. Environmentalists would like it to stay shuttered for good.

The recent violations that have kept Fort Calhoun offline include a small electrical fire in June 2011, the failure of a key electrical part during a 2010 test and deficiencies in flood planning that were discovered a year before last summer's extended flooding along the Missouri River.

Utility officials and regulators have said the problems found in recent years never represented a threat to public safety. But the Sierra Club of Iowa has asked federal regulators to consider revoking the plant's license because of its history of safety violations.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a hearing on the Sierra Club's petition last month, but it has yet to rule on it.

One of the main topics at Tuesday's meeting will likely be the agreement OPPD signed last month with Exelon Corp. to run Fort Calhoun. The Chicago-based Exelon operates 17 reactors at 10 nuclear power plants in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Exelon has been advising OPPD on Fort Calhoun's recovery since January. Now, the private company will provide day-to-day management of the plant.

Sierra Club attorney Wally Taylor said he hopes to learn more Tuesday about the Exelon agreement.

"Exelon being involved does not solve the problem as far as we're concerned," Taylor said. "Exelon has its own history of problems."

OPPD officials have said they are confident in their plan to improve operations at Fort Calhoun. The utility consulted industry experts and regulators when developing the plan.

OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson said Monday the utility plans to heat up the plant in December for final inspections, but it's not clear when regulators will allow the utility to restart Fort Calhoun's nuclear reactor. Previously, OPPD officials had set of goal of restarting the plant in September.

Hanson said heating up the plant will allow the utility to test power-generating systems that haven't operated under a full load since Fort Calhoun shut down for maintenance in April 2011.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials say there is no timeline for restarting the plant, and they won't allow Fort Calhoun to resume generating electricity until they are certain it is safe.

Commission spokeswoman Lara Uselding said a lot of inspections need to be completed before regulators will consider allowing the plant to restart.


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