The troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant is inching closer toward generating power for the first time since April 2011, but federal regulators say the utility still has significant work to do before the plant can be restarted.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a 48-page-long checklist this week listing everything the Omaha Public Power District must address, including policy reviews, training exercises and plant equipment upgrades. Some items are completed, but many remain unaddressed.
OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson said the utility has started dealing with the items, but having a formal checklist helps clarify the tasks that remain.
“We have made significant progress in our efforts and are confident in the work we have identified,” Hanson said. “The remaining work is well understood with the right leaders and teams in place.”
NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said Fort Calhoun, located 20 miles north of Omaha, won't be restarted until regulators are sure it's safe.
“They still have a lot of work to do,” Dricks said.
The power plant initially shut down for refueling maintenance in 2011, but flooding along the Missouri River and a series of safety violations forced it to stay closed. The violations include the failure of a key electrical part during a 2010 test, a small electrical fire in June 2011 and deficiencies in flood planning that were discovered a year before last summer's extended flooding.
David Lochbaum, nuclear safety director with the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, said the NRC checklist should give the public more confidence that the plant is safe if the NRC were to allow it to come back online.
“It's a road map for restart,” Lochbaum said.
The NRC is also considering a petition from the Sierra Club of Iowa that asks regulators to revoke Fort Calhoun's operating license because of its history of safety violations. The environmental group, which opposes nuclear power in general, filed the petition in June.
Lochbaum said he expects the NRC to decide on the Sierra Club's petition before allowing Fort Calhoun to restart.
Clean Nebraska, another environmental group, also has asked the NRC to keep Fort Calhoun closed because the plant would be inundated by floodwaters if a dam failed upstream. But NRC officials have said that those concerns don't have to be dealt with before Fort Calhoun restarts.
The NRC and OPPD officials were scheduled to hold another public meeting in Blair on Thursday night to update the public on the plant's progress and answer questions. Regulators have held several similar meetings over the past year.
OPPD also hired Chicago-based Exelon Corp. in August to run the day-to-day management of Fort Calhoun. The company operates 17 reactors at 10 nuclear power plants in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
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