WASHINGTON — Rep. Lee Terry pressed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday about ongoing delays in the effort to restart the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant.
Allison Macfarlane, who heads the commission, was testifying on Capitol Hill when the Nebraska Republican asked about news that the commission has more tasks ahead for the Omaha Public Power District's troubled plant.
Terry said it seems OPPD is receiving a new to-do list every six months.
“It just seems like they get really close to being able to reopen and then, all of a sudden, they get these new lists,” he said. “Why and how does that happen?”
Macfarlane said the agency is working deliberately and carefully to reopen the plant north of Omaha, noting that it has faced a string of setbacks: Missouri River flooding, a fire and safety concerns.
The plant was shut down for refueling in April 2011 and left that way after the flooding and the fire. The plant's woes have been cited as a factor behind OPPD rate increases.
More items have been added to the plan to prove the plant is safe enough to restart. Among them: concerns about the load-bearing capabilities of some structures.
Terry said the pattern of new tasks being added causes him to wonder whether another agenda is in play. He also questioned whether the commission needs to do a better job of making sure the plant knows what needs to be done upfront.
“I understand your concern,” Macfarlane said. “A couple of these issues have come up as a result of the licensee discovering some of these issues.”
After the hearing, Terry said his questions were not prompted by any concerns from OPPD, which has been complimentary of its regulators.
Rather, he said, he was just struck “as a layman” to hear of yet another to-do list.
“It makes you question the process,” he said.
During Thursday's hearing, Terry also said he intends to bring back legislation he proposed previously to place restraints on how the head of the commission operates.
The chairman would be required to provide notice to the other commissioners in the event of emergency action and to be more forthcoming with documentation.
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