Some good nuclear news: Fort Calhoun gets NRC’s green light to restart

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has determined the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant is ready to restart after being shut down for nearly three years to address a number of significant performance problems.

The plant, operated by Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), is located 19 miles north of Omaha, Neb. The 500-MW pressurized water reactor (PWR) has been out of service since spring 2011.

Since then OPPD has signed an agreement with Exelon (NYSE:EXC), one of the nation’s leading nuclear operators, to help run the plant. 

In early December OPPD submitted a 130-page report to NRC saying that the unit was ready to restart.

The NRC said its restart readiness assessment is based on the NRC having thoroughly reviewed all of the extensive actions OPPD committed to take prior to restarting the plant. Fort Calhoun Station has been shut down since April 2011 for a refueling outage that was extended due to record Missouri River flooding. The plant remained shut down to correct a variety of concerns with plant equipment, programs and processes.

Restart means that Fort Calhoun should avoid the fate of the Duke Energy Crystal River 3 (CR3) plant in Florida and the Edison International (NYSE:EIX) San Onofre units 2 and 3 in Southern California. Those were nuclear units who announced retirements this year after extended outages.

Dominion (NYSE:D) has retired the Kewaunee unit in Wisconsin and, next year, Entergy (NYSE:ETR) will retire its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. In both cases the companies said the retirement is for economic reasons.

 NRC Region IV Administrator in Arlington, Texas, Marc Dapas outlined the NRC decision in a Dec. 18 letter to the utility.

NRC approves restart but pledges to keep an eye on things

The 80-page letter also closed an existing Confirmatory Action Letter (CAL), previously issued by the NRC, to confirm OPPD’s commitment not to restart the plant until the NRC had completed its review of OPPD’s actions to address the significant performance deficiencies that led to the extended shutdown.

“The NRC has concluded that the plant, people, and processes are ready to support the safe restart of the Fort Calhoun Station,” Dapas told the utility. He said the NRC reached that conclusion on the basis of more than 23,000 hours of extensive NRC inspections and detailed evaluations to independently review more than 450 restart actions items, major improvements made by OPPD to the plant’s supporting organizational infrastructure and programs, as well as a number of equipment modifications to improve reliability.

When the plant starts up, NRC will have inspectors providing round the clock coverage observing restart activities. In addition to two resident inspectors, three inspectors will be on site.

With the decision, the NRC also issued a post-restart CAL to confirm specific actions OPPD has agreed to take to ensure long-term performance improvement.

In October, OPPD heated up the plant to normal operating temperature and pressure to inspect for any leaks. NRC inspectors observed these activities and determined that the plant and personnel performed satisfactorily with no significant issues.

An NRC public meeting was held on Nov. 21, in Omaha where staff reported that more than 90% of the restart work was complete or nearing completion. Since then, the remaining restart checklist categories have been closed.

The NRC will continue to hold periodic public meetings with OPPD in the local community to provide a status of the licensee’s performance improvements.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.