Friday, July 17, 2015

Updates from Fort Calhoun

Remember Fort Calhoun, the nuclear power plant near Omaha which flooded in 2011 and then placed under special oversight? These last months have brought two developments.

First, this, at the end of March:

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station no longer stands alone.
For more than three years, the nuclear plant north of Omaha has been the only one in the United States in a special federal oversight program for reactors with performance problems.
No more.
In a letter Monday, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission informed the Omaha Public Power District that Fort Calhoun can return to routine oversight as of Wednesday, joining the 98 other U.S. plants that operate under a normal inspection regimen.
The oversight panel created to ensure that OPPD was fixing problems at Fort Calhoun will be dissolved.
OPPD CEO Gary Gates said it’s notable that Fort Calhoun was returned to “column 1” oversight for top-performing nuclear plants.
“It’s where we should be,” said Gates, who is retiring in a few months. “And it’s where we’re going to stay.”
Board Chairwoman Anne McGuire praised Gates’ dedication to getting the plant back on track, and she assured ratepayers that the district now has adequate oversight of the plant.
“You have our commitment,” she said this morning.
In the letter to Lou Cortopassi, OPPD’s chief nuclear officer, NRC Regional Administrator Marc Dapas said Fort Calhoun has made great strides since 2011, when the NRC determined that the plant had “significant performance and/or operational concerns” that warranted greater oversight.
At the time, Fort Calhoun had been offline for eight months. OPPD originally powered down the plant for a scheduled refueling outage in April 2011, but it was kept offline as floodwaters topped the banks of the Missouri River.
After a switchgear fire and the discovery of numerous safety violations, the NRC brought together an oversight committee and presented OPPD with hundreds of items to correct.
It was an expensive, lengthy process, and the district floundered at times. As the process dragged on, internal reviews exposed significant management problems at the plant.
In 2012, OPPD hired energy company Exelon Corp. to manage the plant on a 20-year contract worth at least $400 million. Board members said they needed outside experience if OPPD ever wanted to persuade the government to allow a restart.
To date, the cost of recommissioning the plant has amounted to tens of millions of dollars, including more than $58 million paid to Exelon. Personnel, operation and maintenance costs associated with the shutdown will be amortized over 10 years.
Fort Calhoun was allowed to restart in December 2013, but the plant remained under increased oversight — until this week.
Then, on June 29, there's this:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday that it had launched a special inspection at the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant, following the reported failure of a feedwater valve during a planned refueling outage..
 The NRC says workers discovered the problem earlier this month after replacing a seal in a valve that controls cooling water flow into one of the plant's steam generators. The valve wouldn't open because the new sealant couldn't handle the high operating temperatures.
The seal was replaced a second time to resolve the problem, but regulators want to better understand how it happened and whether workers' response was adequate.

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