Fort Calhoun nuclear plant gets more NRC oversight

In recent months, the NRC has identified additional performance and technical issues that will need to be resolved before the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station, located about 19 miles north of Omaha, Neb., can restart.  Getting ahead of problems and ensuring safety at nuclear plants is what the NRC does – and why we exist.

The plant was shut down on April 9 for a refueling outage. The outage was extended due to flooding along the Missouri River. Then an electrical fire on June 7 led to the declaration of an “Alert” and caused further restart complications.

On September 2 the NRC issued a Confirmatory Action Letter documenting actions that Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) officials agreed to take prior to seeking permission from the NRC to restart. The NRC later dispatched a special inspection team to review circumstances surrounding the electrical fire. The fire had resulted in the loss of spent fuel pool cooling capability for a brief time and caused significant unexpected system interactions.

During the fall, OPPD employees have been working their way through an extensive checklist of actions needed to assess damage to the site as well as checking structures, systems and components for damage that may have been caused by flooding.

All of this has been occurring against a very significant backdrop: On Sept. 1, the plant was placed in Column Four of the NRC’s Reactor Oversight Process Action Matrix because of multiple violations of NRC regulations. These include a “yellow” finding of substantial safety significance because of inadequate strategies to protect the plant from flooding and a “white” finding of low to moderate safety significance for the failure of electrical components used to automatically shutdown the reactor. Column Four is reserved for plants with significant performance issues.

The discovery of additional concerns, which are still being studied and evaluated, further complicates matters. The Alert caused by the breaker fire resulted from inadequate design or installation of electrical components. Deficiencies were noted with environmental qualification analyses for plant structures, systems and components. These analyses are relied on to demonstrate that key systems will be able to perform their safety functions under a variety of challenging accident conditions like earthquakes, loss of coolant accidents, high radiation fields, seismic events, etc.

There also are concerns with the plant’s emergency response program. OPPD officials failed to notify state and local officials of the June 7th Alert within the required 15 minutes. In a separate emergency exercise, OPPD withdrew a protective action recommendation after it had been communicated to emergency responders.

For these reasons, out of an abundance of caution, NRC senior managers have decided to increase oversight of Fort Calhoun using Inspection Manual Chapter 0350, which is reserved for facilities that are shut down due to significant performance and/or operational concerns. This inspection process provides guidance to the NRC staff to ensure that licensee corrective actions will be sufficient to safely restart and operate the plant.

The 0350 process has only been used for 12 other sites since 1994, making this an infrequent – and important – step to maintaining safety as U.S. nuclear power plants. Stay tuned for more information about this site in the future.

Victor Dricks
Region IV Public Affairs
 
Moderator Note: The Notification of Change to Regulatory Oversight letter is available through ADAMS by going to http://wba.nrc.gov:8080/ves// and doing a Simple Search for ML113470721

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

7 thoughts on “Fort Calhoun nuclear plant gets more NRC oversight”

  1. I agree that nuclear power is paramount for us to possess as a nation; but obviously mistakes can happen and increased oversight will hopefully serve to prevent some mistakes that could have been avoided.

  2. For you anti-nuc’ers out there just remember that if nuclear power goes away, you will not be able to afford electrical power. Those of you who think you are going “Green” because you drive an electrical vehicle, guess where the electricity comes from that fuels that vehicle? It comes from nuclear power, coal fired power or other fossil fueld generating plants. Well air generation will take care of us you say, I don’t think so. The wind doesn’t blow all the time and especically on those very hot summer days when you want the AC on and the turbines are not turning to generate electricity because your windmill is not spinning!

    Now as for Ft. Calhoun, the NRC has some concerns. They say: “There also are concerns with the plant’s emergency response program. OPPD officials failed to notify state and local officials of the June 7th Alert within the required 15 minutes. In a separate emergency exercise, OPPD withdrew a protective action recommendation after it had been communicated to emergency responders.” Fort Calhoun only missed “an NRC imposed deadline” by one minute… Big Deal! In response to the second part, concerning protective actions recommendations, again the NRC wants it both ways. Last year, they dinged Ft. Calhoun for not withdrawing a protective action recommendation in the almost exact same set of circumstances and now the NRC is dinging the for following what the NRC wanted last year. They can’t make up their minds. NRC needs to get its house in order as well as Fort Calhoun.

    Concerning the remark about Chernobyl in Russia… there are not any nuclear power stations like Chernobyl running in the United States. Chernobyl was a graphite moderated reactor whereas the two designs used in the United States today are the Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) and the Pressure Water Reactor (PWR). Chernobyl was also a human induced accident in that what the operators were doing allowed the reactor to get away from them and blow up.

    Concerning Nuclear Power Plants being dangerous. Yes they could be but the NRC for the most part does a good job of oversight and continues to evaluate each nuclear power station continuously over the year and during each quarterly drill and/or functional exercise. The NRC reviews every minor incident and add regulations to ensure all nuclear power stations will not experience the same events. The NRC and even all the Nuclear Power Plants themselvers are looking at what happened in Japan to see what they can do better to ensure nothing like that happens in the U.S. In addition, U. S. nuclear power plants have multiple safety systems and are always looking for “best practices” amongest themselves to ensure the safety of the public.

    Finally if one does some research, they will find that the radioactivity found at the boundary of a coal burning power plant is actually higher than that found at the boundaries of nuclear power plants. Not only that but have you looked at what comes through or by your homes or towns via truck or train that can seriously injure you or kill you immediately if an accident were to occur. Even with the incident in Japan, have you heard and CONFIRMED of anyone in the general public actually dying from radiation exposure?

  3. While I applaud increased oversight, I can’t help but question how effective it will be. Its good to have created an inspection manual, but will additional oversight ensure its followed?

  4. For me those kind Nuclear Stations are such a dangerous for people around, you just have to look what happened in Chernobyl in Rusia. Lets take down all those Nuclear Stations.

  5. I commend the work they did to create the Inspection Manual 0350, because we never know when some catastrophe may occur that endangers the lives of the people or the continent, it is important to take strict security measures for these cases to safeguard the American nation and world.

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