Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant – A 2013 Update

Lara Uselding
Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

fcsAs we turn the page on a new year, the NRC is watching closely as the operators of the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant, located in Omaha, Neb., are working around the clock in hopes of returning the plant to service. It remains to be seen if the NRC is convinced the efforts of the Omaha Public Power District’s (OPPD) are sufficient.

The plant has been powered down since April 9, 2011, for a refueling outage. The outage was extended due to historic flooding along the Missouri River followed by an electrical fire that led to an “Alert” declaration and further restart complications.

On Jan. 8, OPPD officials and the NRC Fort Calhoun Oversight Panel members met before the five-member NRC Commission to discuss the current plant status. Positive change is on the horizon. “They [OPPD] are looking at problems with a different set of eyes today,” said Mike Hay, NRC Branch Chief and panel member. Some NRC Commissioners also noted the efforts by OPPD management to turn things around. It is also clear more work needs to be done.

In November 2012, the NRC issued a detailed inspection plan listing some 450 items that require attention, inspection, and resolution. Many of these items are subsets of the familiar issues that have been reported over the past two years including the breaker fire, flood strategy concerns, containment penetrations, and containment internal structures issues.

In 2013, there will be numerous NRC inspectors carrying out a very rigorous inspection schedule. A five-member team has already been on site for two weeks to independently verify results from a third-party safety culture assessment done last year. As part of the inspection, NRC held focus group interviews with plant works to assess the current climate and help the NRC understand how in tune management is with staff. Later in February, these results will be used to fuel a second, larger team inspection to fully assess human performance and safety culture at Fort Calhoun.

There is more to come. There will be an announcement soon with details for the next public meeting in Nebraska. The staff will continue to post updates and helpful information to the Fort Calhoun specific Web site.

Author: Moderator

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

28 thoughts on “Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant – A 2013 Update”

  1. The plant has flood mitigation measures in place if flooding occurs. The NRC does not control river levels. The plant receives notifications from the US Army Corps of Engineers and would have advance warning of extreme river level changes for which they would then implement their flood protection strategy if warranted.

    Lara Uselding

  2. Will the Missouri river be flooding again this year like in 2011 when Fort Calhoun went under water the public being told at that time “no significant impact”

  3. Hi Lara–Not to nit-pik, but Ft. Calhoun is located “near” Omaha (or Blair, NE), and “works” should have been “workers.” It is nearly impossible to “proof” your own writing. Suggest a colleague or Section Chief give your public writings (press releases) the “once over lightly.”

    Ed Trottier


  5. The NRC is holding a closed-door meeting today at NRC headquarters in Rockville on Fort Calhoun’s security. The agenda refers to an Exelon security assessment of FCS and a security plan. This strongly suggests that the security deficiencies at Fort Calhoun are significant.

  6. Re: second PR Answer to Q4: Again, the question is, in light of the discovery of inadequate embedment for j-bolt anchors for all four raw water pumps, will the NRC insist that all anchors at Fort Calhoun be examined. The NRC’s answer in this blog has twice failed to answer this question. It appears the NRC wants to dodge this question.

  7. Fort Calhoun’s failure to control and maintain its design-basis documents is a big no-no. The lack of
    documentation that shows all calculations has implications throughout the plant. Systems, structures, and components can’t be properly evaluated or modified without them.

    OPPD’s recent revelation to the NRC that the beams and columns inside Fort Calhoun’s containment structure weren’t constructed as design drawings specified and that calculations were missing is one very serious example of OPPD’s lack of control over its design configuration. Fort Calhoun’s anchor embedments that don’t match design drawings may be another example of this problem with critical ramifications to the entire plant.

    The NRC has been asleep at the switch for a long time regarding these problems at Fort Calhoun.The 0350 panel needs, at long last, to get an adequate grip and require OPPD fix all of these serious problems before restart is approved.

    The panel has plenty of authority to do this. A panel member explained in a public meeting last summer that the 0350 panel can specially design its enforcement to deal with all the problems existing at Fort Calhoun prior to restart.

  8. RE: Q4 The NRC launched a series of inspections at the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant yesterday to examine the plant’s restart checklist and evaluate a recent cooling water pump issue. NRC inspectors will evaluate a condition, reported on Dec. 2, 2012, involving four main water pumps incorrectly anchored using shorter bolts than required. Shorter bolts may have caused the pumps to be inoperable following extreme ground motion during an earthquake.

    Lara Uselding

  9. In regards to Q3: A decision has not been made on this issue. It is an item on the restart checklist (the document NRC is using to inspect the plant), under the section entitled engineering design and configuration control, and it has not been inspected yet.

    Lara Uselding

  10. Yes, the maintenance building column is being fixed and the voids under the turbine building (not a second column) are being addressed.

    Lara Uselding

  11. All plants have to complete post fukushima actions regardless of whatever other commitments they have. Fort Calhoun was not shut down because of flood related issues, so there is no reason they have some arbitrarily earlier deadline placed on them than the rest of the industry to complete. Additionally, inspections like this at nuclear plants take a long time and require a lot of resources. Trying to crunch that time will just result in them, and every other plant, not having an adequate evaluation of flooding hazards, and I think all parties would rather have a good evaluation than a half assed one released “on time”. Most things in nuclear take years to change or evaluate.

    With regards to design basis documents I think the NRC was very clear, Fort Calhoun will need to have updated design basis information. If the NRC finds they do not have up to date design basis information sufficient to demonstrate plant safety, they will be forced to update it. I think the question you should be asking is: “Does Fort Calhoun currently have adequate updated documentation for all of its SSCs, and if they do not, will they be required to produce it prior to startup”.

  12. All that matters is the plant design is adequate to ensure safety of the plant. This could mean waterproof pump house. This could mean flood barriers. This could mean portable pumps which could be hooked up well in advance to any flood hitting the site. There are multiple ways to ensure that critical safety functions are accomplished.

  13. Evidently you do not understand the professionalism of the NRC staff. Equating them to a “Fox in a hen house” is very disingenuous to the public’s nuclear safety inspectors.

  14. So the fox is going to do a real good inspection of the hen house. Right. I have a question, were those cooling water pumps submersible or not? If you jokers destroy the Corn Belt, there’s not going to be any place in America for you.

  15. So the Maintenance Building column is fixed and the other is in process. Which column is the other that is being fixed? The second column which one is that?

  16. The two agency flood related activities won’t be complete in time for Fort Calhoun restart. We have been told by the NRC that the restart will not be held up waiting for those reports. Lara all penetrations through the containment building are safety related as made clear by Commissioner Apostolakis at the last teleconference. Your just repeating OPPD’s lame excuse for not changing them in the 1990’s. If it was true that the NRC needed fully reconstituted design basis documents to operate they would not have been operating for the last 20 years. 1989 was the first notice from the NRC about the lack of design basis documents.

  17. Re: PR Answer to Q1: The NRC is moving far too slowly to deal with the known high-risk flooding hazard currently present at Fort Calhoun. As a part of the post-Fukushima NRC actions, NRC isn’t requiring Fort Calhoun to complete its evaluation of flooding hazards from upstream dam failures until 2014. NRC’s handling of generic issues takes years, sometimes decades. The 0350 panel already has the data it needs to act now by not allowing Fort Calhoun to restart until adequate measures are taken to protect from the known high risks from flooding caused by upstream dam failure. Many Nebraska and Iowa residents have little, if any, confidence in the NRC’s track record re: flooding risks at nuclear plants or in the Corps of Engineers’ management of the six dams on the Missouri River upstream of Fort Calhoun. The NRC needs to get real about the current known high-risk flooding hazard at Fort Calhoun.

    Re: PR Answer to Q3: The question was, will the NRC require Fort Calhoun to reconstitute all its design-basis documents prior to considering restart. This was not answered.

    Re: PR Answer to Q4: Fort Calhoun’s Current Event Notification Report for Dec. 3, 2012 states, “Existing analysis requires a minimum embedment of 60 inches for a j-bolt type anchor.”
    What was recently found at Fort Calhoun was only 9-inch embedment for j-bolt anchors for all four raw water pumps, rendering them all inoperable. The question was, in light of this discovery, will the NRC insist that all anchors at Fort Calhoun be examined. This was not answered.

  18. ANSWER TO Q1 : The NRC’s recognizes the need to address the cascading dam failure flooding issue at nuclear power plants and it is currently being addressed by two agency organization activities: 1) the Japan lessons Learned Directorate (JLD) charged the NRC staff to address the Fukushima near-Term Task Force (NTTF) Recommendations that address flooding and ; 2) The Research arm of the NRC is looking at this issue under its Generic Issue-204 research entitled “Flooding of Nuclear Power Plant Sites Following Upstream Dam Failure.”
    ANSWER TO Q2: In 1985, the NRC issued generic communication to licensees on the use of Teflon material in containment piping. OPPD did replace penetrations with Teflon in cables connected to safety related loads and instrumentation. However, there are penetrations that contain Teflon that were not replaced because they did not contain safety related loads or instrumentation. This issue is currently being looked at by the increased oversight panel known as the 0350 panel and will need to be addressed prior to restart.
    ANSWER TO Q3: NRC regulations require that plants have updated documentation for structures, systems and components. If design basis documents are missing, the NRC will require the plant operator to reevaluate and reproduce them.
    ANSWER TO Q4: The pumps are required to have 16 inch bolt anchors, not 60 inch. The plant operator has replaced the anchors and NRC will be inspecting their work.

    I hope this information is helpful.

    Lara Uselding

    NRC does not require a plant to redo the original plant design. NRC regulations require that plants have updated documentation for structures, systems and components. If design basis documents are missing, the NRC will require the plant operator to reevaluate and reproduce them. The design basis document and internal structures issues are currently being evaluated and inspected under the NRC’s increased oversight process and must be resolved by the licensee.

    ANSWER for Q3
    This matter has been discussed at previous public meetings. All videos from previous meetings including those in which NRC staff have discussed this can be found at

    ANSWER for Q4
    The maintenance building column has been fixed and the other is in process.

    ANSWER for Q5

    To see the comprehensive 450+ items outlined in the NRC basis document that need to be addressed and resolved by the licensee and inspected by the NRC please visit this link:

    I hope this information is helpful.

    Lara Uselding

  20. Lilly’s questions and comments are right on target. I know of many people in Nebraska and Iowa who are asking the same questions. The NRC needs to give clear, on-point answers to each. The NRC’s publicized focus on human resources issues while giving short shrift to the many very significant technical problems at Fort Calhoun is a failure to protect the public adequately.

    Here’s some additional questions the NRC needs to answer:

    1. When will the NRC deal realistically with the ongoing documented high-risk flooding threat at Fort Calhoun from upstream dam failures? It appears that both Fort Calhoun and the NRC are relying solely upon Army Corps of Engineers predictions and management of the six earthen dams on the Missouri River upstream of Fort Calhoun. This is foolhardy and unsafe given how outmatched the Corps was regarding the 2011 flooding.

    2. Why did the NRC allow Fort Calhoun to continue to use Teflon electrical penetration seals after the mid-1980s even though it was then known that they degrade when encountering high radiation? Fort Calhoun is apparently the only nuclear plant that continues to use Teflon. This fact exemplifies Fort Calhoun’s poor decision-making re: nuclear safety. Fort Calhoun’s seals which were extracted and recently lab tested are reported to have greatly deteriorated. Why hasn’t the NRC stepped in and assured safety when Fort Calhoun has so clearly hasn’t?

    3. Many serious problems exist at Fort Calhoun apparently plant-wide, including failure to maintain and update design-basis documentation as required. This is despite the NRC’s explicit alerts in 1992 and 1996 to licensees that this documentation, including calculations, should be maintained. Will the NRC require Fort Calhoun to reconstitute all its design-basis documents prior to considering restart?

    4. Another potentially plant-wide problem is inadequate anchor embedment. Existing analysis requires a minimum embedment of 60 inches for a j-bolt type anchor but only 9-inch embedment has been found for all four raw water pumps. In light of this discovery, will the NRC insist that all anchors at Fort Calhoun be examined?

  21. RE: NRC held focus group interviews with plant works to assess the current climate and help the NRC understand how in tune management is with staff.

    If Ft. Calhoun is anything like San Onofre then everybody interviewed knows their job is on the line and therefore watches what they say, so the amount of candid information received is almost nil.

  22. Is the NRC going to answer the more important questions the public has been asking about Ft. Calhoun?
    1. Will the plant be required to reconstruct their plant design documents since so many are missing or incorrect? They couldn’t even find underground pipes under the turbine building properly because the design documents are so messed up. There are also many problems with the containment design documents. They just found out now that internal containment structures are improperly designed and unsafe for operation. What else involved with the containment structures or the plant are wrong or misunderstood because the design documents are wrong or missing?
    2. Could the NRC explain why they have known since the 1980’s that Calhoun’s design documents were incorrect or missing yet never forced Calhoun to fix this even when they gave a license extension to run another 20 years?
    3. Will the NRC publicly address the issues of under plant erosion? The first geo-testing found considerable erosion and building failure problems under the turbine building & machine building and the engineering firm thinks there may be the same under the containment building and the building housing the spent fuel pool. Why is this not being conveyed clearly to the public. This is a much bigger deal than the human resources issues at the plant. Has this additional 3rd party inspection work been done? Knowing if there is erosion or other problems under containment and the fuel pool is a big deal, why is this never talked about?
    4. Why did the NRC never make Calhoun fix this under plant erosion problem even though they have known about it since the previous flood in 1993? It has obviously gotten worse over the years including a sinking column in the maintenance building and voids under the turbine building. The erosion seems to be in the backfill layer under the plant but it doesn’t mean it is not a problem.
    5. Could the NRC tell the public clearly what is being asked of Calhoun to fix these underground erosion problems, the lack of required accurate design documents and the unknown erosion problems under containment & the spent fuel pool? Will they be required to fix any of these before they are allowed to restart and if so what will be required as far as repair work?

    It is really worrying that the NRC seems focused on human resources issues and is not telling the public anything about these rather major problems at Calhoun that absolutely should be part of the public disclosure on the plant.

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