An Era Ends at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant

Victor Dricks
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region IV

Shortly before 1 p.m. Monday, operators in the control room of the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant pushed a red button, initiating an automatic shutdown of the reactor. So ended commercial operations for the nation’s smallest nuclear power plant, located along the Missouri River, about 20 miles north of Omaha, Neb.

fcsWhen it happened, just as it had done when the plant began operations 43 years earlier, the NRC had staff onsite to ensure events unfolded as planned, systems functioned as designed and public health and safety were protected.

“The shutdown was done in a very professional manner,” said Geoff Miller, a branch chief in the NRC’s Division of Reactor Projects, who oversees the plant from the NRC’s Region IV office in Arlington, Texas. By his side was Lindsay Brandt, a reactor inspector from the Region IV office, who also monitored the shutdown.

Max Schneider, the Senior Resident Inspector at Fort Calhoun, was in the plant monitoring the shutdown and checking to ensure that all plant systems responded as designed. “Everything went very well. There were no issues with plant equipment,” said Schneider, who reported to the site in June 2014 after serving as a Resident Inspector at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts.

“I’ve watched lot of plant shutdowns prior to maintenance and refueling outages,” Miller said.  “Usually there is a lot of tension and excitement in the air in anticipation of events to follow but there was not a lot of that Monday. Things were subdued.”

The Omaha Public Power District’s Board of Directors voted several months ago to shut down Fort Calhoun for commercial reasons.

Brandt will remain at the plant for another three or four weeks and then return to the NRC’s Region IV, where she will resume other duties. Schneider will remain onsite for six months to a year to monitor post shutdown activities and ensure a safe transition from commercial operations to decommissioning mode.

Inspectors from the NRC’s Region IV office will conduct periodic inspections to ensure that spent fuel is being stored safely and securely in the plant’s water-filled spent fuel pool and in dry cask canisters while it remains onsite. The NRC will also conduct periodic inspections of decommissioning activities.

Within 30 days, Omaha Public Power District officials are expected to submit a letter to the NRC certifying the permanent cessation of commercial operations and stating that all of the radioactive fuel has been permanently removed from the reactor vessel. When this happens, OPPD will have surrendered its authority to operate the reactor or reload fuel in it. They have two years in which to file a report with the NRC, describing their plans for decommissioning the plant.

Fort Calhoun: Progress but Scrutiny Continues

Lara Uselding
Public Affairs Officer, Region IV

Here are some of the latest statistics related to the ongoing shutdown of the Ft. Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska:

• 27 months being shutdown

• Seven separate NRC team inspections on site in 2013

• About 40 NRC inspectors on site this year

• 15 restart checklist items left to be evaluated and resolved by the plant owner before restart

fcsWhat does this add up to? A nuclear power plant still being scrutinized by the NRC since a 2011 refueling outage followed by record Missouri river floods, a breaker fire and additional restart complications.

Yesterday, the NRC issued the results of a restart readiness inspection at the plant, which is, operated by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD). The inspection report is a lengthy document detailing 36 findings by NRC inspectors.

A majority of the findings have to do with the plant operator not thoroughly or consistently evaluating and resolving problems within the Corrective Action program. Some of the other findings deal with not following procedures as outlined by plant documents known as technical specifications.

Based on the results of the inspections, the NRC has concluded that five areas on the Confirmatory Action Letter Restart Checklist were adequately addressed by the licensee and will be closed. That means that NRC believes OPPD has appropriately addressed third-party safety culture assessment, quality assurance, integrated organizational effectiveness, human performance, and their review of licensing commitments. A second report issued last week also closes out the area of emergency preparedness.

This means plant’s officials have made improvements in areas that led to their performance decline. For example, OPPD completed a third-party safety culture assessment that gave them a better understanding of human performance, problem identification and resolution, and decision-making deficiencies that led to their performance decline. They have implemented short term actions and are developing long-term action plans to address future performance improvements.

In addition, the NRC has determined that OPPD has successfully addressed the area of organizational effectiveness that translates to improvements in management oversight of facility activities.

NRC has announced the next public meeting will be held in Omaha on July 24. At this meeting, we will present a status of our inspection activities and OPPD will provide an update on their actions.

The NRC will later conduct follow-up inspections to look at the remaining open performance areas and to see if plant personnel, equipment, and processes are ready to support the safe restart.

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