The utility that owns the troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant hopes to have the plant ready to operate again soon, despite word Friday that it has a long way to go before federal regulators allow it to restart.
The plant that sits on the Missouri River north of Omaha has been closed since April 2011. It initially went offline for routine maintenance, but flooding along the river, a fire and a series of safety violations forced it to stay closed.
Last month, Omaha Public Power District officials had said they expected to have the plant ready by late June. But on Friday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the plant had met only eight of 25 major performance issues studied during the inspections.
It's made neighbors question whether it will really be ready to restart. “What assurance will you give me that they will not fail?"
“We are here, that when we make the call to restart that it will be safe to restart,” said NRC Director of Reactor Projects Mike Hay. “We feel the same way you do on how important that is."
For more than an hour, taxpayers questioned such things as whether the workers were up to par at the plant and if the design is being changed enough to keep a repeat from happening. The agency said many of the inspections couldn't be done because OPPD was still working on a particular problem.
OPPD said it's making progress and it didn't see any surprises in the report. “We knew we had a lot of work to do and we're pleased that a lot of the issues we're waiting to close, they're recommending to close,” said OPPD’s Jeff Hanson. Close means the issue has been completed right in the eyes of the regulators.
The bottom line is when you're talking nuclear power, safety is key. "We're going to have to do increased inspections to ensure Fort Calhoun is operating safely," said the NRC’s Anton Vegel.