Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant Freed of Enhanced NRC Oversight

Here’s a bit of good news, more than a bit for Nebraskans:

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.

Fort Calhoun was impacted by a flood in 2011. That was also the year of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, so, although Fort Calhoun was never in any danger, the flood around it received a lot of media attention (great video footage of the flooding helped) and a visit from then-NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko to reassure everyone. Still, OPPD had already been under increased NRC scrutiny and that just accelerated:

After a switchgear fire and the discovery of numerous safety violations, the NRC brought together an oversight committee and presented OPPD with hundreds of corrective items to work through.

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.

OPPD brought in Exelon to help whip the plant into shape.

Fort Calhoun was allowed to restart in December 2013, but the plant remained under increased oversight — until this week.

And that’s where we are now. This story, very well told by the Omaha World-Herald’s Cody Winchester – when he’s not firing off his rootin’ tootin’ six-shooters (seriously, great name) – demonstrates the strength of the nuclear energy industry and its regulator to ensure that nuclear plants are safe. If OPPD hadn’t found solutions to its problems, Fort Calhoun would have closed – and that would have been very unfortunate however necessary.

Mark Salerno, president of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers Local 1483, which represents about one-quarter of OPPD’s workforce, praised the dedication of Fort Calhoun employees.

“A lot of our people have committed a lot of hours, put in a lot of hours, to get that plant back online,” he said.

Just so.

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Sometimes, you can’t win for losing:

"The NRC permitted Edison to design, construct, install and operate defective steam generators, and NRC only came to recognize that there was a problem after there had been an accident involving the release of radiation," Damon Moglen, a senior adviser to the group, wrote in a letter to the agency.

"Such willful ignorance of serious safety risks is an indictment of both the agency and the utility. Neither the NRC nor Edison is absolved by the closure of the reactors," he wrote.

You can read about what happened at San Onofre here. Friends of the Earth, which isn’t happy with nuclear energy whatever the circumstance, doesn’t just make hay when the sun shines (which isn’t all that often for them), it tries to do so where there is no grass. No there there, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.

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