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Neb. nuclear plant to reach full power Wednesday

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013 10:06 a.m. CDT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska nuclear plant that sat idle for nearly three years while regulators evaluated problems including safety violations should reach full power on Christmas Day.

The Omaha Public Power District received permission from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Dec. 17 to restart Fort Calhoun.

OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson said the restart process that began last week has gone smoothly. The utility had to replace a couple of parts, but he said that’s common during restart.

Fort Calhoun initially shut down for routine maintenance in April 2011, but significant flooding that summer, a small fire and a series of safety violations forced it to remain closed for an extended period.

The utility addressed more than 450 concerns at the plant, and federal inspectors double-checked the work.

OPPD spent $180.4 million through the end of November on repairs to the plant, which sits across from Iowa on the Missouri River about 20 miles north of Omaha. The repair bill may grow because of the final repairs that were made in December and the overtime that was logged during restart.

The repairs at Fort Calhoun mean the utility has a variety of power-generating fuels in its portfolio. Hanson said it’s especially important to have a plant that doesn’t contribute to emissions of carbon dioxide, which is considered a greenhouse gas.

“When potential future emission regulations are considered, there is value to Fort Calhoun’s ability to generate electricity without generating carbon dioxide or other emissions,” Hanson said.

OPPD customers in 13 southeast Nebraska counties are looking forward to a year without any rate increase after paying an average of 6.9 percent more starting last January. The utility’s board approved keeping rates flat in 2014 because Fort Calhoun is now able to generate electricity again.

Federal regulators decided the plant was ready to operate safely, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will continue watching Fort Calhoun closely.

OPPD has hired Exelon Corp. to run the plant because of the Chicago company’s experience safely operating 17 nuclear reactors at 10 different power plants.

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