OMAHA, Nebraska — The utility that owns the troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in eastern Nebraska says it hopes to have the plant ready to operate by summer, even as federal regulators reported Friday it still has hundreds of issues to correct before it can reopen.
Last month, Omaha Public Power District officials said they expected to have the plant ready by late May. But at a public hearing held Friday by the utility and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, federal regulators said the plant met only eight of 25 major performance issues.
All eight had to do with worker performance in areas such as safety and organization. That means concerns about the physical condition of the plant and its equipment — such as the replacement of faulty electrical wire insulation, overhauling of structural supports inside the building that houses the reactor and safeguards against flooding — had not been allayed during comprehensive federal inspections conducted in March.
Further, federal inspectors had planned to look at 169 of 450 items listed on an NRC checklist that must be resolved before the plant can restart.
"Forty percent of those 169 items were not ready for us to inspect, as they had told us they would be," said NRC spokesman Victor Dricks. "And of those we did look at, 70 percent required further action. The overall message is, they're making progress, but they still have a lot of work to do."
Nuclear Regulatory Commission official Tony Vegel, who oversees reactor safety in the region, praised the progress that has been made. But he told a panel of OPPD officials that federal regulators are still finding too many deficiencies.
"You ought to be identifying those shortcomings yourself," he said.
The plant, which sits across from Iowa on the Missouri River about 20 miles north of Omaha, has been closed since April 2011. It initially went offline for routine maintenance, but flooding along the Missouri River and a series of safety violations forced it to remain closed.
The violations included the failure of a key electrical part during a 2010 test, a small electrical fire in June 2011 and deficiencies in flood planning that were discovered a year before the extended flooding in 2011.
OPPD officials, who have offered several projected restart dates since the plant's closure, said Friday that significant progress has been made at the plant since the inspections took place in March.
"If you look at all of the physical work we've done on the plant, it is in better condition, I would say, than it's ever been," OPPD Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Lou Cortopassi said. "But ... the inspection piece has to be factored into that. We've got several inspections already scheduled in the June time frame."
He and other officials at the utility insist the plant will be ready to restart by June 30, the end of the utility's second quarter. But OPPD officials declined to give a date it expected the plant would actually start sending power to customers. Federal regulators also declined to speculate.