Troubled nuclear plant should be back online

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May 7th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – A problem with emergency equipment at Cooper Nuclear Station in southeast Nebraska has apparently been resolved, and the plant is scheduled to resume operations.

After a problem was discovered with an emergency diesel generator, the Cooper Nuclear Power Plant is scheduled to be back online Saturday. (Photo courtesy Cooper Nuclear Station)

Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville has been offline for a scheduled refueling operation since mid-March. But about two weeks ago, a problem was discovered with an emergency diesel generator. That type of generator would be used to pump cooling water and avoid potentially catastrophic overheating, if outside power were ever lost. Mark Becker, spokesman for the Nebraska Public Power District which owns Cooper, says replacement equipment has now been installed and tested.
“That went very well,” he said. “We’re still looking at some other tests we want to run on the diesel generator and do a little bit of maintenance with it while we’re at it. And we anticipate restart of Cooper sometime on Saturday.”

Becker says NPPD has to use other sources of power, which can be more expensive, when Cooper is offline for refueling.
“We do this typically in non-peak seasons. Summer is a peak season for us because of basically pivot irrigation and air conditioning needs,” Becker said. “So we’re usually doing it during those periods of time but we would start up other facilities like our Beatrice power station, which is a higher cost facility, but we could start that up, or we could buy power out on the market.”

During this outage, Becker says, NPPD has used the Beatrice station, which runs on natural gas, and bought cheap hydropower which is abundant because of high water flows this year.

On a longer-term issue, Cooper will store the used fuel rods on site in a cooling pool. After about five years, Becker says, they can be moved to dry storage there. But what’s the long-term plan for handling the spent fuel, which can remain radioactive for thousands of years?

“Right now, our only long-term plan we have in place is we’ve build a dry cask storage facility at the site,” he said, “and we will continue to store used nuclear fuel on-site until the Department of Energy comes up with a plan to accept the waste.”

President Barack Obama has withdrawn funding from a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and appointed a commission to recommend what to do with nuclear waste. The Commission is supposed to make a recommendation this summer.

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