Panelists address community concerns about nuclear plant


April 5th, 2012

Blair, NE – Officials from both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Omaha Public Power District held a public meeting, Wednesday evening, to discuss repairs and future operations at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station.

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Hundreds gathered in the small auditorium at Blair High School to listen as both panels conducted a two-way discussion addressing the plant’s recent violations.

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant was surrounded by a sea of muddy water last summer. This picture was taken approximately June 17, 2011. (Photo provided by OPPD)

The plant has been shut down since April 2011, when a routine refueling outage was followed by a strenuous effort last summer to hold back the rising floodwater of the Missouri River that surrounded the station. A series of procedural and safety violations issued by the Nuclear Regulatory committee put the station back even further. Plant managers like Chief Nuclear Officer David Bannister expressed regret over the station’s poor performance in the past year.

“I’m disappointed that I’m standing before you to share this with you, but the idea is I recognize where we are now, I’m not satisfied with that. I’m going to do everything within my power and the company is going to do everything…to understand these issues correct these issues to ensure our perforce is high. Our target is excellence,” Bannister said.

But not everyone in the audience was sold on that sentiment. Several attendants voiced resentment at the plant’s management for what many called “malpractice and incompetency.”

Wednesday’s gathering was the second of two public meetings designed to provide full disclosure to local citizens about where, exactly, the future of the nuclear station stands. But while OPPD officials fired off presentations on in-depth technical reforms, tension and misunderstanding among audience members grew. It was quickly noticed by facilitator Bill Mayor and NRC official Jeff Clark, Branch Chief with oversight of Fort Calhoun.

“We’re running about 20 minutes over time…we want to get to the questions…”

Further frustration stemmed from a lack of allotted time for audience questions and concerns. Instead of allowing for an open forum like the previous meeting in January, participants were told to write down questions on a card, where they would later be asked to come in front of the stage and address both panels. That left only a half an hour for audience participation.

NRC and OPPD officials did say they would be receptive to feedback from the event, and would alter meeting settings accordingly. Dates for any future meetings have yet to be announced.

Read Ben Bohall’s report on OPPD’s public hearing for NET News

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