OPPD set to hand over control of Fort Calhoun within a week


August 17th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Omaha Public Power District is planning to hand over control of its Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant to a private Chicago-based company. The move was approved at a public meeting Thursday night and could be finalized within a week.

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The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant has been offline since April last year, even before the Missouri River began to flood and surrounded the plant with water. Since then, Fort Calhoun has come under heavy criticism from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has refused to allow the plant to come back online after a series of safety problems came to light.

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

Now, the OPPD board has voted unanimously to turn management of the plant over to Exelon Corp., a company which bills itself as a leading U.S. energy provider with “one of the cleanest and lowest-cost power generation fleets.”

“It is increasingly difficult to operate a small, single reactor nuclear power plant,” said Jeff Hanson, a spokesperson for OPPD. “By being able to bring in Exelon and all of its expertise, we’re able to leverage their capabilities and a lot of their reach, their purchasing power for instance. So there’s a lot that we can gain from them.”

Fort Calhoun generates 500 megawatts of power, and is the only nuclear plant OPPD operates. Hanson said Exelon will be able to spread the cost of regulations across its spectrum of nuclear reactors, some of which generate much more power. The company operates 17 nuclear reactors around the country, he said, and produces about 20 percent of the nation’s nuclear energy supply. He added Exelon will bring in 10 of its staff to manage the plant, but will rely on the 600-plus OPPD workers currently employed to run the operation.

“It’s a vote of confidence in these workers; it’s a vote of confidence in nuclear power,” Hanson said. “It’s just that we realize that the economies of scale are such, and the environment is changing in such a way, that in order to continue on as a single unit power plant is very, very difficult.”

Hanson said OPPD will remain the plant’s license holder, and so there will be no changes in public access to records related to the facility. The move comes shortly after the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club petitioned the NRC to retract OPPD’s license to run Fort Calhoun.

“In a way it’s the right thing for them to do,” said Wally Taylor, legal chair of the group. “Because over the years, it’s been obvious that they have not able been either able or willing to operate the Fort Calhoun plant safely and properly.”

Taylor said the timing is “interesting” as the Sierra Club’s petition was scheduled to come before the NRC on August 27th, but OPPD’s Hanson said the petition had no impact on OPPD’s decision.

Taylor contended it seems OPPD was hoping to avoid facing the panel, and he said much more information needs to be known before Exelon should be allowed to take control. “We don’t know exactly what the terms of the agreement are between OPPD and Exelon,” Taylor said. “We don’t know who has the liability; we don’t know to what extent Exelon has control over the plant, and Exelon itself has had problems.”

One of those problems includes a recent leak on Exelon’s Dresden plant near Chicago. Company officials at the time said it never posed a public health threat.

But there won’t be much time for Nebraskans to hear the details of the Exelon deal. Hanson said OPPD has been negotiating with the company for some time, but he expects the deal to be signed within a week. The negotiations were added to Thursday’s public meeting agenda some time after Wednesday night, but Hanson said public meetings laws were followed.

“The contract was not ready to be placed on the agenda until the night before last,” Hanson said. “But it was placed on the agenda … within the laws of the state of Nebraska.”

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