A nuclear power plant near Council Bluffs that was forced to shut down during last summer’s massive Missouri River flooding is -still- closed. The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station is some 20 miles north of Omaha on the Nebraska side of the river and is a matter of yard from the Iowa border. Gary Gates, CEO and president of the Omaha Public Power District, says there’s still a lot of work to do before the plant can be brought back online. “We’re still in that mode of finding out all of the items we need to work on,” Gates says. “The progress has been great to date and we’re excited about that. We’re finally in the phase now where we’re starting to do a lot of physical work.”
Many people in Iowa and Nebraska were concerned about safety hazards during the 2011 floods as the facility was surrounded by record-high water. Gates says the flood slowed progress but caused no problems at the plant. He says many challenges were discovered during the process to upgrade the plant to a higher power level. With the extreme heat of the past several weeks, electric usage is peaking but Gates says, the utility is meeting the high demands, even with Fort Calhoun remaining offline. ”We bought some power ahead so we covered that,” he says. “The current units we have are operating extremely well in difficult conditions.”
Even though there are no significant problems in meeting the demand for electricity in the region, Gates says the nuclear plant at Fort Calhoun is still needed, for two primary reasons. ”It provides 500-megawatts of carbon-free, CO2-free emissions for us and that’s a positive, and the other is a diversity of fuel mix,” Gates says. “We’ve found over the years, the best thing we can do for our customer-owners is to have all different kinds of fuel available. In my experience, each one has been challenged and each one has been very positive so we want to maintain that fuel diversity.”
The plant has been offline since April of 2011. It’s still unclear when it will be restarted.