USA’s Fort Calhoun NPP closed

3 November 2016

The USA’s Fort Calhoun-1 NPP was permanently shut down on 24 October by Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) after 43 years of commercial operation. In June 2016, OPPD announced that it had decided to close the 482MWe station in Nebraska by the end of 2016 for economic reasons. The single-unit pressurized water reactor unit, which began commercial production of electricity in 1973, accounted for 34% of OPPD’s total electricity generation and 9% of Nebraska’s electricity. OPPD said the decision was “in the best financial interest of the district and its customer-owners”.

OPPD said the reactor trip and shutdown was uncomplicated and the reactor and personnel functioned as expected. OPPD said several factors were behind the decision, including unfavourable market conditions, such as historically low natural gas prices, and consumers using less energy. OPPD said economies of scale mean that small, single-reactor plants cannot spread costs like their larger counterparts. The Fort Calhoun reactor is the smallest commercial reactor in the USA. “As tough as this decision is, we cannot afford to ignore the changes happening around us. We must look to the future,” OPPD president and CEO Tim Burke said. 

The plant was affected by various factors, including rising costs for all NPPs result from necessary upgrades after Fukushima and low-priced natural gas, as well as zero marginal cost wind with capital costs that are 30% or more paid by government entities. In addition, a serious threat from extreme flooding of the Missouri River, and operational issues exposed during the aftermath of the flood resulted in a three-year shutdown and management challenges. This was followed by a decision to hire Exelon, at a cost of $2m a month, to manage the plant.

OPPD said it will submit a plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the first quarter of 2017 to decommission the plant using the Safestor method, in which a nuclear facility is placed in a safe condition and later decontaminated and dismantled, which can take 60 years to complete. The plant’s decommissioning fund is about $800m short of the expected $1.2bn cost to fully decommission the plant. OPPD had invested in extending the plant’s operating life up to 2033 and was planning to collect the rest of the required decommissioning funds gradually over the remaining life. 

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