Cooper plant has costly problem -
Published Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 1:00 am / Updated at 6:20 pm
Cooper plant has costly problem

BROWNVILLE, Neb. (AP) — A problem with emergency equipment at southeast Nebraska’s Cooper Nuclear Station is adding to the cost of the plant’s refueling shutdown — a cost that could hit power customers’ pocketbooks.

The cost of the shutdown, originally budgeted at $31 million, has increased by $5 million as a result of the problem.

The plant at Brownville — which is operated by Nebraska Public Power District, the state’s largest power utility — was taken offline March 13 for a routine refueling operation.

Cooper sits along the Missouri River in southeast Nebraska, about 70 miles from Omaha and Lincoln.

A problem with an emergency backup generator was discovered during an equipment test, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokeswoman Lara Uselding said.

“These generators are in place to operate in emergency conditions,” NPPD spokeswoman Jeanne Schieffer said. “They aren’t needed for the regular operations, but they’re certainly part of our design and our emergency system that’s in place.”

In fact, those generators can be critically important, as the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has shown. That plant’s backup generators powered the Fukushima plant following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in March — until a massive tsunami washed them out to sea, causing a cascade of problems that has led to a nuclear disaster as serious as Chernobyl.

Alan Dostal, NPPD’s corporate nuclear business manager, said he doesn’t know how much more it will cost rate payers for electricity from other sources while the plant remains shut down.

NPPD hopes to have the nuclear plant generating power by the end of this week, Dostal said.

Federal authorities have scheduled a meeting Thursday with NPPD at the Brownville Concert Hall to discuss the problem and other operations.

Earlier this year, Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors were sent to the Cooper Nuclear Station because three plant workers were exposed to high levels of radiation.

The incident occurred during a routine maintenance checklist while the plant was shutdown.

About every 18 months, the plant is shut down for six to eight weeks to replace aging fuel rods, NPPD officials said.

Placed online in 1974, the Cooper Nuclear Station is Nebraska’s largest single-unit electrical generator. It creates 810 megawatts of power — enough to keep the lights on in Lincoln and Grand Island during both cities’ highest summer usage period. The power district owns the plant but shares part of the electricity it generates with other utilities.

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