FCS is officially offline.
That sentence, published here on The Wire on Oct. 24, 2016, at 12:55 p.m., marked the end of nuclear power operations at OPPD’s Fort Calhoun Station.
The 478.6-megawatt nuclear reactor, situated about 20 miles north of Omaha, operated as part of OPPD’s generating fleet for 43 years.
But, as the energy market shifted and operating costs continued to challenge the organization, OPPD leadership made the recommendation in May 2016 to cease operations at the site. Concurrent with that, they announced a proposal to freeze general rates through 2021.
Coast-down and Reactor Trip
After setting a shutdown date and entering a month-long coast-down process, operators safely tripped the unit on Oct. 24. Employees then turned to defueling the plant’s reactor core. The safe, error-free defueling outage ended in mid-November, at which time the organization moved on to decommissioning activities.
With three options available to decommission a nuclear power plant, FCS leaders landed on SAFSTOR as the best fit for the site.
SAFSTOR (safe storage) gives OPPD the regulatory and financial flexibility to execute decommissioning actions when it makes technical and budgetary sense to do so. This method allows up to 60 years to fully decommission a site, returning it to greenfield status, while retaining the ability to work with its equipment and facilities on a more flexible timeline.
Throughout the decision-making process leading up to FCS coming offline, and in the ensuing year of decommissioning work, FCS employees have been foremost in people’s minds. OPPD’s core value “We care about each other” was ever-present in district leadership’s decisions and actions.
From its peak of around 700 employees, FCS is now staffed by just under 400 people. The reductions came from retirements, transfers within the district, people finding jobs elsewhere and two rounds of employee layoffs that impacted 87 employees.
Laying people off is something the district did not take lightly, and there was a concerted effort to ensure those impacted employees had the smoothest transition possible.
There was also a 60-day career transition experience, where impacted employees could take part in resume and interview workshops, attend spotlight events with area and industry employers, as well as receive a host of other support services. Participating employees provided valuable feedback during the process, many sharing their appreciation for the sense of care and respect they received.
Going forward, natural attrition and outplacement initiatives will continue to gradually shrink the FCS workforce, with a goal to be around 350 employees in the spring of 2018.
Planning and efficiently executing decommissioning projects will be at the core of those employees’ efforts going forward. FCS department leaders have reached out to other decommissioning nuclear sites, visiting them to gather benchmark data and learn best practices.
Engineering and Maintenance teams have already set up the plant for what’s called “secondary system abandonment,” meaning the non-nuclear side of the plant is available for deconstruction. By safely draining fluids, cutting and capping connections, and removing unneeded components such as parts of the turbine, operators can focus solely on maintaining cooling in the plant’s spent fuel pool.
That pool has been a center of activity. Throughout the summer of 2017, crews safely inspected and characterized each of the 944 used nuclear fuel bundles there, gathering data for the site’s upcoming dry cask storage project. The selected dry cask vendor will use the information to engineer and build the massive steel and concrete structures that will eventually house all of the site’s used fuel. This is a safe, proven industry standard.
The dry casks currently hold 320 used fuel assemblies. When the dry cask storage campaign is complete, the independent spent fuel storage installation will safely house all 1,264 fuel assemblies – all the nuclear fuel Fort Calhoun Station ever used. There it will remain, safe, secured and monitored around the clock, until the Department of Energy fulfills its obligation to safely transport the fuel to an interim or long-term storage location.
Other project work over the past year, and some going forward, includes:
- Updating the site’s security plan to improve margins and reflect physical changes to the site’s protected area and owner-controlled area.
- Working proactively with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure the site is meeting or exceeding all licensing and reporting requirements.
- Sustaining an effective, trained Emergency Response Organization covering the 10-mile emergency planning zone around the site.
- Maintaining the site’s facilities, such as the training and administration buildings and maintenance shop spaces, in a safe, functional condition while strategically reducing the site’s footprint to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
- Cataloging, packaging and safely shipping off hazardous materials, such as liquid and solid wastes, to licensed disposal facilities.
- Repurposing and recycling FCS equipment and supplies through the district’s investment recovery process, supporting bottom line-focused initiatives.
The OPPD Board of Directors’ decision to cease operations at Fort Calhoun Station was a financial one, and its effects were not lost on anyone involved in the exhaustive process. It affected those who work at the plant, naturally, but also all those who have served there throughout its history, all those across the district that have worked with FCS as part of the OPPD team, and of course all of the families and communities that have supported the site across its six decades.
Going forward, workers will safely execute decommissioning plans and, over time, revert the site back to a status known simply as “greenfield.” Returning the home of OPPD’s Fort Calhoun Station to something akin to what Lewis & Clark witnessed in the 1800s will erase the plant’s physical presence. The massive round containment building, the array of support buildings, the electrical switchyard and, eventually, the used fuel will all safely go away. The cultural and historical legacy of “The Fort,” however, will endure for years to come.