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Reactor vessel work a focus again this year at Fort Calhoun

February 7, 2023 | Jason Kuiper | decommissioning, Fort Calhoun Station
fort calhoun station decommissioning
The decommissioning process continues at Fort Calhoun Station. The upper levels of the intake facility have been demolished, leaving only the lower levels and water pathways. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

Several buildings are gone and there is plenty of equipment scattered about the site of the former Fort Calhoun Station (FCS). Year by year, the change becomes more evident.

And by next year, the site will start to more closely resemble what it will look like when it reaches greenfield status; that status means virtually no trace of the plant will remain.

The most recognizable landmark at the site – the containment building that houses the reactor vessel – remains, and a large portion of the work in 2023 will again be happening in there. Also remaining are the administrative building and dry cask storage facility.

The plant was taken offline in 2016, when OPPD decided to cease operations because of economic necessity and significant shifts in the energy industry.

Work on reactor vessel

Last year, the biggest project was the reactor vessel internal segmentation work, where the internal components were removed from the reactor vessel. That work is complete, said Tim Uehling, senior director of FCS Decommissioning. The internal parts were those that helped the reactor produce nuclear power. Cleanup from that project is underway.

fort calhoun station decommissioning
Fluctuating winter weather has left a muddy mess at Fort Calhoun Station. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

That work was highly precise. The internal components were under about 30 feet of water, where workers took them apart with underwater rotating saws. Doing so kept all particles under water and out of the air. Workers used a vacuum and filtration system to catch those particles for disposal. Once the pieces were cut up, they were put into containers then removed from the pool and dried for shipment after being surveyed to make sure they met Department of Transportation regulations.

After completing the cleanup of the internal vessel particles, workers will switch to doing prep work and will then proceed to cut up the actual vessel, Uehling said.

The reactor vessel is about 32 feet tall and 14 feet wide. It is made of 7- to 10-inch thick carbon steel. A torch system will be used to cut up the vessel.

“The preparation takes until June or July, and then the actual cutting takes two months,” Uehling said. “That is the big thing we are working on.”

Cleaning out basements

In addition to the big vessel project, crews will also clean out the basements of the seven buildings taken down last year at FCS. Then they will do surveys on those sites to ensure the area is free of radiological contamination.

fort calhoun station decommissioning
Workers separate reinforcing steel from concrete in the basement levels of the former turbine building. Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

Crews will decontaminate any area that needs it, then they will backfill the basements with dirt.

Toward the end of 2023, workers will begin to remove the equipment inside the containment building. Planning for that work is already underway.

The dry cask storage facility, which hold the dry casks that contain spent nuclear fuel, will remain on the site until the federal government fulfills its obligation to transport the fuel to an interim or permanent disposal site.

On-site staff will continue to monitor the casks at all times, Uehling said.

OPPD anticipates the site will reach greenfield status around 2026.

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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

View all posts by Jason Kuiper >

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