Deconstruction of buildings to follow, continue to 2025
To walk around Fort Calhoun Station (FCS) today, one would find it's not quite as bustling as it was in its heyday. The administration building is empty, the mock control room training center unused and the reactor shut down.
The nuclear power station, which came online in August 1973 and generated 31.3 percent of Omaha Public Power District's (OPPD) electricity during its lifetime, closed in 2016. At its closure, about 700 employees were on site, but by June, 270 remained to assist in the decommissioning of the station.
"It's amazing how many people you run into who knew people or had relatives who were working out here through the years," said Tim Uehling, senior director FCS decommissioning.
About 50 OPPD employees will remain once decommissioning is complete around 2025, assisting in security of 944 bundles of spent fuel that will remain on site in a steel and concrete storage bunker.
On Jan. 14, the Pilot-Tribune toured FCS and viewed the storage bunker and a few of the steel canisters that will hold spent fuel. Uehling said the fuel storage system will be guarded indefinitely, since no longterm federal storage options currently exist for nuclear fuel. But, he said, the storage system is safe and robust.
"(The bunker) is resistant to just about anything you could have happen," he said. "You could go out to YouTube to see different videos of how the canisters themselves were tested."
One video, Uehling said, showed a truck loaded with fuel running into the canisters.
"It might have just scratched the paint," OPPD spokesman Cris Averett added.
The steel canisters that will store the fuel are manufactured in North Carolina before being sent to FCS. One end is welded shut with another open to place inside the bundles of fuel. When the canisters arrive, the are placed in a staging area south of the containment structure building that holds the powered-down reactor.
"They'll do all their inspections out here, make sure nothing happened during transit, that it's acceptable for use," Uehling said. "We'll do our inspection as well … Then it will get moved inside the fence, into the protected area, and get ready for use."
The protected area Uehling refers to is the containment structure building that is surrounded by layers of fence and security. The canisters will be transported into the area and placed into spent fuel pools that hold the bundles of fuel. One by one, 32 bundles per canister will be placed inside.
"The inside of these canisters basically look like an egg crate if you will, and a bundle sits down in each one of those," Uehling said. "Once it's full, we pull the canister back out of the water. All the water ends up getting drained out, vacuum dried."
Canisters are then transported from the containment structure building, out of the fenced area, to another fenced area north of the building where the storage bunker sits. The storage bunker area is also surrounded by concrete barriers with only one entrance in and out.
The storage bunker itself has around 30 white steel doors to hold one canister each.
"A crane will remove those white doors," Uehling said. "That exposes a hole just the size of one of those canisters. That gets pushed into the concrete storage area, then the cover put back on."
The storage bunker is solid all the way through, aside from small open squares beneath each door.
"That's for ventilation, natural circulation up around it, removing any heat generated," Uehling said.
The bunker itself sits on a concrete pad built up to 1,009.5 feet above sea level, which is two-and-a-half feet above the 2011 flood level.
"It was built in the mid-2000s, but that was the height it was originally built to just in case we ever got to a flood situation," Uehling said.
Indeed, the flood level line can still be seen on the concrete barriers at FCS. But even if water were to reach up to the white doors of the storage bunker, the structure would remain safe, Uehling said, since the canisters are welded shut.
"We developed a very good working relationship with the Army Corps of Engineers, National Weather Service," Averett said. "That partnership to basically know what might be happening upstream … We know what it's going to be like."
Uehling said about 320 bundles have been placed in canisters and into the storage bunker so far. He said OPPD expects to finish storing the spent fuel by mid-2020. At that point, buildings will begin to come down and other radioactive materials will be moved off site.
"The last thing that will stand is the containment structure," Uehling said.
Other radioactive materials from FCS, such as pumps or pipes, will be stored at a facility in Clive, Utah, run by EnergySolutions, a nuclear services company from Salt Lake City.
Uehling said decommissioning of the site should be substantially complete by 2025. At that point, most of the site's 600 acres, aside from that around the storage bunker, will be released for some future use once the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspects the land.
"It really is wide open to whatever the best use is whether it's for the district or economic development," Uehling said. "Part of the drawback is the flooding issues that we've had. If something were to go down here you'd probably want to do something to protect it more than we've got today. But truly it's wide open."
Whether its OPPD use or economic development, it's possible there could be more bustle at what would be the former FCS site again someday.