Kansas nuclear plant among three in U.S. needing more oversight, NRC reports

The Wolf Creek nuclear power plant is among three in the United States that need more intensive oversight, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told Congress on Thursday.

NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko stressed that all 65 nuclear generating stations, which have a total of 104 reactors, are operating safely. But Jaczko said Wolf Creek and two others need a higher level of review because of continuing problems with safety systems and unplanned shutdowns.

Jaczko told a House Appropriations subcommittee that the three plants “are the ones we are most concerned about.” The other two are the H.B. Robinson plant in Hartsville, S.C., and the Fort Calhoun plant near Omaha, about 180 miles northwest of Kansas City.

While acknowledging problems at the Wolf Creek plant, spokeswoman Jenny Hageman said the plant in Burlington, Kan., is fully cooperating with the NRC and shares a common goal to “protect the health and safety of the public.”

“We take the NRC’s assessment of our performance seriously,” Hageman said, adding that two of three problem areas identified by the NRC have returned to normal.

She said the heightened reviews include increased NRC oversight, additional inspections and attention from senior management at the plant.

The Wolf Creek plant, about 100 miles southwest of Kansas City, is owned by KCP&L and Westar Energy. A third company, the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp., is responsible for its day-to-day operation.

An earlier NRC safety review had identified six plants in need of greater oversight: the three that remain on the list and three additional units at the Oconee, S.C., plant.

However, the Oconee site “has subsequently improved and is back to our normal level of oversight,” said NRC spokeswoman Lara Uselding.

The Wolf Creek plant has had problems, most recently in August 2009, when the NRC said the operators failed to properly address issues caused by a loss of off-site power — the kind of event that contributed to the current crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

The power loss was a momentary result of a series of severe lightning storms, Matt Sunseri, CEO of the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp., told The Kansas City Star.

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