The beleaguered Fort Calhoun nuclear plant near Omaha, NE, is inching closer to a restart as officials are heating it up to test its pressurized steam pipes for leaks after an outage that dates to April 2011.

The utility began heating up the water in the Fort Calhoun plant’s power-generating system to 515 degrees Tuesday, said Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) spokeswoman Lara Uselding.

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The plant about 20 miles north of Omaha will remain heated for the next several days, so the commission and the utility can test systems used only when the plant is running.

This step is an important milestone in the Omaha Public Power District’s (OPPD) efforts to resume generating power at the plant.

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Fort Calhoun initially shut down for maintenance over two years ago, but significant flooding, a small fire and a series of safety violations kept it closed.

The violations included the failure of a key electrical part during a 2010 test, deficiencies in flood planning discovered a year before the Missouri overflowed its banks in 2011 and a small electrical fire in June 2011.

The NRC established a list of more than 450 items that OPPD and the company it hired to run Fort Calhoun, Exelon Corp., must address at the nuclear plant before they can restart it.

Along the way, OPPD offered several projected restart dates for the plant, but all those dates have passed.

OPPD spokesman Jeff Hanson said this past summer the remaining work has taken longer than expected, but they have either already fixed a vast majority of the items on the checklist or they are ready for inspection. It hasn’t established a new target date for restarting the plant.

The cost of the repairs to Fort Calhoun and the extended outage that forces OPPD to buy electricity on the open market remain a concern for the utility and its ratepayers. Already, OPPD imposed a 6.9 percent increase in electricity rates in January for customers across southeast Nebraska, largely to finance a $143 million bill to fix the problems at Fort Calhoun.

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