How safe is Iowa's only nuclear plant?

Published: Apr. 12, 2017 at 11:42 PM CDT
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Just how safe is Iowa's only nuclear power plant-- the Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo? Inspectors weighed in, Wednesday night.

It was a public open house at Palo City Hall following last month's release of the nuclear plant's annual review. Inspectors regularly check the safety of the facility throughout the year and compile quarterly reports.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's most recent info from 2016, the facility is not just safe, but about as safe as can be.

Inspections didn't find any violations that scored above "green" or "very low" on the safety significance chart. It's an improvement over 2015 when inspectors found a “low to moderate” safety concern with the facility's mitigation systems.

"We're pleased with the report that all of the findings were green," said Dean Curtland, Duane Arnold’s site operations director. “We can always get better. We're a self-improving culture. We're committed to always driving ourselves to get better. Every one of those green findings we learn from and put corrective action in place."

Duane Arnold's positive report means regulators won't be stepping up oversight at the plant for 2017, with more inspections. The power plant will operate at a base level of oversight, which already entails thousands of hours of inspection.

Compare that to a facility in Arkansas. It had multiple violations in the “substantial” category and will likely have to endure upped regulation.

"That's not to say that Arkansas is an unsafe community,” said Charles Norton, the NRC’s senior resident inspector at Duane Arnold. “These are all safe levels of operation-- it's just that Duane Arnold is at the safest level."

Very few attended the open house in Palo. Officials took that as a complement-- saying in some parts of the country people are so concerned about their local plant they pack those types of events.

Duane Arnold is located about nine miles northwest of Cedar Rapids. It's been operating since 1975 and creates enough energy to power more than 600,000 homes, each year.