Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station employees load the reactor in this 1973 file photo. The plant will cease operations Oct. 24, 2016 after 43 years.

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station (FCS) is on schedule to permanently shut down Monday, 43 years after its first sustained reaction.

FCS — the smallest-rated capacity commercial power plant in North America at 478 megawatts — will employ 625 total employees until Oct. 31. That includes those who were named in the first round of layoffs, effective that day.

The OPPD Board of Directors voted on June 16 to decommission the plant. On Aug. 26, OPPD announced that its last day of operation is Oct. 24.

The utility will use the Safstor method of decommissioning, which will cost an estimated $1.2 billion. OPPD will maintain and monitor the facility in a condition that allows radioactivity to decay. Afterward, the plant will be dismantled and the property decontaminated. OPPD has 60 years to complete decommissioning, but officials claim it will likely take far less time.

FCS began its extended "coast-down" Sept. 30. In an effort to produce as much energy as possible before losing full-power capacity, the plant was scheduled to lose about 1 percentage of power per day from Sept. 30 to Monday, when it's expected to be at 74 percent. Then, operators will initiate a final downpower, followed by a shutdown.

As of the end of May, OPPD had approximately $388 million in total available decommissioning funds. It was on pace toward full funding for a 2033 decommission date. OPPD will add to that fund every year to ensure decommissioning before 2033.

Employees were notified Sept. 1 that 55 of them will be laid off Oct. 31. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires most employers with 100 or more employees to provide a 60-day calendar notification of plant closings. An employer that violates the WARN provisions is liable to each employee for an amount equal to back pay and benefits for the period of the violation, up to 60 days.

OPPD confirmed for the Enterprise that the second round of FCS layoffs won't occur until the first quarter of 2017.

According to Mary Fisher, senior director of FCS decommissioning, OPPD's preliminary plan calls for a total of four rounds of layoffs in a 20-month period from the first quarter of 2017 until July 2018. Layoff dates and the number of employees per round were not released.

An estimated 300 to 350 people will still be employed at FCS in July 2018.

At least 141 FCS employees have signed Key Employee Performance Plan (KEPP) agreements totaling approximately $12.7 million. OPPD said the KEPP agreements were designed to ensure that personnel continue to fulfill their duties during the plant's decommissioning. Each employee who signs the agreement and complies with its requirements will receive three KEPP payments ranging from a total of $85,000 to more than $200,000. The payout dates, which vary per employee, are staggered between Feb. 1, 2017 to as late as May 20, 2019.

Employees in the first round of layoffs have been offered the option to attend the Career Transition Center, a temporary training facility set up in the lower level of downtown Blair's Vinton Building.

Mart Sedky, division manager of human relations for OPPD, told the Enterprise that the center opened Sept. 6 and will be available until Oct. 31, when the layoffs take effect.

The center is offering about 20 "skill builder workshops" on topics like job searching, networking, resume writing and starting a small business. The Nebraska Department of Labor and Metropolitan Community College are among several presenters. Approximately 10 to 20 employees attend each workshop, Sedky said.

Thirteen employers have been featured "showcases" at the center. The companies, including Union Pacific and those in electrical utility, nuclear and engineering fields, have conducted interviews with FCS employees and presented information about their available positions and what skills they are seeking. Another 13 employers have sent job postings to the center.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 14 FCS employees had full-time job offers and 32 had completed job interviews as a result of their attendance at the Career Transition Center, Sedky said. Six employees will be retiring. Another six have decided to change careers. Sedky cited some examples: One employee is enrolling in medical school; one is going to be a supervisor at a Lowe's store; and one wants to obtain a commercial driver's license to drive semi-trucks.

OPPD plans to offer career training again "in some shape or size" during future layoffs, Sedky said.

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