Brownville, Neb. – Forty years ago, as Nebraskans speculated on the second football season under head coach Tom Osborne and the nation was watching the Watergate scandal unfold, the Nebraska Public Power District officially entered the nuclear age. Cooper Nuclear Station (CNS), three miles outside of Brownville, quietly began commercial operation on July 1, 1974.
CNS employees and their families recognized the anniversary on Wed., July 9, with a safety fair focused on 40 years of safe, reliable operation for Nebraska. Employees manned booths with safety-oriented activities for attendees, and guest speaker and Boys Town Football Coach Kevin Kush motivated the staff to continue its safety legacy.
“Cooper’s employees are always focused on generating the electricity Nebraskans use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but our primary emphasis is on the safety of staff, communities neighboring the plant, and the environment,” explained CNS Chief Nuclear Officer Oscar Limpias.
Today, CNS has become one of the best performing boiling water nuclear power plants in the country. “The effort put forth by the employees to reach excellence each and every day has contributed to the continuing improvement and success of the facility,” Limpias added.
Over the past 15 years, NPPD has invested more than $500 million in upgrades to the station’s operations and safety systems. By comparison, the original construction cost of CNS was $313 million.
In addition to investments in physical equipment, there have been investments in the employees who work at Cooper.
Training, for example, has transitioned from lectures, blackboards, and textbooks used by the first class of operators to tools such as a control room simulator, a flow-loop simulator, containment structure mock-ups, and hands-on training. Reactor operators are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and must undergo rigorous testing to keep their licenses up to date. The Institute of Nuclear Power Operation’s National Academy for Nuclear Training evaluates Cooper training programs every four years to ensure they meet the high standards set by the nuclear industry.
The station’s fire brigade conducts special training for other firefighters in the area, and Cooper employs both a security force and an Emergency Response Organization to assist the plant in preparing for and performing exercises that address various emergency situations. Station personnel work with emergency management organizations from Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas to ensure NPPD lives up to its responsibilities as a nuclear power plant owner and operator to protect the health and safety of the public, the plant, and its employees.
The NRC and other federal agencies regulate and test Cooper’s emergency plan, as well as the plant’s security systems. The high training standards, well-qualified staff, and rigorous regulatory oversight are all part of a nuclear safety culture that is unequaled in any other industry or organization and ensure the health and safety of Nebraska and the surrounding states.
Nuclear energy is also America’s largest source of carbon-free electricity, producing no greenhouse gases or air pollutants.
“Forty years ago, our predecessors had the foresight to add a revolutionary generating technology to our portfolio – nuclear,” said NPPD CEO and President Pat Pope. “Cooper is one reason NPPD’s generation portfolio is more than 40 percent carbon free. Our customers continue to benefit from our commitment to meet the electrical needs of our customers, now and in the future, with diverse, low-cost and sustainable energy.”
Cooper Nuclear Station employs approximately 700 workers interwoven into the fabric of numerous communities around southeast Nebraska – Auburn, Nebraska City, Nemaha, Stella, Peru, and Falls City, on the Nebraska side, and Rock Port and Maryville in Missouri, among others. These employees are active in their local schools and civic organizations.
“NPPD is proud of Cooper Nuclear Station, its employees and its performance,” said Pope. “We expect to continue our commitment of providing safe, reliable and emission-free energy another 20 years.”
(Editor’s Note: Attached is a fact sheet containing milestones and numbers from Cooper Nuclear Station.)