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Kan. nuclear plant faces more federal oversight

Associated Press Modified: September 21, 2012 at 5:45 pm •  Published: September 21, 2012

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The only nuclear power plant in Kansas now has one of the lowest safety ratings in the nation and will face increased federal oversight because of an unplanned shutdown in January, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Friday.

But a spokeswoman for the Wolf Creek plant said it quickly corrected the problem and is committed to operating safely.

The commission said the Jan 13 shutdown at the plant in Burlington, about 55 miles south of Topeka, had "substantial safety significance." The commission concluded that the plant's operators didn't provide enough oversight for contractors working there in April 2011, and improperly connected electrical wires led to an electrical short nine months later, triggering the shutdown.

NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said the commission dropped Wolf Creek into the third lowest-rated category for the nation's 104 nuclear reactors. Only seven other reactors have the same status or lower, Dricks said.

"As their performance declines, we allocate more resources," Dricks said. "We conduct additional inspections, which the licensees pay for."

But Dricks said Wolf Creek also has corrected the wiring problem and changed its procedures for overseeing contractors' work. The commission will provide additional oversight to see that the changes are effective in preventing future problems, Dricks said, but he couldn't say how many additional inspections Wolf Creek will face.

Wolf Creek spokeswoman Jenny Hageman said the plant not only corrected the problem that led to the shutdown but also did extensive inspections to ensure that the problem didn't exist elsewhere at the plant.

"At Wolf Creek, operating the plant safely is our highest priority, and we take the NRC's finding seriously," Hageman said in a statement. "Our corrective actions are focused on enhancing oversight of work and the people who perform it at the site."

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