Progress at Cooper Nuclear Station will generate opportunities for our broad region, securing jobs now and preparing us to support many more in the future.

The nearly 40-year-old power plant at Brownville, Neb., is on track for upgrades over the next several years that will enable it to produce more electric power. The board of directors of the Nebraska Public Power District has voted to invest $243 million in equipment and modifications to the facility, which already is the largest single unit electrical generator in the state.

Cooper, located on the Missouri River in southeast Nebraska, is a significant employer in the region that includes Rock Port and Tarkio, Mo., and surrounding communities. It also contributes to the regional economy by producing clean nuclear power for use by NPPD customers and those of other utilities.

Boosting Cooper’s output through upgrades to existing infrastructure saves ratepayers from having to fund a new power plant. Other benefits include “increasing the amount of electricity we can produce from a non-carbon producing resource, when potential greenhouse gas regulations are on the horizon,” says Pat Pope, NPPD president and chief executive officer.

Officials report the proposed upgrades will not require additional facilities or employees, but will involve investments inside the plant. Among these, a new high-pressure turbine is scheduled to be installed during a planned shutdown in 2016.

The Nebraska Power Review Board and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will review the proposal. If approved, Cooper will increase its output by 146 megawatts from the current 800 megawatts.

Safety is the single biggest concern for a nuclear power plant. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved the facility’s emergency response planning, noting it adequately addresses safety issues. At the same time, FEMA noted a simulated emergency last summer did turn up concerns that are being addressed regarding how regional residents are notified.

A potential accident would make any state or political boundaries irrelevant. We urge officials from the affected areas — especially in Nebraska and Missouri — to redouble their efforts to ensure a smooth, unified response to any possible emergencies.

Attention to safety and by-the-book operations have earned Cooper its standing as a major asset to our region. We look forward to the planned upgrades that will secure this position for many years to come.

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