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Nation’s 1st advanced nuclear reactor planned near Tri-Cities WA

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The Columbia Generating Station near Richland is the only nuclear power plant in the Pacific Northwest now, but Energy Northwest has signed an agreement to bring an advanced nuclear reactor to its leased land at the Hanford site.

The Columbia Generating Station near Richland is the only nuclear power plant in the Pacific Northwest now, but Energy Northwest has signed an agreement to bring an advanced nuclear reactor to its leased land at the Hanford site.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The nation’s first commercial advanced nuclear power reactor would be built and operated near Richland under a partnership agreement signed Thursday.

X-energy, of Rockville, Md., will work with Energy Northwest of Richland and Grant County PUD to develop, build and operate an 80-megawatt reactor, the Xe-100, on land already leased by Energy Northwest at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington.

Advanced reactors are intended to be designed with enhanced safety features and a smaller footprint for their modular design concept.

Their smaller size and ability to quickly ramp up and down makes them a perfect complement to intermittent renewable resources, such as wind and solar, that rely on weather conditions to generate power, according to the TRi Energy Partnership.

They can help the nation transition from fossil fuels, it said.

The TRi Energy Partnership could be operating a reactor within seven years, and the project could be scaled up to four-reactor, 320-megawatt power plant.

Energy Northwest now operates the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power reactor, the Columbia Generating Station, 10 miles north of Richland in Eastern Washington. The reactor, which has operated since 1984, can produce 1,207 megawatts, enough electricity to power a city the size of Seattle and its metro area.

Energy Northwest brings the ideal site to the partnership and proven operating experience and nuclear expertise, said Clay Sell, X-energy chief executive officer.

The X-energy reactor would be placed at a site previously licensed when Energy Northwest, then called the Washington Public Power Supply System, or WPPSS, planned to build three nuclear reactors north of Richland. Two of the plants were canceled.

“As Washington state implements the Clean Energy Transformation Act — requiring 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045 — new sources of reliable, affordable and emissions-free electricity will be needed across the nation,” said Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest chief executive officer.

Grant PUD would distribute the power produced from the project to its customers.

“This partnership signifies our strong interest in advanced nuclear energy as one of the best, lowest-cost options to reliably serve Grant County’s growing communities and support their continued economic growth,” said Kevin Nordt, chief executive officer at Grant County PUD.

Sell called Grant County PUD “a forward-thinking, resourceful and extremely well-run utility with an interest in new resources to meet growing demand.”

The Xe-100 reactor is planned to use off-the-shelf components that can be manufactured and shipped by road and rail to sites where they are needed. It could be expanded beyond the 320 megawatt four-pack, as needed.

X-energy was awarded $80 million in October by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program to help private industry demonstrate advanced nuclear reactors in the United States and maintain the nation as a global leader in nuclear energy technology.

The Xe-100 high temperature, gas-cooled reactor will use a design that eliminates the possibility of a meltdown, the partnership said.

It will use a low enriched uranium fuel that will allow the plant to have a smaller safety perimeter compared to traditional plants, according to the partnership.

Why Richland?

A week ago, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., promoted the Tri-Cities as an ideal place for the next generation of nuclear energy at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

“Today, over 12,000 nuclear skilled scientists, engineers and craft workers are working there in 100 different companies,” she said.

“Columbia Basin (College) and Washington State University campuses offer bachelor’s, master’s, and PhDs in nuclear-related fields, and the region hosts a strong apprentice program.” she said.

In addition DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland receives about $400 million a year for research and development in nuclear-related fields.

Sell, a witness at the hearing, said federal research funding to be matched with private sector funding was “a critical accelerator” to X-energy’s investment in an advanced nuclear reactor that it plans to sell around the world.

X-energy specifically wanted to be in Washington state for its first project and partner with Energy Northwest after seeing how Swatzke had dramatically improved operations of the Columbia Generating Station over the past decade.

But the critical element was the way the market in the state is being shaped by the Clean Energy Transformation Act passed in 2019, he said.

“That is the most transformative thing that has happened in nuclear energy markets in the United States because it has created the commercial framework for nuclear to succeed and to succeed wildly,” he said.

Related stories from Tri-City Herald

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.

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2021-04-01 11:11:00

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