Energy News Today

Richland nuclear power plant shut down for 40 days to refuel

The Columbia Generating Station near Richland was disconnected from the grid early Saturday morning for a planned 40-day refueling outage.

The nuclear power plant, the only one in the Northwest, is the third-largest electricity generator in the state of Washington.

It has the capability to produce 1,207 megawatts of electricity, which is equivalent to the amount needed to power a city the size of Seattle and its metro area.

About 1,400 temporary workers, many of whom arrived in the Tri-Cities in recent weeks from across the country, will staff the outage. They are in addition to about 1,000 permanent employees at Energy Northwest.

“The 1,000 workers that make the Tri-Cities their temporary home during the refueling outage often stay at our local hotels, shop the stores and eat at local restaurants,” said Karl Dye, president of the Tri-City Development Council. “It’s a boost to our local economy.”

Every other year the plant is shut down for refueling and maintenance during the spring. The outage is planned for when snowmelt and runoff maximizes hydropower production and mild weather decreases electricity demand.

The refueling needs to be done despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and precautions are being taken, according to Energy Northwest.

All workers arrive at the plant at staggered times and have health screenings and temperature checks before going to their work locations. Outdoor break areas have been set up and additional janitorial staff have been hired.

Requirements to wear face masks and practice social distancing are being enforced, Energy Northwest said.

COVID vaccinations are not required, but Energy Northwest has worked with the Washington state Department of Health to make sure the vaccine is available to workers who want it.

During the outage, workers will be replacing about a third of the fuel in the reactor’s core — 260 of 764 fuel assemblies.

The fuel that has been in use for six years will be moved to the used fuel pool within the reactor building to cool for at least five years, before it is moved to the secure, outdoor storage area at the reactor. It will be stored there until the nation has a temporary storage area or a national repository for used commercial nuclear fuel, such as was planned at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The outdoor storage area near the reactor now has 45 casks of fuel, which is most of the used fuel from 36 years of the reactor’s operation.

The outage also is used for maintenance work that cannot be done or done as efficiently when the reactor is operating.

“We’ll complete essential work activities to ensure Columbia continues to produce reliable carbon-free power for the region, 24/7,” said Grover Hettel, Energy Northwest chief nuclear officer.

Workers will install a refurbished low-pressure turbine rotor weighing 133 tons, which is needed to continue to operate the plant under its license extension until 2043.

Other plans include replacing reactor water cleanup heat exchangers and piping; refurbishing a condensate pump and motor; replacing a service water pump and motor; and cleaning the circulating water basin and piping.

The plant is expected to be supplying power to the grid again in mid-June.

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.

Read More: Richland nuclear power plant shut down for 40 days to refuel

2021-05-08 11:37:00

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