Energy Northwest takes 1.1-GW Columbia nuclear plant offline for 25th refueling outage

A 36-year-old nuclear power plant in the U.S. Pacific Northwest has been temporarily disconnected from the grid while crews commence scheduled maintenance work at the facility.

Operator Energy Northwest took the 1.1-GW Columbia Generating Station offline for the plant’s 25th refueling outage. The planned break allows crews time to add new nuclear fuel to Columbia’s reactor core and perform numerous maintenance tasks to upgrade the facility located near Richland, Washington.

“During refueling, 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.

Energy Northwest and the Bonneville Power Administration time the plant’s biennial refueling to coincide with spring snow melt and runoff that maximizes power output from the region’s hydroelectric dams and minimizes the impact of taking Columbia offline. Nuclear and hydro are the region’s only full-time clean energy resources.

During the refueling, crews will replace 260 of the 764 nuclear fuel assemblies in Columbia’s reactor core. Every two years, fuel that has been in the reactor core for six years is removed and placed in Columbia’s used fuel pool, which removes residual heat. After a minimum of five years in the pool, the assemblies are moved to Columbia’s on-site dry-cask storage.

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In addition to refueling, workers will install a 34-foot, 133-ton refurbished low-pressure turbine rotor as part of Columbia’s life-cycle plan to satisfy the plant’s license extension to 2043. In addition, workers will replace reactor water cleanup heat exchangers and piping; refurbish a condensate pump and motor; replace a service water pump and motor; and clean and inspect the circulating water basin and piping. In all, regular and temporary employees will complete more than 10,000 work tasks.

“Our Energy Northwest team put together extensive plans and procedures for a successful refueling while keeping our workforce safe and healthy,” Hettel said. “Our focus during the next several weeks is performing the work safely and getting Columbia back online to continue providing electricity that we’re all counting on.”

More than 1,400 skilled, temporary workers were hired locally and from across the country to support refueling and maintenance projects at Columbia. The added workers join EN’s normal workforce of about 1,000 employees and bring substantial economic value to the region.

Columbia, located 10 miles north of Richland, will restart and reconnect to the Northwest power grid in mid-June.       

The nuclear power plant was commissioned in 1984. Powering its single unit is a GE boiling water reactor of the Type 5 generation. The plant has a capacity factor of about 83 percent and generated nearly 18 million MWh of electricity over the past two years.

Columbia Generating Station, the only nuclear power plant in the Northwest, is licensed to operate until 2043.

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Optimizing Plant Performance is a key topic within the POWERGEN content series. It was the focus of last month’s POWERGEN+ online. Click here to watch sessions on demand. Plant performance and the future of nuclear energy also are central to content for the live POWERGEN International event planned Jan. 26-28 in Dallas. The POWERGEN Call for Speakers is still open and seeking submissions for tracks such as Decarbonization, Digitalization, Energy Storage Breakthroughs, the Future of Electricity, Hydrogen: What’s New, Optimizing Plant Performance, the New Energy Mix (on-site power) and Trends in Conventional Power. Click here to see more and submit a session idea.

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