The Columbia Generating Station (CGS),
formerly known as WPPSS Nuclear Plant #2
Columbia Station’s operating and maintenance costs exceed
the costs for 31 dams combined
HANFORD — The Columbia Generating Station here is undergoing
its most expensive refueling and maintenance shutdown ever
as the owner of the nuclear plant tries to improve its
reliability and costs.
By Bert Caldwell
The Spokane Spokesman-Review
May 4, 2011
More than 1,700 electricians, steamfitters and other
skilled-trade workers have swarmed this site 10 miles north
of Richland. Besides the refueling done every two years to
refresh and reposition rods containing uranium, they are
replacing the generator rotor and a huge steam condenser
that has caused repeated shutdowns.
The $152 million cost of the refueling and maintenance work
will be paid by the Bonneville Power Administration and,
eventually, the 3.5 million Northwest residents who get
their electricity indirectly from the federal agency.
Bonneville also sells the power generated at the 31 U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers dams in
the Columbia River Basin.
Bonneville has proposed an 8 percent rate increase for its
2012-2013 fiscal year. BPA spokesman Michael Millstein said
the cost of the Columbia plant upgrades accounts for some of
the requested increase.
A decision on the rates will be made in July, he said.
A 2009 Bonneville study says Columbia Station’s operating
and maintenance costs were exceeding those for the 31 dams
dams generate 90 percent of Bonneville’s electricity. The
reactor’s 1,150 megawatts constitute the remaining 10
Since 2004, the report said, service interruptions at
Columbia Station had pushed the facility to a performance
ranking among the worst for 104 reactors that generate
electricity in the United States.
But that was before Columbia Station completed a 505-day
period of uninterrupted operation, the best since its
start-up in 1984.
Columbia Station officials acknowledged the past problems,
and said Tuesday the condenser project in particular should
significantly improve the plant’s reliability.
The condenser removes water from steam produced by uranium
fuel rods that heat reactor water up to 900 degrees. The dry
steam is then fed into four turbines spinning a generator at
But the condenser tubes installed when the plant was built
in the early 1980s are brass, said Carl Golightly, who
analyzes plant shutdowns for the Columbia Generating
Station. Some have burst due to corrosion, which has also
caused contaminated water in the reactor.
Wednesday, workers were cutting those tube assemblies loose
so they can be removed through a hole cut through thick
concrete walls. They will be replaced with more reliable
Energy Northwest, which owns Columbia Station, has asked the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend the plant’s
operating license through 2043. The original 40-year license
expires in 2024.
Golightly said projections of the plant’s operating life
were extremely conservative when it was designed in the
“When we get to 40 years, we easily have another 30 to 40
years,” he said.
Golightly, addressing concerns raised by the catastrophe at
the nuclear plants at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, also said
the plant can probably withstand earthquakes stronger than
the 7.3 magnitude estimate used in construction.
A new U.S. Geological Survey analysis found earthquake fault
lines that extend across the Cascade Mountains eastward as
far as Pasco.
Bonneville’s Millstein said that, despite Columbia Station’s
problems, the agency supports its continued operation
because it remains a major source of carbon-free generation
in the Northwest.
“Our main goal is a reliable, cost-effective and safe
operation,” he said. “We do see the plant as an important
part of the system.”