Energy NW Extends Power Outage
by Annette Cary
Tri-City Herald, May 21, 2011
RICHLAND -- The Energy Northwest nuclear power plant near Richland may be offline until near the end of July, more than 30 days longer than expected.
The Columbia Generating Station was 45 days into its refueling outage Friday, when Energy Northwest announced that work to replace the plant's condenser was going to take longer than expected.
The outage, originally expected to last about 80 days, already was the longest one planned in the history of the nuclear power plant to allow time to replace the plant's condenser.
The condenser turns steam generated by boiling water in the nuclear reactor back into water for re-use.
More than 1,000 workers were hired for short-term jobs for the outage, including about 400 for the condenser replacement. Most of the rest of those workers should be through with their outage assignments by about June 15, as expected, said John Dobken, Energy Northwest spokes-man.
The Columbia Generating Station provides power to about 1 million homes when it's operating and is a critical part of the Bonneville Power Administration's power system, which markets the plant's power.
BPA asked that the plant go offline four days before the outage started April 6 because of high water flows through the federal hydroelectric dam system.
"It's the wettest year since '97 in terms of runoff," said Michael Milstein, BPA spokesman. That could ease the potential cost of the nuclear plant's prolonged shutdown, but it's too soon to predict the financial impacts, he said.
If the snowpack melt is gradual, substantial amounts of hydropower could be generated through July, reducing the possibility that BPA could have to go onto the market to buy power the nuclear plant normally would be producing.
Now BPA has an oversupply of power because of the high runoff. For several hours Wednesday night it shut down most of the region's power generation, including wind, except power from dams, which were running at full capacity.
BPA has supported the need to replace the condenser at the Columbia Generating Station to ensure the plant's performance.
The 25-year-old condenser has become less reliable through the years. By replacing it, the 1,150-megawatt Columbia Generating Station is expected to gain 12 mega-watts of electricity generation.
The project is budgeted to cost $113 million, but the additional electricity produced is expected to pay for the new condenser over time.
The work, being done by Babcock and Wilcox, requires cutting apart the old condenser and sliding it outside onto a motorized vehicle to handle large, heavy loads. Then a dozen condenser modules, each weighing 100,000 pounds, need to be installed.
Information wasn't immediately available Friday afternoon about why the work was taking longer than expected.
Other planned work for the outage has been proceeding smoothly.
Replacing 244 of the plant's 764 fuel assemblies with new fuel has been completed, Dobken said. A portion of the fuel is replaced every two years, with additional maintenance planned during the outage.
So far during this outage, preventive maintenance has been completed on the emergency diesel generator and it has been re-installed. It is ready for testing next week.
A new generator rotor weighing 185 tons has been installed at a cost $6 million. Work also in continuing on an overhaul of the low pressure steam turbine, Dobken said.
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