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Nuclear Plant Online, On Time

by Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, June 14, 2005

The Columbia Generating Station was back in service with the rest of the working world Monday after crews ended their 35-day nuclear refueling outage on time over the weekend.

Energy Northwest's 1,150-megawatt reactor was expected to be running at full power by day's end. It was shut down May 7 so it could be loaded up with enough nuclear fuel to run for the next two years.

"We had a broad scope of work so we think it was a very challenging outage and a very successful one," said spokesman Brad Peck. "It's gratifying for a lot of people who have seen previous outages and know how difficult it can be. It's a complex machine."

Meeting the outage schedule is never a slam dunk as crews use the opportunity to perform maintenance on the plant that can't be done while it is operating. Unwanted surprises often arise as the plant is opened up, delaying a restart.

The plant was three weeks late coming out of its last refueling outage and didn't reach full power for two weeks more.

But there were no such delays this year, much to the delight of the Bonneville Power Administration, which buys (and then sells) all of the plant's power.

"I heard comments this morning that were laced with superlatives," said Portland-based BPA spokesman Ed Mosey.

In a prepared statement the agency called the outage "well organized, well executed and conducted within budget."

The successful outage comes at a time when the public power consortium has been starved for good news. Budget cuts have forced several rounds of layoffs and performance lapses have dropped its score from an independent nuclear industry evaluator.

During the outage, crews replaced about one-third of the plant's 764 fuel assemblies while shuffling the others in the reactor core to maximize output.

Major maintenance projects included work on the plant's high-pressure turbine rotor, three giant valves that regulate steam flow and drives used to insert control rods into the reactor.

About 1,200 temporary workers helped with the effort, most of whom have gone home.

While the plant wasn't desperately missed -- mild weather and bargain wholesale power prices made it a good time for an outage -- any delays would have further damaged Bonneville's drought-ravaged bottom line.

Though it's largely a function of market price on any given day, the plant's power is generally thought to be worth on the order of $1 million per day on average.

"Any place we can pick up a few million, we consider that golden," Mosey said.

Chris Mulick
Nuclear Plant Online, On Time
Tri-City Herald, June 14, 2005

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