Northwest N-plant set to go offline for refueling : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Saturday, May 05, 2001 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific

N-plant set to go offline for refueling

By Linda Ashton The Associated Press

RICHLAND -- The Northwest's only nuclear-power plant shuts down May 18 for refueling, leaving the Bonneville Power Administration without its workhorse electricity producer for 30 days in the worst drought in a quarter-century.

The BPA and Energy Northwest, the 13-utility public-power consortium that owns the Columbia Generating Station, have been planning for the outage for almost two years.

"We arranged for power and made purchases to cover that outage months ago," said Ed Mosey, a spokesman for the BPA in Portland. "It will have absolutely no effect on reliability or price."

The Columbia Generating Station, which typically produces about 5 percent of electricity in the Northwest, will contribute about 10 percent of the region's generation over the next year because of diminished water supplies here in hydropower country.

This is the shortest outage ever planned at the plant, with twice as much fuel loaded to stretch the time between outages - plans that seem almost prescient now but were made long before this year's drought threatened summer hydropower capacity, salmon survival and irrigated orchards.

The board of directors of Energy Northwest understood the power market and believed the plant's weather-independent operation would one day be appreciated, said Scott Oxenford, the general manager of the Columbia Generating Station.

Since the plant came online in 1984, refuelings typically have been scheduled in the spring, when river water is abundant and power demand is relatively low. But water isn't plentiful this year, although the Northwest Power Planning Council has said the region can probably get through the summer without rolling blackouts.

John Dabney, outage manager, has been working on this outage since the last one ended. His workforce will nearly double in size; 800 contract workers will be added to the regular staff of 1,050.

Nuclear plants function much as other thermal-power plants, using heat to boil water for steam to drive turbine-generators to make electricity. The critical difference is how they make the heat. Rather than burning coal or natural gas, nuclear plants produce heat by fissioning atoms of uranium.

The price of a successful outage: $33 million, excluding lost power production.

The 1,200-megawatt Columbia Generating Station generates enough electricity to light a city the size of Seattle and produced more than $1 billion worth of electricity in just eight months.

-- Martin Thompson (, May 06, 2001

Moderation questions? read the FAQ