NRC Continues Review of Energy NW Plantby Staff
Tri-City Herald, June 28, 2011
RICHLAND -- Energy Northwest's application to extend operations of its nuclear power plant near Richland totals 2,220 pages.
Even so, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has requested more information. It has made about 300 requests for additional technical and environmental information about the Columbia Generating Station and Energy Northwest's proposal to operate it for another 20 years.
The NRC also has visited the nuclear power plant to ensure that Energy Northwest is covering all areas necessary in its proposal to extend the plant's operating life to 60 years, said Don Gregoire, Energy Northwest regulatory affairs manager. The plant's original 40-year license is good through 2023.
In April and May 2010, the NRC sent a team from Washington, D.C., to audit the Energy Northwest evaluation process to ensure all relevant equipment was being included in its review of aging.
In November, the NRC sent a regional team to look into the plant's programs for managing aging of the plant and the team's leader was back this month, Gregoire said.
Other officials are assessing environmental impacts of the plant's continued operations.
Energy Northwest showed that portions of the plant, such as the reactor vessel, would be fine for the 40-year duration of the plant when it received its original license and now must document its analyses that it will be safe for another 20 years.
Many parts of the plant -- large and small -- already have been replaced through the years. Currently, installation of a new condenser is under way, a major operation that should be completed by early August. The condenser turns steam generated by boiling water in the reactor back into water for reuse in the plant.
Workers continually perform evaluation and maintenance on valves and other equipment, replacing and repairing as necessary. Other equipment is checked periodically. That includes digging up portions of piping and inspecting it, Gregoire said.
The plant was plagued by six unplanned shutdowns, or scrams, from late 2008 through 2009, including some that were related to maintenance issues. None of the issues was with equipment classified as necessary to safe operations, according to Energy Northwest.
During the plant's past three refueling outages, including the one under way now, substantial amounts of maintenance have been done, said Rochelle Olson, spokeswoman for the plant.
Energy Northwest expects to spend $19 million to $20 million on its relicensing effort, which includes paying NRC costs, Gregoire said.
Officials there began discussing relicensing in 2005, started formulating plans in 2006 and began the required evaluations in 2007. The application was submitted to the NRC in January 2010, and Energy Northwest is hoping for approval a year from now.
The lead time of about a decade between possible approval and expiration of the plant's current 40-year license is needed because of the region's reliance on the Columbia Generating Station, Gregoire said.
The plant provides almost 10 percent of the electricity in Washington, he said.
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