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Economic and dam related articles

Richland Nuclear Plant Shut
Down Over Valve Problem

by Wendy Culverwell
Tri-City Herald, August 22, 2017

"We're really lucky in the Northwest. There's a lot of options," he said.

Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station, the only nuclear power plant in the region, has been shut down since Sunday following a valve malfunction in the steam processing area. (Sarah Gordon photo) Graphic: BPA Control Area, Generation and Export for August 2017 when nuclear power outage occurred. Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station remained offline following a valve malfunction in the plant's steam condenser.

Operators took the Richland nuclear plant down at 4:05 p.m. Sunday. The valve was repaired Sunday night but operators are using the down time to work on related valves, said spokesman Mike Paoli.

The 1,200-megawatt power plant could return to service as early as this week and should be back online by next week. Paoli said restarting a nuclear plant is a painstaking process that includes reviewing key systems and slowly ramping up reactor systems.

He notes the timing is bad but could have been worse.

Earlier this month, the Bonneville Power Administration asked Energy Northwest to avoid maintenance and surveillance activities as it braced for a heat wave and higher-than-usual demand for electricity to power air conditions throughout the region.

Nevertheless, hydro flows on the Columbia-Snake system are lower than they were in early summer. Losing 1,200 megawatts poses a challenge to BPA, which buys its output and distributes it to 92 public power agencies throughout the Northwest.

It would cost $800,000 to $1 million per day to buy that much power on the open market. However, BPA is able to offset at least some of the lost power by adjusting its power portfolio, which also includes hydro, coal, gas, geothermal, wind and solar.

Scott Simms, BPA spokesman, said the federal power agency is in a strong position because of its diverse power portfolio and because 2017 has been a strong year for snowpack. He said there is some latitude to adjust hydro operations, although fish interests take precedence.

"We're really lucky in the Northwest. There's a lot of options," he said.

Per its online output report, BPA is meeting demand chiefly with power generated by hydropower dams and burning fossil fuels and biomass.

In a release, Energy Northwest said the shutdown is associated with a valve connected to the plant's steam condenser in the station's turbine building. The malfunction caused the valve to close, causing a loss of vacuum necessary to pull steam through a condenser.

The unscheduled outage is the first in the current two-year fueling cycle, which puts the station on average for the industry. On Tuesday, the Columbia Generating Station was the only operating U.S. nuclear plant with no output, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Columbia Generating Station represented about half of the 2,429 megawatts that were out of production Tuesday.

The next largest outage involved Entergy Louisiana's River Bend Station. The 957-megawatt plant was operating at about half capacity.

An Entergy Nuclear spokeswoman said the reactor underwent an automatic shutdown on Aug. 18 following a relay failure in its feedwater level control system. Repairs were completed this weekend.

Overall, the 99,364-megawatt U.S. nuclear power fleet was operating at more than 97 percent capacity on Tuesday.

Energy Northwest has been much in the news in recent weeks. Following a planned refueling and maintenance outage that wrapped up in June, Columbia Generating Station set an output record in July.

Paoli said its annual generation compared to its overall potential will "vastly exceed" the performance of the other regional power producers this year.

On July 26, the Washington Department of Health "indefinitely" suspended its authority to ship low-level radioactive waste after a mislabeled shipment was sent to the US Ecology disposal site at Hanford. The episode did not jeopardize plant operations since it ships waste every two weeks.

Energy Northwest is a Washington agency that comprises 27 public power member utilities. It serves more than 1.5 million ratepayers.

Wendy Culverwell
Richland Nuclear Plant Shut Down Over Valve Problem
Tri-City Herald, August 22, 2017

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