Richland Nuclear Plant Prepares for Emergencies
by Annette Cary
... a scenario such as a plane crashing into the reactor building, which is the
tallest commercial nuclear power reactor building in the United States.
Two buildings on the campus of Energy Northwest's nuclear power plant near Richland have been filled with equipment to protect workers and the public in scenarios ranging from a terrorist attack to a volcanic eruption.
The plant has had safety equipment in place since it began operating, including three generators to make sure water pumps continue to operate to keep the reactor core cool in a disaster that knocks out power.
But Sept. 11 and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan have added to the requirements for emergency equipment.
Two new nuclear emergency centers opened in 2014 with equipment that could be delivered to the Columbia Generating Station near Richland or any other nuclear power plant within 24 hours. The centers are in Arizona and Tennessee.
Most of the latest round of emergency equipment that will be kept at the Richland plant is now in place, said Energy Northwest spokesman John Dobken.
Some of it is being staged for the first time during the refueling outage at the Columbia Generating Station, which began earlier this month.
To hold all the equipment, Energy Northwest converted a building that used to house a new condenser system into storage with enough space for two trucks, one of them a full-size pumper truck like those used by fire departments.
Should a disaster take out that building and its emergency response equipment, a second building has been constructed to hold backup equipment about 600 feet away, project engineer Dan Moon said.
The pumper truck was purchased after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It's intended to be used in a scenario such as a plane crashing into the reactor building, which is the tallest commercial nuclear power reactor building in the United States.
The truck's ladder, equipped with a spray nozzle, can reach up to 165 feet high to pump water into the pool above the ground that holds used fuel near the reactor core until it is cool enough to be moved to dry storage.
It also has fire hoses and fittings to run the hose up the inside of the building to reach the fuel pool and reactor core.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires two portable pumps since the meltdown at three reactors in Fukushima. The pumper truck counts as one and a separate pump has been purchased, with a trailer and two trucks equipped to haul it and other equipment. A truck is parked in each of the emergency equipment storage buildings.
But nuclear officials could see from the debris-strewn condition of Fukushima after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that getting those trucks in place might be a problem. Energy Northwest solved that by storing a front loader and excavator to clear a path.
The Richland nuclear plant has had three 4,160-volt diesel generators to power emergency core cooling pumps since the plant began operating in 1984.
A fourth diesel generator was purchased in 2007. But after Fukushima, the NRC required a fifth be added to serve as backup to the fourth.
Both of those are 480-volt generators that power battery chargers for critical instruments monitoring water and pressure levels, making sure there is not damage that could lead to a radiation release.
In case of a loss of on- and off-site power during the refueling outage, a portable pump is staged at a pond on the Columbia Generating Station campus. The pond is intended to be an earthquake-proof source of 12 million gallons of water available to be pumped into the reactor core.
It's a backup that could be put to work quickly in place of a steam-driven pump that's not available while the plant is shut down for refueling and not producing steam.
During the Fukushima disaster, off-site power was lost, then diesel generators and the switch gear needed to run them were flooded by the tsunami. Those reactors also were equipped with steam-driven pumps to put water in the core, but had no good way to keep them running.
Ash fall is a concern at the Columbia Generating Station after the eruption of Mount St. Helens 35 years ago coated the Tri-Cities.
Equipment in the plant has filters that would need to be changed more often because of the ash. But portable emergency equipment will be rigged with newly purchased oil bath filters that would remove the ash before air entered the engine intakes.
Should the plant need emergency equipment from the new National SAFER Response Centers, the plan is to fly generators and pumps into Seattle or Portland and then truck them to the reactor.
But if the local roads are flooded, Energy Northwest has arranged for the equipment to be flown to a private airfield in Connell. It has contracts with three helicopter companies to then fly a pump, generators and other equipment from Connell to the Columbia Generating Station, Moon said.
Energy Northwest has enough diesel fuel on site to operate for 30 days in an emergency. It also has purchased equipment to transfer the fuel from underground tanks and haul it where it is needed.
Energy Northwest officials also have made a plan to operate the equipment, even when staffing is at its leanest. The plant is legally allowed to be operated by a minimum of 16 people, plus security forces, which could happen at times such as Christmas morning.
Energy Northwest has prepared operating staff to use emergency equipment for as long as six hours, assuming that no other workers can reach the plant in that time.
Workers such as health physics and chemistry technicians have practiced using emergency equipment, including moving a dirt pile with the front loader and excavator.
One of the final steps Energy Northwest must finish to comply with post-Fukushima emergency requirements is to install a more robust vent system to safely relieve pressure if an accident happens.
Some preliminary work is being done now and the system will be installed in the 2017 refueling outage.
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