Columbia Generating Station
For more information:
P.O. Box 968
Richland, WA 99352-0968
Columbia Generating Station is a 1,150-megawatt boiling water reactor that uses nuclear fission to produce heat. It is the only commercially operated nuclear power plant in the Northwest. Uranium, a naturally occurring element, is the primary fuel source.
Fission occurs when a subatomic particle, called a neutron, strikes and is absorbed into the nucleus of a uranium atom. This causes the nucleus of the atom to become unstable and to split, producing heat and additional neutrons. These additional neutrons then cause other uranium atoms to fission, resulting in a self-sustaining chain reaction. Each splitting of a uranium atom releases a relatively small amount of heat; in a nuclear reactor, though, there are billions of atoms in the fuel core splitting every second, producing the large amount of heat needed to boil water.
Heat generated in the fuel core turns water into high-pressure steam. The steam is then piped to the large turbines, where it flows through the turbine blades and causes the turbine shaft to spin at high speed (1,800 rpm). This in turn causes an electric generator rotor to spin, generating electricity. After flowing through the turbines, the steam goes through a condenser where it is cooled and condensed to liquid water form.
Nuclear fission is regulated by control rods, which are sometimes called control blades. Columbia Generating Station has 185 control rods that can be moved in and out of the core. The rods are made primarily of boron, which absorbs neutrons and slows the nuclear reaction when inserted between the fuel assemblies. In a boiling water reactor, control rods enter the core from the bottom and move upward. By controlling how many rods are inserted and how far they extend into the core, reactor operators can control the strength of the reaction. To stop the reaction completely, rods are fully inserted into the core. This can be done very quickly (within seven seconds) or more slowly, depending on the situation.
The water is then pumped back to the reactor to be reheated and turned back into steam, continuing the cycle. The heat from the condenser, carried by non-radioactive water, is released into the air through six cooling towers located outside the plant. All of Columbia Generating Station’s power is sold at cost to the Bonneville Power Administration.
Columbia Generating Station is a reliable energy producer. Unlike hydro, wind and solar generation facilities, Columbia Generating Station is not dependent on weather conditions — it will produce electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unless it is safely shut down by plant operators, as it is during a refueling outage. In addition, operators are able to adjust power levels to meet Bonneville Power Administration’s needs based on river conditions; referred to as “load following.” Refueling and maintenance outages occur every two years during the spring, when the Columbia River Basin has ample runoff to generate electricity through the hydroelectric turbines.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a standard 40-year operating license to Energy Northwest's Columbia Generating Station on Dec. 20, 1983. On Jan. 19, 2010, Energy Northwest submitted an application to the NRC to renew Columbia's license for an additional 20 years.
To learn about Columbia's license renewal efforts visit our License Renewal page.
Since nuclear power plants do not emit regulated air pollutants and greenhouse gases, nuclear power is considered "clean energy." The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) estimates that the nation's 104 operating nuclear plants accounted for the avoidance of the following total emissions in 2008:
• 2.65 million short tons of sulfur dioxide.
• 0.91 million short tons of nitrogen oxides.
• 689 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Emissions avoided by Columbia Generating Station in 2008 were estimated by NEI to be approximately:
• 9,750 tons of sulfur dioxide.
• 11,900 tons of nitrogen oxide.
• 7,960,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
All commercial nuclear plants do, however, create radioactive waste, most of which is stored in the reactor building in a pool specially designed to hold the spent fuel rods. Energy Northwest has an on-site dry cask storage installation, which allows for storage of spent fuel rods in specially designed and manufactured casks. To date, 27 casks have been loaded and stored in the new installation, making room in the spent fuel pool for receipt of new fuel.
The production cost of nuclear power is relatively inexpensive. Columbia Generating Station’s cost of power for fiscal year 2008, was 2.75 cents per kilowatt-hour.
|Type:||Boiling Water Reactor (nuclear)|
|Generating Capacity:||Approximately 1,150 megawatts (net)|
|Location:||10 miles north of Richland, WA|
|Site Size:||~1,089 acres|
|Construction Permit Issued:||March 1973|
|NRC Issued Plant Operating License:||December 1983|
|First Electricity Produced:||May 1984|
|Commercial Operation:||December 1984|
|First Refueling Completed:||April 1986|