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Northwest nuclear plant refueled, tuned up, back online

News release

​RICHLAND, Wash. – Operators at Columbia Generating Station reconnected the nuclear power plant to the Northwest power grid today at 12:25 a.m. following its 25th refueling, and just in time to meet the summer's higher demand for electricity.

During the last several weeks, Energy Northwest employees, with support from more than 1,400 skilled temporary workers, completed thousands of individual work tasks – from preventative maintenance on equipment to major system upgrades – to sustain the nuclear station's generation efficiency and reliability. 

“The team completed a tremendous amount of work over the past several weeks," said Grover Hettel, Energy Northwest chief nuclear officer. “Getting Columbia back online after a refueling is always a significant achievement that we're proud of because of the carbon-free electricity the plant provides for the region."

Biennial refueling is necessary to add fresh nuclear fuel to Columbia's reactor core so that it can operate for a two-year cycle. Operators replaced 260 of the 764 nuclear fuel assemblies in Columbia's reactor core with new fuel. The fuel that had been in the reactor core for six years was placed in the adjacent fuel pool, where the assemblies will remain for a minimum of five years to remove residual heat and await being moved to Columbia's on-site dry cask storage.

The outage, as its commonly referred to in the community, is also an opportunity to perform maintenance projects that can be accomplished only when the reactor is offline. Work crews installed a 34-foot, 133-ton refurbished low-pressure turbine rotor; replaced the reactor water cleanup heat exchangers; refurbished a condensate pump and motor; inspected and cleaned the circulating water basin and piping; replaced a reactor recirculating pump and motor; and many other inspections.

“The refueling and maintenance we do is complex and requires several years of planning and a highly-skilled team to complete," Hettel said. “Outages are a rigorous, non-stop 24/7 activity. I'm extremely proud of the team for working safely. We really appreciate the performance of our EN employees, contractors and local labor unions," Hettel said.

Equipment replacements, refurbishments and upgrades have increased Columbia's gross generation capacity from 1,150 megawatts in 2010 to 1,207 megawatts beginning in 2017. During 2020, the plant produced record levels of carbon-free energy with economic dispatch; more than 9.9 million megawatt-hours. Calendar year 2020 net generation was the fourth highest ever.

Energy Northwest and the Bonneville Power Administration time the biennial refueling to coincide with spring snow melt and runoff that maximizes power output from the region's hydroelectric system and minimizes the impact of taking the nuclear station offline. The electricity produced at Columbia Generating Station, located 10 miles north of Richland, is sold at-cost to BPA.


Columbia Generating Station, owned and operated by Energy Northwest, is a boiling water reactor located about 10 miles north of Richland, Washington. Columbia produces 1,207 MWe of carbon-free electricity, enough to power about a million homes.  


About Energy Northwest                                                                                            

Energy Northwest develops, owns and operates a diverse mix of electricity generating resources, including hydro, solar, battery storage and wind projects – and the Northwest's only nuclear power facility. These projects provide carbon-free electricity at the cost of generation – enough clean, cost-effective and reliable energy to power more than a million homes each year. As an independent joint operating agency of Washington state, Energy Northwest comprises 27 public power member utilities from across the state serving more than 1.5 million customers. The agency continually explores new generation projects to meet its members' needs. ​

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