A new decorative fountain is one of those projects that make visitors think “only in the Tri-Cities.”
Energy Northwest, marking its 60th anniversary, has worked with local companies to turn a bundle of nuclear fuel rods, called a fuel assembly, into an outdoor fountain that stands 15 feet tall.
It is installed at the Reach museum in Richland, framing a section of the Columbia River visitors see as they walk outside the museum onto the patio.
Water flows down the middle and trickles along the sides of a 13-foot-tall fuel assembly that’s the centerpiece of the fountain.
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“We wanted to tell our nuclear story and had a excess fuel assembly at our disposal … that really not anybody in the community outside of nuclear workers would ever get a chance to see,” said Ben Stewart, an Energy Northwest graphic designer, who worked on the fountain project.
It’s actually not a real fuel bundle, like the 764 others in the core of Energy Northwest’s nuclear power plant near Richland.
It’s a test bundle delivered to Energy Northwest in the 1970s for tasks such as testing cranes that would be used to lift bundles inside reactors.
Visitors can touch it — it’s not radioactive. It has not been used in the reactor and was not filled with any of the uranium pellets that fill actual fuel rods.
Making it into a fountain was a natural fit. In Energy Northwest’s reactor, fuel assemblies are submerged in water.
Among the biggest challenge was figuring out how to hang the test fuel assembly, which weighs 1,500 pounds, Stewart said.
Energy Northwest got help from Lampson International crane company, Legacy Pool, Ray Poland and Sons, and American Wheel Specialist to complete the project with all donated labor and supplies.
The fountain, and nearby information plaques, tell the story of the benefits of nuclear energy.
The project also shows the support of the Tri-City area for nuclear power, said Brent Ridge, Energy Northwest chief financial officer, at the fountain’s dedication Wednesday.
A Nuclear Energy Institute survey released in 2015 found that 93 percent of people living within 10 miles of Columbia Generating Station support nuclear energy.
With the new fountain, Energy Northwest is “going to be able to spread the really good, positive word of nuclear power for decades to come,” Ridge said.