The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the operating license of the nuclear power plant near Richland for 20 years.
The news had been expected after the NRC informally told Energy Northwest last week that the license for the Columbia Generating Station would be extended.
The announcement will be celebrated today with a visit to the plant by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
"Nuclear power has its place in the current and future production of electrical power for our nation," she said in a statement Wednesday.
"I know that it can provide reliable and affordable baseload power over the very long term," she said. "It can produce that power without greenhouse gas emissions."
The plant provides nearly 10 percent of all power generated in Washington state. And it provides the power independent of seasonal issues such as snow pack that influences hydropower generation and still weather that stalls wind power production.
The plant now is operating on a 40-year license good through 2023. The extension will allow it to operate through 2043.
"Nearly 30 years ago, Columbia Generating Station began producing clean, baseload energy for Northwest ratepayers," said Mark Reddemann, Energy Northwest chief executive, in a statement. "With this week's approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of a renewed license for Columbia, the plant will remain a vital asset for our region for another 30 years."
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., sent messages to staff on news of the license renewal. Energy Northwest staff have been working toward renewal since 2007.
However, the license renewal was not welcomed by No Nukes Northwest, a Portland-based group that was organized by interested members of Occupy Portland. Occupy Portland rallied in Richland this spring on issues that included opposition to nuclear power.
The license renewal "is not something that should be celebrated in the wake of Fukushima," said Miriam German of No Nukes Northwest.
Some members of the group are planning to travel to the Tri-City area today to protest as the Washington governor visits.
The group is concerned that the plant's design is similar to those in the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear disaster last year and that the plant building will not be adequate for use beyond the originally licensed four decades. The nation also has no long-term plan for dealing with used nuclear fuel.
"The independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission, after two-and-a-half years of rigorous evaluation and inspections of Columbia's safety and potential environmental aspects, determined that we can continue providing safe, reliable, cost-effective power through 2043," said Energy Northwest spokesman John Dobken in response to the group's concerns.
Energy Northwest has said that the plant is built to withstand a quake in excess of magnitude 7.0, and at three miles from the Columbia River would not flood in a breach of the Grand Coulee Dam.
"I will continue to do everything I can to support your current operations and to encourage the further development of nuclear energy in our state," Hastings said in his message to Energy Northwest employees.
Murray told employees she was impressed with their commitment to safety and the environment.