Energy NW to seek license renewal

Energy Northwest, which operates the Columbia Generating Station nuclear plant outside Richland, is applying for a 20-year renewal of its operating license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The license renewal would allow the nuclear plant to operate through 2043. Energy Northwest's current operating license, which was granted in December 1983, runs through 2023.

The license renewal process often takes between 24 and 30 months, said Victor Dricks, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman.

"We have a very rigorous process," Dricks said.

Once the application is received, reviewed and processed, Dricks said, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold public meetings, look at possible environmental impacts and perform plant inspections.

"All that should happen in a few months," he said.

The Columbia Generating Station, which produces about 1,150 megawatts, enough power to meet the needs of 1 million homes, experienced several fires in 2009 resulting in numerous unscheduled shutdowns. Dricks said the NRC has inspected the areas where the fires occurred and found no reason to sanction or reprimand Energy Northwest.

"(The Nuclear Regulatory Commission) looks at one thing, and that is: Can the plant operate safely for another 20 years," said Rochelle Olson, Energy Northwest's corporate communications officer.

Olson said Energy Northwest is applying for the operating license renewal 13 years before its current license expires because the NRC asks operators of nuclear plants to apply within a specific time frame, long before current licenses expires.

"The plants that came online when we did are all submitting their renewals now," she said, adding, "(The Nuclear Regulatory Commission) backs all of this up to manage their time schedule."

Energy Northwest has spent about three years preparing to apply for the operating license renewal. Staff conducted numerous plant inspections and prepared "several binders full of standard forms," Olson said.