Richland firm gets nuke plant contract

As Energy Northwest prepares to replace the main condenser at its nuclear power plant near Richland, it has awarded a contract to Perma-Fix Northwest to treat and dispose of the associated radioactive waste.

Energy Northwest plans to spend $113 million to replace the 25-year-old condenser, which turns steam generated by boiling water in the nuclear reactor back into water for re-use. It has become less reliable through the years, according to Energy Northwest.

By making the cycle more efficient, the 1,150-megawatt Columbia Generating Station is expected to gain 12 megawatts of electricity generation, which is expected to pay for the new condenser over time.

The contract award to Perma-Fix Northwest of Richland is worth $4.1 million and will cover management of 3 million pounds of condenser tubes, piping, structural steel and related low-level radioactive waste.

It is the largest nuclear utility project that Perma-Fix has performed, Louis Centofanti, Perma-Fix Environmental Services chief executive, said in a statement. Its subsidiary Perma-Fix Northwest is 15 miles from the Columbia Generating Station and has done other work with the plant.

Energy Northwest already has 12 new condenser modules, each weighing 100,000 pounds, waiting to be installed during a plant refueling outage scheduled to begin in April.

More than 350 workers will be required to remove the current condenser and replace it with a new one.

The old condenser will be cut apart and slid out of the building onto a motorized vehicle designed to handle large heavy loads. Access points have been cut into the condenser bay for the work.

That included cutting through a 42-inch-thick concrete wall and filling the gaps with removable concrete blocks. In addition, two large access doors have been installed in the 18-inch-thick concrete outer wall.

Energy Northwest says condenser replacement is a rare project in the nuclear industry. The last replacement of a boiling water reactor condenser in the United States was in 1991 at the Peach Bottom plant in Pennsylvania, it said.

w Annette Cary: 582-1533;