Hanford

Richland’s nuclear power plant under extra federal scrutiny

Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station, the nuclear power plant near Richland, will continue to have some increased oversight from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station, the nuclear power plant near Richland, will continue to have some increased oversight from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Tri-City Herald

The nuclear power plant near Richland will keep getting extra government scrutiny for now.

The Columbia Generating Station failed to be removed from the 2018 list of plants requiring increased oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the federal agency completed its annual assessment.

However, just one more inspection could move it onto the list of plants receiving only routine oversight based on its performance in 2017.

The NRC announced this week that 83 of the nation’s reactors met all safety and security performance objectives and would have standard oversight.

Energy Northwest’s power plant near Richland fell into the second category, along with a dozen other plants that need to resolve one or two items of what the NRC described as “low safety significance.”

The 13 plants need additional inspections and follow-up corrective actions, the NRC said.

At the bottom of the performance list were two reactors in Arkansas and one in Massachusetts with either long-standing or more serious safety issues.

The local plant’s issues considered by the NRC included a radiation safety incident that occurred in November 2016, and resulted in an inspection finding of low-to-moderate safety significance in early 2017.

A public meeting will be scheduled in the Tri-Cities to allow the public to talk to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about the details of the annual review.

Energy Northwest was temporarily barred from sending waste to a commercial disposal site at Hanford after a Nov. 9 shipment had more radioactivity than reported.

The shipment was rejected at the US Ecology disposal site and was driven the 10 miles back to the nuclear plant. Energy Northwest said that although the radioactivity was not correctly reported for the shipment, it remained at levels within occupational health standards for workers handling the heavily shielded casks.

The NRC also considered scrams, or unexpected shutdowns of the plant.

It decided extra oversight was needed because there were two scrams during a period of 7,000 hours of operation. Both had “complications,” the NRC said.

The plant shut down unexpectedly Dec. 18, 2016, when cold weather caused the loss of the 500 kilovolt line connecting the nuclear plant’s main output transformers to the Bonneville Power Administration’s nearby Ashe Substation.

The plant shutdown in response caused a redundant, or backup, system to be used to vent steam, which the NRC considered a complication.

The second scram occurred in August when plant operators shut the plant down after an air removal valve in the plant’s turbine building closed. It caused a loss of vacuum pressure in the system that turns steam back into water for reuse of the plant.

The event resulted in a brief decrease in the water level in the reactor, which the NRC considered a complication.

A public meeting will be scheduled in the Tri-Cities to discuss the details of the annual review. A date has yet to be set.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

  Comments