2nd pinhole fuel leak found at Richland nuclear plant

The core of Energy Northwest’s reactor north of Richland.
The core of Energy Northwest’s reactor north of Richland. Tri-City Herald

A pin-hole leak has been discovered in a second fuel rod at Energy Northwest’s nuclear power plant near Richland.

The Columbia Generating Station had not had a fuel defect since 2002 until one was detected last week. The leaks in the two rods could be caused by a manufacturing defect or by foreign material wearing a tiny hole.

The plant has 70,288 fuel rods in its reactor core and even with the damaged rods taken out of service it is producing electricity at full power.

However, before its next refueling outage in May 2017, the plant will reduce power about 0.3 percent per day for about two weeks earlier than planned, according to Energy Northwest. The cause of the leaks will not be determined until the outage.

Slightly elevated levels of xenon and krypton gasses in the reactor’s recirculation system led to the discovery of both leaks. But the levels detected are at least 1,000 times under the limits of technical specifications for continued plant operation, according to Energy Northwest.

The leak in the fuel rod does not change any of the radiological conditions inside or outside the plant because it is in a closed loop system, according to Energy Northwest.