Nuclear Power In Washington State Continues To Break Records
Headline: Nuclear Power In Washington State Continues To Break Records
Author: James Conca, Contributor
Date: Fri, 6 Jan 2017 06:00:00 -0500
Hours Ago: 16
Despite two unexpected outages, the nuclear power plant near Richland, WA generated a record 9.6 billion kWhrs of electricity in 2016, edging out its previous record of 9.5 billion kWhs in 2014.
The Columbia Generating Station, operated by the non-profit Energy Northwest, has been generating electricity constantly for thirty-two years, but seems to have really found its groove over the last six. The power plant’s electricity output has been steadily increasing over this period because of continuous management and safety improvements, well-timed maintenance, technology replacements and power uprates, done when production is halted to replace fuel.
But the most important reason for the reliability is that nuclear takes so little fuel and just keeps going and going.
Unlike fossil fuel plants that have to be fueled continuously, refueling of nuclear plants only happens every two years because nuclear produces so much power using so little fuel. The Columbia Generating Station produces uses 5% of 20 tons of fuel each year to generate 9.6 billion kWhs of electricity. Compare this to Washington States’ only coal plant which uses 5 million tons of fuel to produce the same amount of electricity, not to mention the 10 million tons of CO2 it produces that enters the atmosphere.
“Columbia’s low-cost power is absolutely critical if we’re to achieve this state’s and the region’s clean energy goals,” said Mark Reddemann, Energy Northwest CEO. “I’m proud of the team for their hard work in setting this latest plant record.”
The next refueling outage for the Columbia Generating Station is in May 2017.
The Columbia Generating Station has also added about 40 MW of production capacity since 2011, bringing the total to 1,190 MW. The plant has operated at 93% capacity since 2012, meaning it’s producing its maximum power almost all the time.
Such a high capacity factor (cf) is common for nuclear. There have only been a handful of generating systems in history with a higher capacity factor than that of Columbia Generating Station, and all were nuclear. Other energy sources struggle to maintain output for many reasons. The cf for coal is only about 60%, for natural gas 70%, for hydro 45%, for wind 30% and for solar 25%.
Even as the most reliable energy source in history, nuclear occasionally needs to ramp down for some reason. The Columbia Generating Station had its first scram, or uplanned shutdown, in more than six years last March when the control room received an indication that a system used to cool large pumps and other equipment had lost water.
A second scram occurred last month in December to help Bonneville Power Administration handle a problem with transmission lines.
“We continue to focus on performance excellence and the team’s response to adversity is one way it shines through,” said Brad Sawatzke, chief nuclear officer for the Columbia Generating Station.
In April, the American Public Power Association awarded Energy Northwest first place in its Safety Awards of Excellence. Energy Northwest’s APPA safety score was more than ten times better than the second-place finisher in its category. In December, the state’s chamber of commerce, the Association of Washington Business, named Energy Northwest its 2016 Employer of the Year.