Too much news from too few facts

A few days ago a community radio station out of Portland received a “hot tip” about a crack in a component of the Columbia reactor. It reported that “local residents who have become aware” are calling upon Energy Northwest to keep Columbia offline.

Enter the spokesperson for “local residents who have become aware,” an anti-nuclear activist who has likened Energy Northwest and its 1,100-plus workers (including many military veterans) to terrorists, and believes we shouldn’t have clean energy nuclear plants operating anywhere in the world.

The “local residents” spokesperson is joined by a nuclear “expert” who represents an organization that equates safe commercial nuclear energy to military nuclear bombs. The expert calls for a “thorough inspection” at a time when, ironically, Columbia begins a 42-day outage to thoroughly inspect the entire plant, to include opening up and inspecting the reactor vessel.

Our “local residents” spokesperson has now sent a news release to every agency on Energy Northwest’s news release list (our regrets to you all; we didn’t see that coming) hoping to make further news out of an indication of a potential tiny crack in a component called a jet pump riser.

So here are the facts.

A jet pump is not a pump as you might think of a pump. It has no moving parts but is simply a set of 19-foot tall pipes that help force water through the reactor core.

Jet Pump Diagram edit

The talk about a “cracked jet pump” is a bit sloppy. The 1 ¼-inch crack indication – because there may be no crack – is in the inlet riser, which is part of the pump assembly. The actual pumps – Jet Pumps 17 and 18 (see graphic above) – have no issue. Further, it isn’t the size of the indication that matters, but the location.

We have evaluated the potential of the indication being a crack, and its location, and considered the possibility of crack growth at both tips under all conditions. There’s no doubt that the jet pumps and risers are capable of continuing to perform their intended function.

The jet pumps also do not control the power output of the reactor, as some anti-nuclear activists believe. The two reactor recirculation pumps handle that (and/or the control rods) and they are unaffected by the potential crack.

Background

In the picture, you can see the indication for yourself. In reality, the indication is this long:

___________________ (1.25”)

Jet Pump Indication edit2

In April, Energy Northwest sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission informing them of our assessment of potential crack growth rates on a single indication (the one in the photo above). The industry normally applies the same standard growth rate to both ends of a crack. The letter simply explains to the NRC that we are applying a slightly lower crack growth rate to one end of the potential crack and provided sound engineering support, including: the material condition at the potential crack tip; mitigation of cracking through effective hydrogen water chemistry; and, industry and plant experience which shows low crack growth rates for similar indications.

In fact this letter is similar to the 2011 letter to the NRC on the same issue. As stated in the 2011 letter to the NRC, the indication is more consistent with fatigue cracking, and “shows none of the characteristics associated with SCC (stress corrosion cracking).”

The common industry guidance is to assume a crack growth of approximately 0.44 inches per year on each end of a crack for any crack on a component inside the reactor. We are assuming that general growth rate at one end, but a slower growth rate at the other end; remember, our potential crack showed zero growth in the two years between 2011 and 2013, and we are inspecting it again during our current refueling outage.

Additionally, in 2005 we proactively installed slip joint clamps since these are designed to limit vibration and fatigue stresses.

The April letter to the NRC is a standard notification. It’s the second one we’ve sent since 2011. But it was new to the anti-nuclear activists so therefore an opportunity to push their agenda.

Going forward

Energy Northwest is treating the indication as if it were a “through-wall” crack, and has been since it was first discovered. That is an appropriate and conservative approach. We will take another look at the indication this refueling outage and see if there is any noticeable growth. If so, we will take the appropriate actions. The bottom line is always the safe operation of the plant.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Three years on, uranium fuel transaction continues to yield Northwest ratepayer savings

Three years after the conclusion of a $687 million nuclear fuel transaction, Northwest ratepayers are reaping the rewards. Energy Northwest’s 2012 low-cost, below-market nuclear fuel purchase – enough unenriched fuel to last through 2028 – generated more than $40 million of dollars in current Bonneville Power Administration rate case savings, and will save tens of millions more through 2028.

The fuel will be used in Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear energy facility, generating 1,170 megawatts of electricity, which is sold at-cost to BPA. Ninety-two Northwest utilities receive a percentage of its output. In December, Columbia marked 30 years of commercial operation, and broke its third consecutive generation record.

Background

EN Uranium Product

Cylinder yard at DOE facility in Paducah, KY.

Contracts were signed in May 2012 between Energy Northwest, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the U.S. Enrichment Corporation, and the Department of Energy that began the process of turning depleted uranium into low-cost nuclear fuel. The depleted uranium, also called uranium tails, was enriched and a portion (about 10 percent) will be delivered to Energy Northwest’s fuel fabrication vendor in North Carolina next month. Energy Northwest is selling the bulk of the enriched uranium to TVA for use in nuclear plants, which will defray a large portion of Energy Northwest’s costs.

The uranium tails program was similar to a 2005 pilot project that reduced fuel costs for Columbia Generating Station by more than $100 million. The 2012 transaction is showing even more savings based on current spot market and forward market pricing.

Energy Northwest has a long, successful history of transacting in commodities to obtain the nuclear fuel needed to operate Columbia, and our fuel costs are among the lowest of all U.S. nuclear plants.

Columbia is licensed to operate through 2043, so we will need a continuing inflow of nuclear fuel for nearly 30 years. The price for most of that future fuel supply is unknown, and represents a source of financial uncertainty, or financial risk. We have extensive experience and capability in understanding the various markets in which we transact to ensure a stable and reasonably-priced fuel supply. Energy Northwest typically enters into contracts for components of nuclear fuel many years before fuel is needed to reduce the price risk of the fuel, to capitalize on advantageously priced opportunities, and to ensure that all necessary fuel processing is complete before the fuel needs to be loaded into the reactor.

Inside the nuclear fuel cycle

Taking a closer look at the nuclear fuel cycle helps to understand the benefits of our uranium tails fuel transaction.

Fuel Cycle v2

While the enrichment cost (listed in $/SWU, or separative work units) is a large part of nuclear fuel costs, the cost of uranium cannot be ignored while evaluating the benefits of fuel contracting. Unlike enrichment costs, uranium costs are projected to rise in the future, and are up 35 percent since last summer, increasing the value of contracted fuel. Any analysis of the transaction that doesn’t look at the whole is incomplete, at best.

Seeing the benefits

In the latest transaction, Energy Northwest kept both feed (UF6) and enrichment services (SWU).

The remaining material will be sold to TVA under a fixed price, long-term contract (2015-2022) for a net present value of approximately $622 million.

The cost to Energy Northwest for the material retained for our own consumption (feed + SWU) was about $65 million.

SWU1v2

The spot market value of this material, based on March 20 prices, was $256 million, a difference of $191 million.

SWU2

In the forward market, that same material was valued at $332 million, as of Feb. 28, a difference of $267 million.

SWU3

In both cases, just looking at the SWU row would lead one to believe Energy Northwest entered into a bad deal. But because of the well-below market price purchase of feed, the benefit of the total transaction becomes very apparent.

As mentioned above, Energy Northwest avoids purchasing nuclear fuel through the spot market because of the volatility and price risk involved.

Prior to the uranium tails program, Energy Northwest had enough fuel in inventory or under contract to meet its fuel reloading requirements through 2019. With the additional fuel, Columbia’s fuel costs will be reduced and predictable through 2028.

Benefit to ratepayers

Bonneville Power Administration markets more than one-third of the electricity consumed in the Pacific Northwest. The power produced at 31 Northwest federal dams and Columbia Generating Station is sold to more than 140 Northwest utilities. Every other year, BPA establishes a rate case that covers a two-year period; currently we are in the 2014/2015 rate case. During the formal rate proceeding, expected increases are outlined as well as mitigating factors that can slow the rate of increase.

Because of this strategic fuel transaction, Northwest ratepayers are seeing a $40 million savings in the current rate case. Not bad. Every approximately $20 million in savings lowers rate case increases by one percentage point.

Successful risk management

The benefits EN and BPA sought – less financial risk due to future fuel cost uncertainty, and lower fuel costs on an expected-value basis – are still being achieved.

The transaction increased rate stability by removing eight years of cost risk from Columbia’s fuel budget, and the transaction continues to have positive value, resulting in lower rates. BPA’s ratepayers will benefit from this transaction for many years, as shown above.

Managing risks in power production is important, though not generally talked about, perhaps as being too “inside baseball.” But by managing risk effectively, the result can be stable, predictable and affordable electricity rates. In evaluating this uranium tails nuclear fuel transaction, Energy Northwest and BPA successfully turned uncertain fuel prices into current and future savings for Northwest electric customers through 2028.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Update on EN, BPA Demand Response Project

Energy Northwest and the Bonneville Power Administration integrated an additional demand response resource into the Energy Northwest Aggregation Demonstration project that first went live Feb. 9. This project is the first-of-its-kind for the region. The system will help BPA test balancing loads on its Northwest transmission grid through industrial resource partners.

Over the long run, demand-side resources have the potential to defer or displace the need for new generation in the region and make the most efficient use of existing generation − resulting in overall cost savings for Northwest ratepayers. Since the launch of the pilot program in February, BPA has called for 11 tests lasting up to 90 minutes; each was a success.

Mark Reddemann, Energy Northwest CEO

Mark Reddemann, Energy Northwest CEO

“This is a testament to Energy Northwest’s mission to provide our public power members and regional ratepayers with safe, reliable, cost-effective, responsible power generation and energy solutions,” said Energy Northwest CEO Mark Reddemann.

In the past, BPA provided balancing services such as this solely with capacity from the federal hydropower system. However, growing demands on the hydro system along with the dramatic increase of wind generation have limited its flexibility to provide enough balancing reserves to meet reliability standards. This has necessitated that BPA explorethird-party capacity sources.

“The hydro system provides many benefits to the Northwest, but it has been stretched to its limit,” said BPA Administrator Elliot Mainzer.

Elliot Mainzer, BPA Administrator

Elliot Mainzer, BPA Administrator

“Moving forward we will need smart, sound measures, including demand response to cost-effectively maintain hydro and transmission system flexibility and deliver value and reliable service to our customers and the region.”

Following the agreement to start a pilot program, Energy Northwest assembled the demand response resource from asset loads served by regional public utility partners and took the role of the resource aggregator. The contract currently provides up to 35 megawatts of reliable “fast reaction” demand response-capacity resource.

Conceptually, demand response builds on the idea that while individual electricity loads are relatively minor compared to the scale of a regional transmission grid, many loads lowered and raised at once may serve as a cost effective alternative to building or purchasing the output of additional electric generating stations.

Demand Response

Energy Northwest has developed its Demand Response Aggregation Control System, a comprehensive data gathering, monitoring, control and communications infrastructure system, for the project. Communications devices are installed by each participating utility to report to and receive direction from the DRACS via secure cloud-based data paths. DRACS is hosted within Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center, a U.S. Department of Energy funded incubator facility built and operated for such roles.

Energy Northwest and its public utility partners continue to look for diverse electric loads from customers willing and able to reduce their electric demand on short notice. The participating public utilities that provide the customer loads for the demand response resource are expected to include utility participants in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

How it works

BPA meets balancing obligations in real-time. When Balancing Authority conditions require BPA system operators to activate reserve system balancing resources – including demand response – BPA operations generates a signal calling on demand response assets for an event.

Energy Northwest’s Demand Response Aggregated Control System (DRACS) picks up BPA’s signal, acknowledges its receipt, and forwards the signal to multiple demand response assets. Upon receipt of the forwarded signal, each asset begins automatically to reduce its loads. The load changes must be complete within 10 minutes and sustained through the event, which can be up to 90 minutes in duration.

During events, DRACS collects detailed metering information from each of the assets and reports total capacity response delivered to BPA. Once an event ends, DRACS sends terminating signals to the assets which can then resume normal operations.

(posted by John Dobken)

New poll reveals Washington state opinions on nuclear energy

New public opinion polling of Washington state residents by Bisconti Research/Quest Global Research found that a large majority favor the use of nuclear energy as part of the U.S. energy mix. (Find the Nuclear Energy Institute national numbers here).

According to Bisconti, the survey was conducted through telephone interviews Feb. 19 – March 4, with a sample of 504 people from Benton, Clark, Franklin, King, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, and Whatcom counties, proportional to population, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

If you aren’t familiar with Washington geography, Benton is the home county of Columbia Generating Station and Franklin County is next door. King County is home to Seattle. Snohomish County is adjacent to King. Tacoma is in Pierce County.

Overall Results

On the question of general favorability to nuclear energy, respondents were asked if they strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the use of SupportNuclearEnergynuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States? Sixty-three percent strongly favor or somewhat favor the use of nuclear energy. (See bottom of post for more details).

That support number jumps when residents are asked if utilities should prepare now so that new nuclear power plants could be built if needed in the next decade: 69 percent strongly agree or somewhat agree. Fifty-three percent agree we should definitely build more nuclear power plants in the future.

Attributes

When asked what attributes they associate with nuclear power (a lot, a little or not at all), the list from most to least is:

  • Advanced technology
  • Reliable electricity
  • Efficiency
  • Clean air
  • Electricity source of the future
  • Energy security
  • Affordable electricity
  • Economic growth
  • Job creation
  • Climate change solution (also the largest “not at all” response)

For safety, on a scale of 1 – 7 (7 being very high safety), 49 percent gave nuclear energy a high safety rating (5-7); 16 percent a middle rating (4); and, 34 percent a low safety rating (1-3).

Who was Surveyed?

Of the people who were surveyed, 64 percent consider themselves environmentalists and 72 percent had never visited a nuclear energy facility. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed had a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree. Ninety-three percent are registered voters. The survey reached out to both land-line and cell phone users.


On the overall favorability index score, which includes nine measures, including some mentioned above, the Washington state score (53.2) comes in below both the Western U.S. (57.5) score and the national score (60.8).

This tells us we have more work to do to educate the public and our stakeholders about the benefits of clean, reliable and safe nuclear energy.

Survey1

(Posted by John Dobken)

Forbes’ Jim Conca showcases benefits of clean nuclear energy

You love him at Forbes.com blogging about a variety of energy issues – always with a unique perspective.

We asked Jim Conca, senior scientist at UFA Ventures, if he could bring that perspective to the small screen for a public service announcement about the importance of nuclear energy to a diverse energy mix. And he delivered.

Jim Conca featured in a public service announcement about the need for carbon-free nuclear energy.

Jim Conca featured in a public service announcement about the need for carbon-free nuclear energy.

In the 30-second spot, which can be found here, Conca explains that as an environmentalist who loves the good things energy brings to life, there must be a balance. We need full-time, or baseload, energy. But we also need to protect the environment. Carbon-free nuclear energy delivers on both fronts.

There is a growing movement to ensure our existing nuclear energy facilities across the country remain operating. Nuclear accounts for more than 60 percent of the clean energy produced in the U.S. We need all of that (and more) if we expect to meet future carbon reduction goals.

While on the subject, we encourage you to visit a new website called Nuclear Powers Illinois, from our friends at Exelon Generation. If you are not aware, Illinois is home to 11 nuclear reactors that are threatened by a market that doesn’t properly value the clean energy they produce.

They are working on developing a low-carbon portfolio standard as a solution.

Keeps the air clean.

Keeps the jobs (28,000) in Illinois.

A win-win.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Washington state: a pioneer for clean air

Washington state was serious about climate change before most people had heard of climate change. Well, actually, Washington state was serious about clean air. The state built most of its electric grid on hydro power, and then added nuclear energy.

grand coulee

Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.

As it happens, if you are a pioneer against air pollution, a clean air pioneer, you are also a pioneer against climate change. Because the greenhouse gases of climate change arise from combustion processes, the same source as most air pollution. Hurray for an electric grid based on hydro and nuclear!

More Pioneering Work Ahead

Especially in the clean air technology of nuclear energy, Washington state has been a pioneer. This leadership began with war work. The Hanford Generating Project was a dual-purpose reactor, producing plutonium for the Defense Department and clean nuclear energy for the Northwest. Next, the Fast Flux Test Facility, which housed a sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor. And, of course, Columbia Generating Station, the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear energy facility.

Former WA Gov. Chris Gregoire marks Columbia's license extension, allowing the plant to operate through 2043.

Former WA Gov. Chris Gregoire marks Columbia’s license extension, allowing the plant to operate through 2043.

As Gov. Jay Inslee moves forward with work on further reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state, the Washington legislature is considering several bills that could help that effort – and provide a boost to the state’s economy.

Nuclear as an Alternative Energy Source – Senate Bill 5091

The first bill, SB 5091, will help Washington state develop more nuclear clean air energy. This bill will recognize nuclear for what it truly is: a “qualified alternative energy resource.”

Right now, in order to promote clean energy, utilities in the state are required to purchase “alternative energy resources.” (This is under the state Energy Independence Act). Some of the resources that utilities purchase include wind turbines and solar panel output. Mostly wind. Both of these sources are low-carbon, but intermittent. They are available when the sun is shining or when the wind is blowing. When they are not available, in some instances, fossil-fired power plants (natural gas plants) must come on-line. (see graph below)

baltwg

The earlier theory was that the hydro plants of Washington state would be used to come on-line when the wind died down. In general, this is what happens in this area: hydro backs up wind. But as wind energy grows, more and more hydro has had to be set aside for this balancing function, as described in a Bonneville Power document from 2011. (See page three and four of this report.)

Recent research shows that even current wind turbines are increasingly being backed up by natural gas, not hydro power. A master’s thesis from 2011 from Duke University shows that hydro availability has decreased in the mid-Columbia area, and it is expected that gas turbine usage will increase in the future, including more usage of natural gas to balance new wind projects.

Instead of building more wind turbines, and almost certainly building more gas plants and pipelines to support them, this bill gives Washington state the opportunity to use clean air nuclear energy for part of its alternative energy goals. Nuclear energy does not require fossil fuel back-up, so it is a very effective way to help our state achieve our low-carbon energy goals.

Small Modular Reactors – Senate Bill 5089

This bill would also encourage nuclear clean air energy, but specifically energy from small modular reactors. Washington’s Energy Independence Act, mentioned above, also requires utilities to buy “renewable resources.” Once again, the point of the original legislation was to encourage clean energy development and included these eligible resources listed in the statute: wind, solar, geothermal energy, landfill and sewage gas, wave and tidal power and certain biodiesel fuels. But the result has been a whole lot of wind and not much else. It was the resource easiest to build and the Federal production tax credit almost guaranteed a return on investment. As it’s written, SB 5089 would allow the use of small modular reactors (less than 50 MW per reactor) to be counted toward renewable/clean resource goals for the state.

As with the encouragement of bigger reactors, clean air is better served by nuclear energy than by too much increase of wind turbines, considering the wind turbine’s requirements for fossil fuel back up. There are even more reasons to support modular reactors, though, from the economic point of view.

Energy Northwest is working with NuScale to be among the first operators of a new type of modular reactor. Washington state can possibly become a manufacturing center for such reactors: that is the hope, anyway. With small modular reactors, Washington state could have high-paying manufacturing and engineering jobs. And clean air.

This is a post in favor of nuclear power, and not about wind turbines per se. But it should be remembered that the major wind turbine makers (Vesta, Iberdola) are in Europe, and they aren’t going to move their manufacturing to this country. For the U.S., there are construction jobs at installation, but comparatively few jobs when the facilities are running. I visited a twelve-unit, 24 MW wind turbine facility in New Hampshire and it employed about five people. According to James Conca in Forbes, using U.S. Department of Energy data, per megawatt of installed capacity, nuclear provides five times as many jobs as wind.

In contrast, we can consider small modular reactors. Washington state in particular has a strong, proud background in nuclear energy innovation. We can build the reactors here, with manufacturing jobs. Then, it will take a fair number of high-paying jobs to run the SMRs. With small modular reactors, the state can have clean air and a growing economy. That’s a win-win, for sure.

What you can do

To encourage clean air without fossil fuel backup but with economic growth, read the bills (linked below). I believe very strongly that nuclear supporters must speak out about the virtues of nuclear energy. Opponents of nuclear energy will probably testify that wind/renewables is all we need. In fact they are planning to say this. Some anti- nuclear energy folks have published a “Hot List” for testimony about this bill: the list trots out the well-worn fallacies about nuclear energy and blindly disparages SMR technology. If only they were as enlightened as the conservationists who write: “Yet, given the urgency of the global environmental challenges we must deal with in the coming decades, closing off our option on nuclear energy may be dangerously shortsighted.” That view was supported by dozens of other conservation scientists in an open letter to environmentalists.

Nuclear supporters need to be vocal about the reality that nuclear power provides low carbon energy right now, and that wind energy is not infinitely expandable without backup power.

Despite the assertions in the Hot List, in the world as it actually exists, wind is an intermittent resource, and hydro power is not an infinite resource. If we expand only wind energy in order to meet our goals, in the Northwest that means more carbon, not less. In this world, there is no utility-scale way to store power, except pumped storage.

Meanwhile, in the world of reality, you can take action. Let your voice be heard in favor of meeting our clean energy goals.

Links to bills:

SB 5091

SB 5089

(See also SB 5114)

(Post by Meredith Angwin)

Cybersecurity at Columbia Generating Station

blackhat_xxlg

The movie Blackhat opens nationwide Jan. 16.

On January 16, a movie called Blackhat will open nationwide. The movie is an international cyber thriller where a plan to disrupt the global banking system can only be stopped by a team of uniquely qualified American and Chinese partners. The movie trailer includes scenes involving a nuclear power plant.

While movies can be very entertaining, it’s important to remember the types of protections in place at Columbia Generating Station and other U.S. commercial nuclear power plants. These include:

Isolation

Columbia’s critical digital infrastructure, in accordance with federal law, incorporates multiple defensive tiers that provide the greatest protection for digital equipment that can impact systems related to Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness. The implementation of the tiers are with an emphasis on network isolation and one way data transmission configurations that protect key equipment from manipulation by outside parties.

Portable Media

Even the best network security and isolation can be circumvented by individuals who use USB drives and laptops to connect to plant equipment. These devices have the ability to introduce malicious software and compromise plant systems directly as a part of routine maintenance and equipment operations. Columbia implemented a broad set of controls that include antivirus scanning, laptop hardening, usage restrictions and positive control for all of the authorized devices.

Device protections

A third layer of protection is the configuration of the devices themselves. Columbia is currently undergoing an extensive assessment of installed plant equipment to identity the current security baseline and developing actions to remedy any gaps identified. Implementing a secure configuration for each digital device provides defense-in-depth that can protect the digital device if malicious software was injected into the system.

Training

Network, laptop and device configurations are all dependent on one common interface – people. The success of all of these efforts relies on conscientious individuals understanding the importance of cyber security and their role in helping to implement and maintain secure plant systems. Columbia includes cyber security training through the initial and annual general employee training process so that all security badged individuals have a fundamental understanding of the overall requirements. Additionally, training was provided last summer to the Engineering department on the impacts to the design and oversight of digital equipment; and Maintenance is receiving portable media training in the biannual block training ahead of the refueling outage in May.

Policies

Tying all of these efforts together is a comprehensive set of policies and procedures that ensure the protections for digital equipment is incorporated in the full life-cycle of a digital component, including design, procurement, installation, maintenance and retirement.

This holistic approach to protecting digital devices provides a secure environment to safely operate digital equipment. But security ultimately rests in the hands of each individual following the procedures, internalizing the training and interacting with digital devices using safe behaviors. Together we can protect the future of Columbia and help our community understand the performance of Columbia is safe and reliable – even in a digital age.

(Posted by Dean Kovacs, Energy Northwest Information Services)

Columbia Generating Station sets third straight generation record

RICHLAND, Wash. – Columbia Generating Station produced more clean, nuclear energy for the Northwest power grid during 2014 than any other year in its 30-year history. Columbia sent nearly 9.5 million megawatt-hours of electricity to the grid, beating the previous generation record set in 2012 (9.3 million MWhrs). Columbia also set a generation record for a refueling outage year in 2013 (8.4 million MWhrs).

“We are doing what Energy Northwest does best: providing reliable, clean, cost-effective electricity to the region’s ratepayers,” said Mark Reddemann, Energy

Northwest CEO. “During 2014, Columbia operated at a 98.6 percent capacity factor. That number directly reflects our team’s commitment to excellence in performance.”

Columbia Generating Station set a generation record in 2014.

Columbia Generating Station set a generation record in 2014.

Columbia was online every single day in 2014 and broke its record for consecutive days online in November, beating the previous record of 505 days set in April 2011. As of today, Columbia has been online for 560 consecutive days. The current run began when the plant restarted following Columbia’s 2013 refueling and maintenance outage, which ended June 25, 2013. Columbia’s next refueling outage is scheduled to begin May 9.

In November, Columbia also marked five years without an unplanned shut-down.

“Our stakeholders expect us to be safe, reliable and predictable. We can’t achieve generation records such as these, safely, unless the entire team has that focus,” said Brad Sawatzke, Energy Northwest chief operating officer/chief nuclear officer.

Columbia Generating Station is the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear energy facility, generating 1,170 megawatts of electricity, which is sold at-cost to the Bonneville Power Administration. Ninety-two Northwest utilities receive a percentage of its output.

In December, Columbia marked 30 years of commercial operation. Regional power organizations – and Washington Governor Jay Inslee – have praised Columbia for its economic and environmental value.

Most recently, the Bonneville Power Administration credited Energy Northwest with helping to keep the fiscal year 2016-2017 power rate increase in the single digits.

According to Bonneville, opportunities and initiatives presented by Energy Northwest will save ratepayers approximately $125 million during the upcoming rate period.

Those opportunities afforded by Energy Northwest, and its industry and regional partners, were the repeal of the spent-fuel disposal fee that the Energy Department charged Columbia Generating Station, saving the region on average $7.4 million a year; refinancing of regional cooperation debt for 2014-17, saving about $29 million a year; and a decrease in Columbia’s operating costs, saving approximately $26 million a year.

“We are providing benefits to the region both from our generation of electricity and from working closely with our partners on increasing value through these strategic financial transactions. We are seeing successes on both sides,” said Brent Ridge, Energy Northwest vice president of Corporate Services and chief financial and risk officer.

The agency’s 2012 low-cost, below-market nuclear fuel purchase – enough fuel to last through 2028 – generated tens of millions of dollars in current rate case savings, and will save tens of millions more through 2028.

(Posted by John Dobken)

UPDATE: Alvarez Part II

If you read our Nov. 20 post “Why Do They Listen to Alvarez” (here) you know we had some disagreement with the report Robert Alvarez undertook regarding spent nuclear fuel management at Columbia Generating Station. One of the criticisms we voiced in the media was that Mr. Alvarez failed to contact us – ever – before publishing the report at the behest of the anti-nuclear energy group Physicians for Social Responsibility.

On Page 7 of the report, Alvarez writes:

FuelPool

The spent fuel pool at Columbia Generating Station.

“Because Energy Northwest currently has not revealed the burnup history and radiological contents of the spent fuel in the CGS pool, this report provides a range of estimated radioactivity based on generic calculations developed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission…” (Italics added).

The report was released Nov. 19.

After publicly stating we were never asked for this information, but would be happy to provide it, on Dec. 1, we received a public records request from Physicians for Social Responsibility asking for the very information Energy Northwest “has not revealed” about the burnup history of our spent fuel. It has since been provided to PSR and, presumably, Mr. Alvarez.

What it revealed was that Mr. Alvarez was off a bit in his guesstimating – by as much as nearly 100,000,000 curies regarding the radioactivity of Columbia’s spent fuel. (His guess was on the high side, as you might imagine).

As for his discussion of Columbia’s burnup rate of spent fuel assemblies:

Alvarez guess: 40,000 to 50,000 MWD/t

Columbia verified average: ~35,000 MWD/t

(From the NRC: “Burnup” is a way to measure the uranium burned in the reactor. It is expressed in gigawatt-days per metric ton of uranium (GWd/MTU). Burnup depends on how long the fuel is in the core and the power level it reaches. The burnup level affects the fuel’s temperature, radioactivity and physical makeup. See here for more on high burnup spent fuel from the NRC. High burnup spent fuel is defined as 45 GWd/MTU. Note: Alvarez uses megawatt days instead of gigawatt days, which gives a higher visual number.)

Alvarez puts himself forward as a “senior scholar.” Well.

(Posted by John Dobken)

Energy Northwest and Columbia Generating Station– Three Decades of Value

Dec. 13, 2014 marks 30 years of operation for the Northwest’s only nuclear power plant – Columbia Generating Station. In that time, this facility has proven its value to the region and its citizens in providing reliable, clean energy, as well as many other benefits such as good paying jobs – and what’s more, Columbia Generating Station is on track to continue to provide these benefits to more than 9 million people for another two decades.

Columbia Generating Station’s history began in the late 1960’s with predictions of increasing energy demand; ideas moved to action when a nuclear plant, originally called Hanford 2, was ordered in 1971. General Electric would provide a BWR-5 boiling water reactor, while Burns & Roe would design, and Bechtel Corporation would build, the nuclear plant. Ground was broken to build the plant August 14, 1972; the plant, delayed as were so many in those years by both inside and outside factors, and eventually renamed Columbia Generating Station, was given its NRC operating license in December 1983 and was declared to be in commercial operation one year later, on Dec. 13, 1984.

A concept drawing of Columbia Generating Station from 1976. (Courtesy: Will Davis)

A concept drawing of Columbia Generating Station from 1976. (Courtesy: Will Davis)

Nuclear Value

Nuclear power plants are large, complicated projects that cost large amounts of money and take a long time to build. The value of nuclear as a generating source, though, isn’t all told by these facts; for example, General Electric, the reactor vendor for Columbia, found in 1977 that, on average, all of the energy required to fabricate all of the parts of a nuclear plant, including the fuel, and all the energy required to build it is returned by the nuclear plant in an average of one year’s worth of operation. Considering the lifespan of Columbia will be 60 years (for now), the return on energy investment is enormous. At that same time, GE found that a contemporary nuclear plant paid for itself (capital cost) in terms of fuel cost savings compared to fossil fuel in just four years. Considering today that we face ever tightening EPA carbon regulations that will further drive up the total cost of using fossil fuels, and also considering the widespread gridlock of today’s crowded and undersized railroad infrastructure (that is required to ship all coal, and most oil used for power generation) the advantages of nuclear continue to climb.

And how much energy does Columbia Generating Station produce? Well, the output of the plant is 1,170 Megawatts – enough to power the city of Seattle, including not just residential but commercial and industrial loads. That might be hard to grasp, but it is easier to grasp that just one of the many thousands of small, cylindrical fuel pellets in the reactor at any one time (about the size of the end of your pinkie finger) is equivalent in energy to almost 1,800 pounds of coal, or almost 150 gallons of oil.

And the fuel cost itself is both low, and reliable. Because Energy Northwest makes long-term strategic deals for uranium to be made into fuel (and refuels every two years, replacing a portion of the fuel only) it has been predicted by the Energy Information Administration that the levelized cost of power from Columbia through 2043 will be lower, even at its highest cost, than the lowest cost of natural gas or wind – and will be significantly lower than any projected solar power.

Speaking of long term – Columbia Generating Station made news in November when it set a new plant record by generating power continuously for 506 days without interruption, at a capacity factor of almost 97%. (They’re still going).

This reliable, around the clock power – not hindered by weather or time of day – has real future benefits when compared with alternatives. For example, a 2012 study conducted by the Bonneville Power Administration found (among many things) that if Columbia Generating Station were to shut down, energy costs in the area would go up overall through 2043 by $2.5 billion; worse, if the new added costs/taxes on carbon are added in, the figure goes up to an increase of $5.4 billion. Put the other way, Columbia Generating Station is saving somewhere between two and five billion dollars over the next two decades compared with a fossil powered alternate scenario – and this is just money, not environmental impact. These findings were bolstered by a 2013 study by IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates showing Columbia as the best of all options available to ratepayers when compared with all alternatives.

A Good Neighbor

Columbia Generating Station provides other benefits to the Northwest beyond providing reliable, affordable electric power. Columbia employs hundreds of dedicated, highly educated employees who live right in the region and participate in the economy – it’s estimated that Energy Northwest generates about $440 million in economic activity right in the Mid-Columbia. We mentioned refueling every two years; when that happens, the on-site work force swells by over 1,200 as temporary workers (many from the area) are brought in to not only refuel the reactor but to perform other work that must be done only when the plant is shut down. Certainly, this is another significant boost to the local economy. In addition to direct employment, Energy Northwest pays a “privilege tax” for being able to generate power ($4.5 million per year) and itself directly spends over $10 million per year to local businesses for a variety of goods and services. Columbia Generating Station is an integral part of the community in more ways than one.

The Future

America now sees the future of energy as something more complicated than it was when Columbia Generating Station was conceived. Renewable sources like wind and solar, only a distant dream in the early 70’s, are now coming on line. What’s more, fossil-fired stations – especially those burning coal – are now going to face ever tighter EPA restriction and penalty as a result of the Clean Energy Rule. Even home and business energy meters stand to be changed from simple recording devices to interactive, connected parts of a system; yet, the outcome of any of these changes or policies remains generally uncertain. Standing in the gap of these developments is Columbia Generating Station, which has received NRC approval to operate through almost the end of the year 2043 after two and a half years’ worth of review and over $17 million dollars of expenditure to ensure safety and reliability over the extension period. All of the benefits to the community detailed above will continue, year after year; all of the reliable and steady-cost energy the station provides will also continue, every day for three more decades.

As Energy Northwest looks back on thirty years’ worth of operation of Columbia Generating Station, it’s important to realize the accomplishments of the past are poised to continue into the future, almost half-way through the present century. With the state of change in other generating sources including availability, price and transport, it’s reassuring to know that this good neighbor will be there, rain or shine, for decades to come.

Will Davis for Energy Northwest, Dec. 11, 2014