August 7, 2009 in Business, Region

Crews working weekend to restart WA nuke plant

Shannon Dininny Associated Press
 

YAKIMA — Crews were set to work through the weekend to clean up and repair damage caused by a fire at the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power plant, which is losing power sales estimated at $800,000 a day, officials said.

The shutdown after Wednesday’s fire at the Columbia Generating Station in Richland hasn’t resulted in an electricity shortage in the region, thanks to recent cool weather following a week of record high temperatures.

“We need to make sure it’s safe for people to work in there.” Energy Northwest spokesman Gary Miller said Thursday night.

Energy Northwest, a public power consortium, was formed as a Joint Operating Agency in 1957 to provide low-cost power for its publicly owned utility members.

The consortium, which now has 27 members, generates nearly 1,300 megawatts of power through its nuclear, hydro, wind and solar projects.

The vast majority of that power comes from the nuclear plant, which produces enough electricity for a million homes. The electricity is distributed through the Bonneville Power Administration.

BPA estimates the value of the lost power that could be generated at $800,000 a day at current power prices, spokesman Michael Milstein said.

In the short term, BPA has less surplus power to sell on the open market, which helps to keep rates low for consumers. In the long term, if the plant stays down, BPA could be forced to buy additional power to meet demand, particularly if another heat wave sweeps through the region and demand spikes, Milstein said.

“For now, there’s plenty of power to go around in the Northwest,” he said.

The fire at the facility 150 miles southeast of Seattle is believed to have started in an overhead tray that holds electrical cables. It occurred in a separate building from the reactor.

Plant fire crews extinguished the blaze within 20 minutes, but the plant automatically shut down. It will remain offline until an investigation and all repairs have been completed.

Miller declined to speculate how long that might take.

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