RICHLAND - Energy Northwest is planning the longest refueling outage in the history of its nuclear power plant starting April 6.
That means temporary work for about 600 people living in the area and more than 1,000 workers who will be coming to the Tri-Cities for short-term jobs.
“April, May and June should be really busy around here,” said Kim Shugart, vice president of the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Center.
The outage workers don’t spend as much as leisure travelers, but the center estimates that they still will spend $8.5 million to $11 million here, including money on lodging, meals and gas.
Most workers who come from outside of the region are expected to stay in hotels or recreational vehicle parks. Energy Northwest estimated about a third of the workers will be from the Tri-Cities area.
Already, about 500 of the 1,800 workers required for the outage are at the plant.
For the past decade, Energy Northwest has shut down the Columbia Generating Station every other year to add fresh fuel, do maintenance and make improvements that are difficult or impossible when the plant is generating nuclear power.
Typically, the outages last 35 to 45 days. But this year, Energy Northwest is estimating that the plant will be down for about 80 days.
About a third of the plant’s 764 fuel assemblies will be replaced with new fuel, as is typical for the outages.
The additional time for this outage is needed primarily to replace the plant’s 25-year-old condenser, which turns steam generated by boiling water in the nuclear reactor back into water for re-use.
The condenser has become less reliable through the years. But by making the cycle more efficient, the 1,150-megawatt Columbia Generating Station is expected to gain 12 megawatts of electricity generation. Replacing the condenser is expected to cost $113 million, but the additional electricity produced is expected to pay for the new condenser over time.
A dozen condenser modules, each weighing 100,000 pounds, are ready to be installed at the plant after the old condenser is cut apart and slid outside onto a motorized vehicle designed to handle large heavy loads.
Replacing a condenser is not common in the nuclear industry, according to Energy Northwest.
The last replacement of a boiling water reactor condenser in the United States was in 1991 at the Peach Bottom plant in Pennsylvania.
In addition to the condenser replacement, extensive maintenance will be done during the outage.
“Maintenance ensures equipment reliability, improves efficiency and maintains our stringent safety margins,” said Mike Paoli, Energy Northwest spokesman.
Energy Northwest has prepared about 3,100 work orders to support 16,000 individual tasks during the outage, Paoli said.
The budget of $152 million for the outage includes $42 million of expenses in the current fiscal year for the condenser replacement and $11 million for valve work, $6 million for the main generator rotor replacement and $4 million for maintenance on a low-pressure turbine.
Among area contractors for the work are Lampson Crane, Mid-Columbia Engineering, Dana Engineering and Northwest Inspection.
Some of the work will be done by a highly skilled workforce that moves from outage to outage at the 104 U.S. nuclear plants, Paoli said. More will be done by organized labor crafts workers, including carpenters, iron workers, welders, pipefitters and electricians.
But Energy Northwest is continuing to hire for the outage. Unfilled positions include technical support specialists, a janitor, a tool crib attendant and a records management specialist.
Jobs are posted at www.energynorthwest.com/erecruit/emploutage.php.