Nuclear power plant near Richland unexpectedly shut down - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Nuclear power plant near Richland unexpectedly shut down

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RICHLAND, WA. -- Workers at the nuclear power plant outside Richland performed an emergency shut down Monday afternoon, when a cooling system stopped working properly. Officials are still investigating the cause but it's believed human error could have started the problem.

The nuclear power plant outside Richland remains offline Tuesday as crews investigate the circumstances surrounding a shut down Monday afternoon, also known as a scram. Officials say it wasn't a nuclear safety issue that caused the shut down, in fact they say they've had good performance here for years. 

On a normal day, you would see plumes of water vapor rising from these cooling towers, but not Tuesday. After a maintenance check  on a water valve Monday, workers at Energy Northwest noticed water pressure in a reactor closed cooling system had decreased flow and pressure, which caused workers to immediately shut the plant down, initiating what's known as a scram.

"The good news from this was the plant shut down as expected," Chief Nuclear Officer Brad Sawatske said. "The equipment operated as expected, and most importantly out operational team did their job as expected during the shut down."

The shut down comes after back to back months of record energy output at the plant that can power a city the size of Seattle. 

"We had good operating months in December and January," Sawatske said. "So we set a generation record in December only to set a new one in January."

The plant's Chief Nuclear Officer says each year, half of the country's 99 nuclear plants have scrams, but Energy Northwest hasn't had to perform one in while. 

"Overall, if you look back over the last several years," Sawatske said. "The plant's run very, very well. As a matter of fact, it's been six years since we've had to take a forced shutdown like the one we took yesterday."

The investigation into the circumstances surrounding the scram should be complete Tuesday, and human error is a possibility cause. 

"We're disappointed that we're here," Sawatske said. "The situation we went through is not uncommon to the industry at all and certainly we're going to take the lessons learned from that and incorporate those going forward. We're going to set a goal to go even longer than six years before the next one."

Officials expect to get the power plant back online by the end of the week. 

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RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) - A power company shut down a nuclear plant in south-central Washington state after operators received an indication that a system used to cool equipment wasn't working.
 
Energy Northwest spokesman John Dobken said early Tuesday that there was no release of radiation from Columbia Generating Station near Richland, and no danger to the public.
 
He tells The Associated Press that officials hope to restart the plant sometime this week.
 
The  plant was shut down Monday after operators were alerted to problems with the system that uses water to provide cooling to heat exchangers and pumps, including those that control the power level of the reactor.
 
Energy Northwest says it seems that a water system valve may not have been in the right position, but that an investigation is ongoing.
 
The last time the plant had an unplanned shutdown was in November 2009, when there was a hydraulic fluid leak.

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