As the Columbia Generating Station Turns 35 Years Old, It's Time To Plan For Shutdown


Originally licensed to operate for 40 years by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1983, the Columbia Generating Station continues to generate spent nuclear fuel at Hanford on the banks of the Columbia River where the best modern day spawning waters for Chinook salmon flow. 35 years later, ratepayers are still paying for power generated by what Vandana Shiva calls a very unsafe way to boil water. Owned and operated by Energy Northwest and sold to consumer-owned utilities in Oregon and Washington, The Columbia Generating Station is the single most expensive generator in the Bonneville Power Administration's power portfolio (see above slide from Bonneville's 2018-2023 strategic plan).

“Considering the financial hurdles imminently facing the Bonneville Power Administration, it does not make sense to buy power from the Columbia Generating Station at $50 per megawatt-hour only to turn around and sell it at $20,” says energy economist Robert McCullough. “For the sake of ratepayers in the Northwest as well as Bonneville's own sustainability, it is time to start the process of replacing the Columbia Generating Station with cost-competitive renewable resources.”

Last week, McCullough released an update report that confirms initial cost projections that Northwest ratepayers could save between $261.2 million and $530.7 million over the span of 10 years by closing the Columbia Generating Station and replacing it with renewable energy. In light of the impending conclusion in 2023 of the original 40-year license to operate the Columbia Generating Station and the United States' lack of a viable permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste, Bonneville Power Administration should make plans for the closure and decommissioning of the Columbia Generating Station as soon as possible. Operating the plant into the 2040's, as Energy Northwest intends to do, would make Columbia 10 years older than any other operating nuclear power plant in the world.

“The Columbia Generating Station is financially and structurally unstable,” says Seattle toxicologist Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT, who serves on the Board of Directors of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. “As a single reactor it operates at deficits that will only get worse as the reactor ages and requires ongoing investment. It makes no sense to operate an unsafe and expensive nuclear reactor that generates toxic waste that has nowhere to go. We must shut the Columbia Generating Station down and replace it with sustainable, renewable electric power generation.”

“It hasn’t even been 6 months since Energy Northwest had its shipping rights suspended by the State of Washington for mislabeling radioactive waste at the Columbia Generating Station,” says Damon Motz-Storey, Clean Energy Organizer for Oregon & Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Pressure to cut costs at this Fukushima-style reactor leads to operational mistakes which is a huge risk to public health and safety. Planning to decommission the costly plant and replace it with renewable resources should be one of Bonneville’s top priorities as the plant is nearly 35 years old and was only designed to operate for 40 years.”

Click here to read the Bonneville Power Administration strategic plan.

Click here to read Robert McCullough's new update report on replacing the Columbia Generating Station with renewable energy.

Click here for more information on the Columbia Generating Station.