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Northwest's Only Nuclear Power Plant Goes Offline

Energy Northwest
File photo. The Columbia Generating Station nuclear power plant was forced to undergo a controlled shutdown on Sunday.

A failed energy substation caused the Northwest’s only nuclear power plant to have to power down Sunday. Bonneville Power Administration officials are still investigating why it went offline, but it might be related to very cold weather.

With nowhere for the energy to go, the Columbia Generating Station nuclear plant had to disconnect from the grid and start a controlled shutdown -- called a “scram.”

And a scram isn’t good. Each incident is recorded and studied by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Columbia’s last scram happened back in March, when there was a loss of a system for equipment cooling. The time before that was in November 2009.

Officials at the plant are reviewing what went wrong this time and will have a report before the plant can start up again. But flipping the switch on a nuclear power plant is complicated. Once plant operators have the all-clear, it will take more than 12 hours to restart.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.