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Columbia Generating Station Formerly Nuclear Project No. 2 (WNP-2) and Nuclear Projects 3 and 5 (WNP-3/5)

Page last updated February 14, 2017

The Columbia Generating Station, formerly known as WNP-2, is an operating nuclear electric generating station located near Richland, Washington, in Benton County (location map), on land leased from the United States Department of Energy (DOE) on the Hanford Site. The approximate 1089 acre site (the main plant is located on 605 acres and the pipeline corridor is 484 acres) has been leased from DOE for a term of 50 years commencing January 1, 1972, with options to extend the lease for two consecutive ten-year periods.

The Supply System, now Energy Northwest, filed an application with the state in 1971 for the construction and operation of WNP-2. Hearings were held during that year and a Site Certification Agreement (SCA) was approved by the Governor on May 17, 1972. The Supply System also received construction (3/73) and operating (12/83) licenses from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the plant. The SCA covers the entire life of the project; while NRC's Operating License (OL) expires in 2023.

Certificate Holder: Energy Northwest
P.O. Box 968
Richland, WA 99352-0968
(509) 372-5000
Facility: Columbia Generating Station
Location: Hanford Nuclear Reservation
Benton County, Washington
Status: Operational at 1,150 megawatts

General Information:

Orders and Resolutions:

Project Description and History:

Following initial startup testing, NRC issued a full power OL in March 1984 and commercial operations commenced in December 1984. WNP-2 has a net design electrical rating of 1,190 megawatts and the entire output of the plant has been acquired by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) through a "Net Billing Agreement." Since beginning commercial operation, WNP-2 has operated at a cumulative capacity factor of 59.9% (as of August 1996) and has generated over 77 million megawatt-hours of electric power through January 1998.

The Columbia Generating Station consists of a General Electric designed boiling water reactor and nuclear steam supply system; a turbine-generator; and the necessary transformer switching and transmission facilities to deliver the plant's output to the Federal System at a transmission substation located near the plant. The project consists of the following structures: the reactor building, the radioactive waste building, the turbine-generator building, the diesel generator building, the service building, six mechanical-draft evaporative cooling towers, the circulating water pumphouse, and the river makeup water pumphouse. The station also includes the Plant Engineering Center located adjacent to the main plant, the Plant Support Facility located one mile southwest of the main plant, and various administrative buildings in Richland.


Energy Northwest's highest priority continues to be to operate the Columbia Generating Station safely, reliably, and economically. Strategic planning efforts have focused on achieving cost competitiveness in the regional energy market. As energy prices continue to drop, the most pressing challenge facing Energy Northwest is to lower the cost of power produced by the Columbia Generating Station. A key factor in providing cost-competitive power is continued improvement of the reliability of the electrical output of the plant.

Beginning in 1993, Energy Northwest has brought in senior managers from some of the top performing nuclear plants in the industry. This management team has brought increased focus on accountability, human performance, professionalism, and quality operation of the plant. The major concerns relating to plant reliability and efficiency were immediately and aggressively addressed. Significant expenditures were made for major maintenance activities and capital improvements. The performance enhancement initiatives have produced significant positive results in actual plant performance over the past four years.

In FY 1997, the Columbia Generating Station set a record with 270 days of continuous operation, the longest operating run in the plant's 12-year history. The availability factor that went along with that operating run was 83.7%, another Columbia Generating Station record. The availability factor measures what percent of the entire year the plant was either operating or available to operate. During the first half of FY 98, the plant has continued this operational trend by exceeding generation records in the winter months and is currently in its fourth longest consecutive run at over 220 days.

The installation of the new Adjustable Speed Drives and Digital Feedwater systems made the plant the first in the nation with this combination of computerized controls for adjusting plant power levels and feedwater flow into the reactor vessel. While there were problems with both systems, these systems allowed operators to change reactor power level on demand. This capability made it possible for the plant to operate in a "load cycling" mode where it was able to vary power levels on a daily and weekend basis in response to the power needs of BPA. BPA has publicly commended the plant for its enhanced reliability and integration with the hydro-based Federal System.

Operational and maintenance improvements have also resulted in the lowering of radiation exposure for Columbia Generating Station workers. Beginning a trend that began in 1995, the plant has gone from having one of the highest exposure rates in the industry to being in the lower one-third.

The success in achieving higher performance standards at the Columbia Generating Station has resulted in improved SALP ratings from the NRC. The Systematic Assessment of Licensee Performance (SALP) is an NRC inspection process that takes place over a 14-month time period that assesses the plant's performance in the areas of Maintenance, Operations, Engineering, and Plant Support. For the period September 3, 1995 through March 1, 1997, Columbia Generating Station received a score of 2 in each of the four areas indicating good performance in all areas ( the rating scale is 1 to 3; with 1 being the highest and 3 the lowest). The report noted that Columbia Generating Station had made significant improvements as a whole since the previous rating period, but cautioned that there were still areas and issues that needed close attention. The plant also received improved marks from a peer review conducted by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in late 1996.

Energy Northwest has also been successful in reducing the cost of Columbia Generating Station power during the past four years. The regional cost of the station has decreased from $251 million in FY1994 to $171.6 million in FY 1997. The current planning target is to have that cost down to $150 million in FY 2000 that would bring the cost to less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

General Plant/Emergency Preparedness Information:

The events of September 11, 2001, focused public attention on the issue of emergency planning for the nation's commercial nuclear power plants, such as the Columbia Generating Station. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency set specific criteria to be used by nuclear plant owners in the event of a radiological emergency. To meet these requirements, Energy Northwest developed the News Media Handbook to impart factual, accurate, and easy-to-understand information to the public in the event of a radiological emergency at Columbia Generating Station. The handbook also contains information on plant operations and systems.

For additional information regarding the Columbia Generation Facility please contact:

Jim LaSpina, EFSEC Siting Specialist
Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council
1300 S. Evergreen Park Dr
PO Box 43172
Olympia, WA 98504-3172
(360) 664-1362

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Nuclear Project Nos. 3 and 5 (WNP-3/5)
Projects 3 and 5 were partially completed nuclear projects located on the Satsop Site on approximately 1600 acres near Elma, Washington, in Grays Harbor County.

The Washington Public Power Supply System filed an application for the construction and operation of the twin 3 and 5 projects in December 1973. Hearings were held from August to November 1975 and an SCA was signed on October 27, 1976.

WNP-3: Construction began on WNP-3 in 1977. The project is jointly owned, 70% by the Supply System (BPA has acquired the Supply System's ownership share of Project 3 through a net billing agreement); and 30% by four investor-owned utilities (Pacific Power & Light, Portland General Electric, Puget Sound Power & light, and Washington Water Power).

As noted above, in 1980 the Supply System made major management changes and took initiatives to: bring in an experienced construction manager for all the projects (Bechtel); reduce unnecessary expenditures; secure changes in state contracting laws; stabilize labor agreements; and identify the true costs to complete the projects.

The results of these reforms were evident in all the projects, but were probably most obvious at WNP-3 which became known as the Supply System's showcase project before it was reluctantly placed in an extended construction delay in July 1983. The construction pace doubled from around 1% completion a month to an average of 2% per month in 1982. During that time about a quarter of the plant was completed, advancing it from 42.9% in 12/81 to 68.2% in December 1982. But despite the reforms and excellent construction progress, it was necessary for the either delay or terminate at four of its projects in 1982-83.

The Supply System's worsening financial condition in 1983 led to the reluctant decision in July 1983 to delay construction on WNP-3 for up to three years. That decision stemmed from the Supply System being prevented from raising the $961 million needed to complete WNP-3 from revenue sale bonds. At the time construction was halted, the project was about 76% complete and just about to make the transition from the primary construction phase to testing, startup, and operations.

Just as at WNP-1 at Hanford, WNP-3 then entered into a preservation program that was designed to preserve the equipment and construction licenses so that the plants could be restarted at some future date if the region decided they were needed. This program involved such steps as wrapping the electric switching gear in plastic, purging the steam generators with an inert gas, rotating turbine generator shafts every six months, and at Satsop, maintaining a vigorous humidity and moisture control regime to prevent corrosion on the many pieces of equipment both inside and outside the plant. The costs of the preservation program were paid by BPA as the 1 and 3 plants were identified as "options" or possible future resources if they were cost-effective and financing impediments could be lifted.

In April 1993, the Supply System Executive Board recommended termination studies for Projects 1 and 3. The realization that completion of the projects as commercial nuclear power plants was unlikely, prompted the board's action. Preservation activities would continue until the results of the Supply System/BPA study was completed.

On May 13, 1994, based on the recommendations of the study, the Supply System board adopted resolutions terminating Nuclear Projects 1 and 3. Preservation funding was to be continued through January 1995 while the Supply System evaluated alternative uses for and to facilitate the marketing of the projects. Since that date, the Supply System has been planning for the demolition of the projects and restoration of the sites Funding has continued for the administrative activities associated with termination and planning for restoration/demolition for both the 3 and 1 projects.

In March 1995, the Supply System submitted a Site Restoration Plan to EFSEC pursuant to the Council's site restoration regulations for terminated projects. On June 12, 1995, the Council approved the Supply System's Plan for restoration of the 1, 3, 4, and 5 project sites. The plan focused on the Satsop Site and plans to remove the assets, and restore the site by demolition, burial, entombment, or other techniques that would minimize damage to the environment and hazard to the public. The Supply System proposed to use the Satsop restoration experience as a model for future restoration at the 1and 4 sites. In conditionally approving the Supply System's plan, the Council recognized that there was uncertainty in how the plan would be implemented, and therefore reserved the opportunity to conduct additional reviews once the details of the plan(s) were finalized.(Under the termination agreements, BPA would continue to pay for the administrative expenses of maintaining the plan and restoration activities at the net-billed 3 and 1 projects; however, those projects would have no legal obligation to pay for 4 and 5.)

Also affecting the future of the Satsop Site, is a plan developed by Grays Harbor County interests to use the site for economic development purposes. During 1995, a group of county agencies formed the Satsop Redevelopment Project to examine the potential for economic and industrial business opportunities at the site. The group was instrumental in getting legislation passed in 1996 that would enable local governments and the Supply System to negotiate an arrangement allowing the locals to assume an interest in the site for economic development by transferring ownership of all or a portion of the site to local government entities. The legislation also provides for local government to assume regulatory responsibilities for site restoration requirements and control of water rights.

Since the adoption of the legislation, the county has completed studies on possible reuse or development of the site and entered into discussions with the Supply System (and BPA) about possible alternative uses for the site. The Supply System has advised the Council that they have reached an agreement in principle to transfer the site to Grays Harbor County.

During this time the Supply System also applied for, and was issued a Site Certification Agreement, to construct and operate a two-unit combustion turbine project at the Satsop Site. The project (one-unit) was selected as one of three combustion turbine power plants to be developed (designed and permitted) and held as an "option" under BPA's Resource Contingency Program. While there are no assurances that either unit will be needed, the SCA and associated permits are good for a ten-year period.

WNP-5: Construction began in 1977. As noted above in the discussion of WNP-4, based on the Supply System's review of costs required to complete the five projects under construction, and problems faced by the Supply System and participants in finding financing to continue work on 4 and 5, on May 29, 1981, the Supply System board accepted a recommendation by Managing Director Bob Ferguson to begin a six-month construction slowdown at the two projects. When efforts to come up with a funding plan for a two-year "mothball" period failed, on January 22, 1982 the Supply System board terminated Project 5 (and 4) when it was 16% complete.

In 1996, the state legislature approved the transfer of the Satsop Site to the Grays Harbor Public Development Authority. Recently the Satsop Site has under gone industrial development, however the unfinished nuclear power plant structures have not been removed.

WNP-3/5 SCA Amendment

On June 25, 1998, Energy Northwest filed a request with the Council to amend its SCA for the Satsop Power Plant site. The existing SCA authorizes construction and operation of two nuclear power plants (WNP-3 and WNP-5) and a combustion turbine (Satsop Combustion Turbine Project). The purpose of the requested amendment is to remove the authorization for the two nuclear power plants from the agreement. The remaining agreement would continue to authorize the operation and construction of the combustion turbine project with an associated natural gas pipeline. The Council held a public hearing and received comments on the proposed amendment. After review of the request, and of ensuing comments, Council submitted a recommendation to the Governor in Order 731.

Council Order No. 731: Order Recommending Governor's Approval of Amendment of Site Certification Agreement for Satsop Power Plant Site. April 20, 1999.

On April 30, 1999, Wildlife Forever of Grays Harbor requested reconsideration of the Council's Order No. 731 and a stay of the order until its lawsuit, Wildlife Forever v. Washington Public Power Supply System (Thurston County Superior Court No. 99-2-00620-5), is decided. Council sent notice to interested persons and provided an opportunity to comment on Wildlife Forever's motions. After review of the comments received the Council reaffirmed its earlier order and denied the requested stay in Order 735.

Council Order No. 735: Order on Reconsideration Reaffirming Order 731 and Denying Stay (doc) (pdf) - June 11, 1999

The Satsop SCA Amendment No. 3 removing the nuclear power plants from the agreement was approved and signed by Governor Locke on August 12, 1999. The Satsop SCA now only refers to the natural gas-fired Satsop Combustion Turbine Project. The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council no longer has any regulatory authority over the WNP-3/5 infrastructure at the Satsop Site.

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