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At long last for Energy Northwest it’s a big thumbs up to power up its nuclear plant near Richland, WA, at the end of its longest outage.

The reactor went critical Monday and could be supplying power to the grid Saturday.

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A few days after that, the plant could be operating at full power, said Brad Sawatzke, the plant’s chief nuclear officer.

The Columbia Generating Station shut down April 6 for a refueling outage scheduled every two years. In addition to the outage, they also planned a major project to replace the plant’s 25-year-old condenser.

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However, management did not anticipate the delays and work stoppages that plagued the condenser replacement by contractor Babcock and Wilcox Co. The condenser turns steam generated by boiling water in the reactor back into water for reuse in the plant. When the outage began, estimates had the plant operating again around June 23.

The Bonneville Power Administration earlier estimated if power production did not resume by the end of September, the net cost would be more than $60 million.

Officials planned the outage for spring to take advantage of high water flows through the federal hydroelectric dam system, and runoff this spring was the highest since 1997. But the runoff began to taper off by early July.

The Columbia Generating Station’s power, sold to BPA and then to retail customers across the Northwest, is valued at more than $1 million a day.

The new condenser, plus additional improvements to turbines and valves made during the outage, should hike the plant’s efficiency. As the restart lingered, Energy Northwest used the time to do additional maintenance work.

The 1,150 megawatt plant should now gain up to 12 megawatts of electricity generation as a result.

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