A nuclear reactor in Washington state came back online over the weekend after an equipment malfunction caused an emergency shutdown.
Washington state’s power company, Energy Northwest, said that the Columbia Generating Station began restarting Saturday and expects to reach 100 percent capacity within 72 hours.
The nuclear plant shut down Dec. 18 after a malfunction at a substation which stopped electricity from flowing out of the plant. Without the substation, the nuclear plant had nowhere for the energy to go, so the reactor had to disconnect from the grid and start a controlled emergency shutdown called a “scram.” A secondary safety system was able to activate in time and caused the plant to separate itself from the grid and shut down. The substation went offline for reasons that may be related to extremely cold weather, but investigators still haven’t reached a conclusion.
The Columbia Generating Station nuclear facility generates 1,190 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the city of Seattle by itself. The facility provides about 10 percent of the electricity generated in Washington state and 4 percent of all electricity used in the Pacific Northwest.
There are 61 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in the U.S. Combined, these reactors generate about 20 percent of all electricity used last year, according to the government Energy Information Administration.
Nuclear power, even accounting for high-profile nuclear accidents, is statistically the safest way of generating electricity. Coal power kills 280,000 people for every trillion kilowatt hours it produces. Rooftop solar kills 440 for the same amount of electricity. Nuclear energy only kills 90, by this measure, including deaths from disasters.
Deaths from nuclear power are very rare relative to deaths from industrial accidents, mining accidents or pollution.
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