Friday, May 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Vestige of region's nuclear designs to be imploded Sunday morning

Seattle Times staff reporter

Trojan demolition

Weather permitting, the Trojan cooling tower will be imploded at 7 a.m. Sunday. Portland General Electric says the best place to watch the implosion is on TV. Northwest Cable News will carry it live.

Closures and restrictions

• A half-mile "exclusion" zone will be imposed. Rolling slowdowns will occur in both directions on Interstate 5 about 6:45 a.m. and traffic will be halted entirely during the detonation. No parking on I-5 shoulder will be allowed within six miles of the plant.

• A five-mile stretch of the Columbia River — miles 70 to 75 — will be closed from 6 to 8 a.m. One nautical mile of airspace above Trojan will also be closed from 6 to 8 a.m.

• The Port of Kalama will be temporarily closed to the public beginning Saturday.

Source: Portland General Electric

RAINIER, Ore. — The Trojan Nuclear Plant's cooling tower took a year to build and cost more than $10 million.

Its concrete and steel weigh as much as an aircraft carrier, and its crown of strobe lights, 499 feet up, has been a landmark for generations of drivers passing by on Interstate 5.

On Sunday morning, it will come down in about 10 seconds. The implosion is scheduled for 7 a.m.

A ton and a half of explosives have been plugged into 3,250 holes and connected by a lattice of yellow blasting cord, making the dirt-gray tower look as if it's covered by a tattered lace doily.

If all goes as planned, the tower will crumple like an aluminum can.

When the demolition contractor — the same firm that brought down the Kingdome — is done, the tower will be a 15-foot-high pile of rubble.

For friends and foes of Oregon's only nuclear-power plant, the rumble and dust on Sunday will symbolize the Northwest's failed nuclear experiment. Trojan was once billed as the model for 20 nuclear plants to be built in the Northwest.

Trojan went online in 1976 and in its heyday cranked out enough power to light Portland. It held sway over the region's imagination and is believed to be an inspiration for the Springfield plant in Portland native Matt Groening's TV series, "The Simpsons."

But Trojan was plagued by engineering, mechanical and political problems.

The cooling tower, a massive steam chimney, was never contaminated by radiation. The rest of the site was certified as safe and radiation-free last year. What's left of Trojan is being dismantled and cannibalized for its steel.

The only debate now is where to catch the spectacular demolition. Portland General Electric, Trojan's majority owner, hopes people watch it on TV. Interstate 5, the Columbia River and surrounding airspace will be closed Sunday morning.

Anti-nuclear activist Lloyd Marbet, who was arrested several times at the plant's gates, plans to defy PGE again and watch in person with other former protesters. "I thought leaving the tower up would be a good reminder to the kind of arrogance that a utility or business can get into with a technology that is not proven."

Protests and leaks

Perched on a rocky outcrop of the Columbia River, Trojan fed the Bonneville power grid for 3,300 days. Its training control room was used in scenes in the classic nuclear-disaster film "The China Syndrome."

The plant temporarily shut down in 1978 when PGE realized it had been built on an earthquake fault. It was shut down again when cracks in the steam tubes were detected just four years into the plant's life.

Radioactive compounds were later detected in the Columbia River and a pond on the site, although not at unsafe levels. Both are now popular fishing spots.

The environmental problems galvanized opposition, leading to three unsuccessful ballot initiatives in Oregon to force closure. Six days after winning the last election, in 1992, PGE shut down Trojan because of more radioactive leaks. The utility decided it would cost more to replace it than to shutter the plant for good.

Decommissioning has cost more than $400 million, nearly equal to the original construction bill. The plant's reactor core was gingerly barged upriver and buried at Hanford in 1999. Thirty-four spent nuclear fuel rods remain at Trojan in 17-foot-tall steel-lined casks. The rods will stay put until they can be moved to Nevada's Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste dump — when it opens.

David Lochbaum, of the nuclear-safety group Union of Concerned Scientists, said he fears the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has inadequate security to protect the spent fuel rods. But the casks themselves are safe, he said.

"I wouldn't have any qualms at all about visiting the site," he said of Trojan.

Living in the shadow

The small town of Rainier welcomed Trojan. Its elegant City Hall and Victorian homes, sprouting from hillsides sloping above the Columbia River, attest to past fortunes made from timber and fishing.

Trojan's cooling tower was incorporated into the city seal, and residents — an estimated one in three of whom worked at the plant — came to ignore the evacuation-warning sirens and Geiger counters mounted on poles around town.

"You wouldn't see people in Rainier protesting" at Trojan, said Jerry Cole, Rainier's mayor.

Trojan's 1,200 jobs swelled the tax base and helped fund local schools. When 1,000 more temporary workers arrived most years to switch fuel rods, local merchants called it "Christmas in the spring."

After Trojan closed, an electric power plant was built nearby and a dry-wall manufacturer moved in.

The Trojan site now has what locals affectionately call the "glow-in-the-dark park." It's the fishing hole where radioactivity was found back in the 1980s.

One day last week, Len Waggoner fished for rainbow trout at Trojan Park, an elegant ripple of grass and birch trees that is just outside the plant's gates, literally in the shadow of the tower.

Waggoner joked that the fish there were not "Blinkies" — the three-eyed fish caught by Bart Simpson at a cartoon pond that looks very similar to the Trojan pond. As for the cooling tower, "it's an icon, but the community will be glad to see it gone," he said. "This is not a memory of a great product."

Resident Tony Hyde is also glad to see it go. The Columbia County commissioner plans to get up at 3 a.m. Sunday to get a good seat to watch the implosion. He also hopes to see Trojan become a state park.

"It's the whole plowshares-from-gun-barrels philosophy," Hyde said. "Let's make the most out of this."

Cole has another idea. "Who knows, maybe we'll see another cooling tower there."

Nuclear-power return?

His idea is not as far-fetched as it may sound.

At least three energy firms have applications pending with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for plants on the East Coast and in the South, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. A co-founder of Greenpeace recently came out in favor of nuclear power. Congress included $600 million in nuclear-power-plant subsidies and loan-default guarantees in last year's energy bill.

Jack Riggs, a former energy official in the Clinton administration, said high fossil-fuel costs and concern about global warming are softening resistance. If Congress passes a "carbon cap" on energy emissions, nuclear power could return within 10 years, he said.

"I think there is still less than a 50-50 shot, but five to 10 years ago I would say none at all," said Riggs, an energy expert at the nonpartisan Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.

"The climate-change concern has changed that, and the high price of natural gas."

Energy Northwest, Washington Public Power Supply System's successor, is not opposed to nuclear power but is looking at other types of generation first, spokesman Brad Peck said.

"What may seem unacceptable today may seem very acceptable in the future, if your options change," he said. "I think attitudes toward nuclear power are changing."

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or

Information in this article, originally published May 19, 2006, was corrected on May 24, 2006. Portland General Electric is the majority owner of the Trojan Nuclear Plant. Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story said the plant was built by the Washington Public Power Supply System.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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