One of Oregon's most recognizable and controversial landmarks will come down in a cloud of dust Sunday.
Portland General Electric plans to implode the massive cooling tower at its defunct Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in Rainier.
The 499-foot tower will be reduced to a 41,000-ton pile of rubble by about 2,000 pounds of explosives. It's Oregon's first and only nuclear power plant.
"The nuclear history in Oregon is a troubled one at best," said David Stewart-Smith, retired assistant director for the Oregon Department of Energy. "It started off as the new and exciting technology but didn't pan out very well."
The implosion is tentatively scheduled for 7 a.m. People wanting to catch a glimpse of the action can get the best view on television. Road, air and water space surrounding Trojan will be restricted (Details, Page 5A).
Trojan opened in 1976 and was beset by problems until it closed in 1993.
The plant was built near a geological fault in the Columbia River in the '70s. In 1989, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined PGE for debris in two sumps that could have prevented its emergency core-cooling system from working in a disaster.
The plant rarely ran at full capacity, often stopping operations when there was a major snowmelt because PGE could buy excess hydroelectric power from nearby Bonneville Dam cheaper than the power plant could make it. And the market for energy was changing, making Trojan's operation more labor intensive and expensive than other alternatives.
So after steam tubes cracked and leaked radioactive gas into the air, PGE and regulators decided it made more sense to close the plant than to continue operations. Built for $460 million in the 70s, Trojan was approved to be decommissioned at a $429 million total cost.
Full decomissioning will take several decades. Remaining buildings will be destroyed gradually through 2008. And federal regulators are trying to develop a national repository where the spent radioactive fuel rods can be kept permanently. The rods are now kept in concrete casks sitting above ground.
The tower implosion, however, has garnered most of the attention.
"It's going to be fun to have a picture of this," said Mark McDougal, an attorney and environmentalist involved in the long-running fight against Trojan.
Anti-Trojan activists were concerned about the health risks and radioactive waste from a nuclear power plant. Environmental activists brought several initiatives to voters and petitions to regulators to close down the plant. People protested Trojan on numerous occasions. Through legal and political wrangling, activists managed to block creation of at least one other nuclear power plant in Oregon.
For these activists, the implosion is a long-awaited cause for celebration. McDougal and others are having a party after the event, complete with cooling tower-shaped pinatas.
But in the economically struggling timber towns that surround Trojan, there are mixed feelings about it.
At nearby Goble Tavern, once a watering hole for Trojan employees, there will be a "Trojan Implosion" party with live music and fire dancers.
"It's kind of bittersweet," said Shayla Baslington, an area resident who will be at the Goble party. "You've wanted it gone for years, but now you are used to it as a landmark."
Some locals and former workers said the event may be a sad reminder of the plant's heyday. The power plant brought jobs and major tax revenue to Rainier and surrounding areas.
At its peak, Trojan had 1,200 employees in a city with roughly the same number of residents.
Its closure was devastating, said Gary Gettman, who was a supervisor of quality control inspections at Trojan and now pumps gas to make up for the retirement money he lost after the fall of Enron, which used to own PGE.
"It's still a topic of conversation - how good it used to be - good for us, good for the community," Gettman said.
Some people want the tower to stay as a reminder.
But Controlled Demolition Inc., the Maryland-based contractor, said it is better to bring the tower down now than wait until it becomes decrepit. Some of the company's work has been featured in movies and music videos, including the Orlando, Fla., city hall, which the company blew up in 1991 and which was shown as the credits rolled for "Lethal Weapon 3."
The Rainier tower is now an empty shell waiting to be destroyed. The machinery once inside is gone. Workers have drilled more than 3,000 holes in its exterior, where the explosives will be placed. The firm said it will take about 14 seconds to bring the tower down.
The casks where the fuel rods are stored will not be affected by the blast, according to Controlled Demolition.
Trojan's problems led many to believe it was the inspiration for the error-ridden nuclear plant in "The Simpsons," a creation of Portland-born Matt Groening. Groening's representative said it is not.