Monday, May 22, 2006
A piece of nuclear history crumbles in 10 seconds
By Emily Heffter
Seattle Times staff reporter
KALAMA, Cowlitz County — After the explosions whipped around the outside of the Trojan Nuclear Plant cooling tower at 7 a.m. sharp, the top leaned, then slipped into the base. In about ten seconds, the 500-foot tower was reduced to a 15-foot pile of rubble. Brown smoke billowed south, settling over the Columbia River like fog.
Ian Fulton, 14, turned to his friends. "Dude, that sucker just went off!" He did his impression of the explosion.
"That was awesome!" he said. "That was insane!"
Whoops rang out at the Kalama Sportsman's Club, across the river from the plant in Rainier, Ore. The club, a group of private cabins in the shadow of the gigantic concrete tower, is usually a quiet oasis on a Sunday morning, as fishermen drop their lines in the early-morning water.
But this Sunday morning, biscuits and gravy were cooking at The Slab, the tiny community restaurant. Couples carried lawn chairs to the beach. Parents towed tired-looking kids wrapped in blankets.
"It's the big thing for the weekend," said Ron Perron, of Vancouver, Wash. He had a clear view from the balcony of his father-in-law's cabin, where he sat eating a banana and waiting for the tower to crumble.
The $10 million cooling tower, which was part of Oregon's only nuclear-power plant, started producing power amid controversy in 1976 and at one point could have powered all of Portland on its own.
But the power plant worked for only 3,300 days. It was shut down temporarily twice in 1978 when majority owner Portland General Electric (PGE) discovered it was atop an earthquake fault and again in 1980 when cracks in the steam tubes were discovered. It closed permanently in 1992 because of radioactive leaks. Radioactive substances were even detected in the waters where the sportsman's club members fish.
Many who watched from the private club beach had worked at the plant or even helped build it. Walt Jaspers toured the plant when it was new.
"I can remember the guys at Bonneville Power saying, 'Hey, there's no end to the need for power,' " he said.
GE hoped people would watch the implosion on television. Fish & Wildlife officers hoped viewers would at least stay off public land. But no one could keep people from watching nearly 2,800 pounds of dynamite obliterate the massive tower. It was too good a show.
Lonnie Johnston rode his bicycle about 12 miles to Kalama on the freeway, a tripod sticking out of his backpack. He hoped to videotape the implosion but found he couldn't get close enough to the site.
"I just wanted to see it for real," he said. "I don't regret coming down here."
There was no public viewing area. The Washington and Oregon state patrols stopped traffic on Interstate 5 just before the implosion. The Port of Kalama was closed to the public for the weekend, along with part of the Columbia River and some airspace.
Some of the locals were sad to see the eerie, windowless Trojan tower come down.
"It's too bad they couldn't utilize it, you know," Eunice Harris said. "I didn't think they'd ever tear it down."
It was cheaper to tear it down than to fix it, said PGE spokesman Scott Simms. The company doesn't know what it will do with the land once it clears out the 41,000 tons of concrete and steel. The implosion, which was managed by the same company that took down the Kingdome in Seattle on March 26, 2000, went perfectly, he said.
At one point, the plant represented jobs and progress to the small towns nearby. Then it settled into the landscape.
"It's a landmark," said Ed Noakes of Longview. "You know, you drive down I-5 and you look for it."
Families posed in front of it for pictures in the moments before the implosion. Then they stood, hands poised on their cameras, to watch it disappear.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com