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The rise and fall of Oregon’s only nuclear power plant

The Trojan Nuclear Power Plant reactor was the largest such device to be decommissioned at the time.

A large, cylindrical nuclear cooling tower rises over evergreen trees and waterways.

Trojan’s reactor (the dome on the left) was the first of its kind to be moved and buried in one piece.

On May 21, 18 years ago, the 500-ft-tall cooling tower at Oregon’s only commercial nuclear power plant imploded into a cloud of dust.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The tale of the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant stretches back to the late 1950s when a cohort of US utility companies — including Portland General Electric — operated an experimental plant in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t long before PGE started drafting plans to build and run its own reactor (with 13 other utility stakeholders) to meet the anticipated energy needs of a growing population, particularly in the Portland area.

A black and white image showing a large, curved wall of control boards and panels with air ducts and vents above.

A view of construction activities in the Trojan control room, circa 1974.

Doomed from the beginning

Construction began in July of 1968 on land owned by the Trojan Powder Company along the bank of the Columbia River about 40 miles north of Portland. PGE was confident in the rise of nuclear power — but the $450 million construction cost didn’t sit well with customers who were accustomed to cheap hydropower rates.

Trojan came online at the end of 1975 and began generating commercial power on May 20 of the following year with a 1,130-megawatt capacity — the largest pressurized water reactor in the world at the time.

A gif file showing a cylindrical nuclear cooling tower imploding into a ball of dust and falling to the ground surrounded by water and trees.

Trojan’s cooling tower was visible from Interstate 5 in Washington and U.S. Route 30 in Oregon.

Video by KGW

Trojan’s fall

Opposition plagued the plant from the start. Facing anti-nuclear public sentiment and cracks developing in the steam generator tubes, PGE started decommissioning Trojan in 1993, two decades short of its estimated lifespan.

Here’s a timeline of its dismantling:

  • 2001: Trojan’s reactor is encased in concrete foam and shrink-wrapped plastic, ferried upriver, and buried 45 ft deep at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
  • 2003: PGE transfers nearly 800 spent nuclear fuel assemblies to dry casks. They remain at the Trojan site today.
  • May 21, 2006: Dynamite implodes the massive cooling tower.

Some of the civil defense sirens set up within a 10-mile radius of the plant to warn the public of a potential disaster still stand in the area; others were moved to the Oregon Coast to serve in the event of a tsunami.

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