Columbia River nuclear plant poses dire threat
By Susan Cundiff
November 20, 2013
Published in the Eugene Register Guard
earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, the world watched
in horror as scenes of devastation unfolded in Fukushima.
Then we learned about the additional catastrophic events at
the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, and the horror
Trojan nuclear power plant near Rainier, Oregon shut down in
1993, people in the Northwest may think we’re free from the
threat of a similar nuclear disaster. Few realize, however,
that there is a Fukushima-style nuclear power plant
operating on the banks of the Columbia River — the Columbia
of CGS? Not surprising. It was originally known as
Washington Public Power Supply System Nuclear Plant No. 2.
You may remember WPPSS by its less flattering name: Whoops.
Notorious for causing the largest bond default in the
history of municipal finance, WPPSS became synonymous with
reckless management. Consequently, WPPSS changed its name to
Energy Northwest and renamed the power plant, omitting the
located on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland,
Wash., 220 miles upstream from Portland. The plant generates
only about 4 percent of the Northwest’s electric power, but
poses considerable risk to residents of Washington and
Oregon who share the Columbia River.
General Electric, the Mark II reactor is a version of the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Although GE engineers and
top management knew that its reactor design was flawed as
early as 1972, the company continued selling reactors to
WPPSS and several other utilities throughout the United
GE in 1985 for breach of contract, but the plant, with its
known design flaws — a containment vessel that is too small,
a waste storage pool built five stories above ground, and a
faulty design that allows a build-up of hydrogen that
creates a risk of explosion — continues to operate today.
Documents in that case showed that GE planned to do complete
testing of the hardware only after operations began. U.S.
District Court Judge Alan A. McDonald wrote in his decision,
“The court can only view that as a fairly sophisticated form
of Russian roulette.”
reactor’s design is not the only problem. The plant is
situated in an area that is vulnerable to seismic activity,
wildfires and floods.
handle a magnitude 6.9 earthquake, scientists now confirm
that a 7.5 magnitude quake near CGS is possible. Indeed, the
area experienced a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in 1872. The
epicenter was 50 miles from Hanford, and 20 miles from where
the Grand Coulee Dam has since been built. Seven dams are
located above Hanford; several are earthen.
Are we in
danger of a Fukushima disaster in our own backyard? Yes!
Earthquake and flooding were the two precipitating factors
in the Fukushima catastrophe. Proximity to Hanford creates a
double threat. The plant sits just 16 miles from the most
contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere — the Hanford
Nuclear Reservation. Of the 177 underground tanks on the
reservation, 67 have leaked 1 million gallons of radioactive
waste into the ground.
are frequent in the region. As recently as 2012, fire burned
3,000 acres on the Hanford Reservation, closing two major
highways that provide access to the site. Both Hanford and
CGS have serious issues with hydrogen build-up, problems
that require regular maintenance and ventilation to prevent
explosions. If a catastrophe were to occur at either
facility, the other plant would be within the hot zone and
too lethal to allow workers to prevent a second catastrophe.
Ron Wyden was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives,
he referred to nuclear weapons production as “the largest,
most ultra-hazardous industry of its kind in the world.” As
chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee, he expressed concern over the lack of progress on
clean-up efforts when he toured the Hanford plant earlier
this year. He has also traveled to Fukushima to assess the
danger to the West Coast posed by that disaster.
It is time
to shut down CGS. The risks far outweigh the energy it
produces. According to the Washington Nuclear Museum and
Educational Center, a project of Washington Physicians for
Social Responsibility, “As of April 2011, the Columbia
Generating Station’s spent reactor pool had 558 metric tons
of spent reactor fuel assemblies in it. This is 66 percent
of what it is licensed to hold. The amount is twice what the
Fukushima Unit 4 pool held when it caught fire. It is five
times the amount in the Fukushima-Daiichi Unit 3 reactor.”
already lost its game of roulette. Do we want to be next?
Cundiff of Eugene, Oregon serves on the national board of
Action for New Directions.
Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon) is no longer chairman of the
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.