For 31 years, a symbol of our once-unswerving faith in the efficiency and safety of nuclear power has raised its ugly, 499 foot-tall frame upon the otherwise idyllic Pacific Northwest landscape.
I am referring to the now-defunct Trojan Nuclear Power Plant, near the Columbia River some 40 miles northwest of Portland.
Tomorrow at 7 a.m., we here in the Northwest will have our own "swords to plowshares" moment as this hollow $460 million monstrosity caves in on itself in a 41,000-ton pile of rubble. What is being deemed the "Trojan Implosion" will be watched, and welcomed, by millions.
The tower was cursed since its opening. For reasons I never got, Trojan was constructed near a geological fault in the Columbia River. If a major earthquake hit that fault, well, we could have had another Chernobyl.
In the mid-1980s, some very vocal and impassioned citizens started raising some loud voices arguing for the tower's decommissioning.
In 1989, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission even got on the facility's case, fining owner Portland General Electric for debris that might have prevented the cooling system from working in a disaster.
The plant was never a money-maker, either. About 75 miles downriver, Bonneville Dam proved a more efficient source of electricity than Trojan, causing doubts in PGE's corporate mind about Trojan-power. Then there were some cracked steam tubes and limited but scary-sounding emissions of radioactive gas into the air.
I had already seen the tower and the damage done. In 1992, I found myself in Middletown, Pa., touring the Three Mile Island facility with a television crew I was writing about for a broadcasting industry trade magazine. I remember being driven around town, and being shown more than a dozen empty houses where the owners had died of cancer most likely triggered by the famous mishap of 1979.
It was after my 1992 tour of the ghost houses of Middletown, Pa. that I became part of the constituency to stop nuclear power use. I had enough.
In 1993, PGE also had enough, and decided to decommission the thing. That was accomplished, but the tower-actually an empty hunk- stood for 13 years as a monument to a foolhardy era.
So in an 1-second span of time at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning, the tower will be no more. Tonight, there are parties galore- one at the nearby Goble Tavern, where many Trojan workers once repaired for a beer or three after their shift- some others in Portland, where loud rock music and fire-dancers will pulse and prance through the night in almost a "Burning Man"-type ritual.
Well, better this type of fire than another type of fire-the ones that can cause meltdowns. Remember "The China Syndrome?" Remember Chernobyl?
A night that will give way to a new morning. A morning with no more nuke tower.
The battle will scarcely be over, though. There's talk of newer, "safer" nuke towers. I have yet to be convinced. Of more immediate concern, there are concrete casks full of poisonous fuel rods being kept on the Trojan property. These must be disposed. The plan is to send them to Yucca Mountain in Nevada- a state where almost the entire spectrum of political opinion is opposed to the concept.
And the battle rages on..