Originally created 08/17/99

Oregon utility pitches plan to turn closed nuclear plant into state park



RAINIER, Ore. -- The ill-fated nuclear reactor that many locals believe inspired the oozing, green-glowing plant on "The Simpsons" is now inspiration for an offbeat plan: turning the reactor grounds into Oregon's newest state park.

Six years after it closed down, owners of the Trojan nuclear plant want families to roll their RVs onto the property and camp out in the shadow of a 500-foot cooling tower and a fortified tank of spent radioactive fuel.

Some state officials reacted with Homer Simpson-like laughter.

"We'd never need electricity at night," joked state parks department spokesman Jim Lockwood, "because the place glows."

But Portland General Electric, which is offering the land for free, sees the proposal as a way to emphasize "responsible environmental stewardship" and show that a decommissioned nuclear plant can be safe. Utility executive Fred Miller called the site "unthreatening."

As far as parks go, it would indeed have a little bit of everything: nearly 500 acres of woods and wetlands, crystal-clear creeks and lakes, access to the Columbia River and 200 species of wildlife.

Still, skeptics wonder how eager campers would be to visit.

"I don't think I'd want to be camping in the park," said longtime reactor opponent Lloyd Marbet, of the group Don't Waste Oregon. "I wonder how many people would like to camp next to a repository for spent fuel with no place to go."

In defense of its safety claims, the utility has taken steps to protect the proposed park area from the vestiges of the largest commercial reactor ever taken off line in United States. Earlier this month, tugboats hauled the 1,000-ton nuclear reactor up the Columbia River to a burial site in the eastern Washington desert.

The 800 spent uranium fuel rod assemblies that have been removed from the reactor over the years are kept on a 134-acre site that PGE would retain. They are submerged in 40-foot deep, concrete-and-steel pools until they can be readied for transport to a yet-to-be-built federal dump site.

Visitors to the area acknowledge feeling a bit leery about coming so close to a nuclear facility, closed or not.

"It's kind of an eerie feeling here," Julie Etringer said, glancing up at the tower as she watched her husband and two children fish at a lake on the Trojan grounds already accessible to the public for day use.

David Vosper, a 9-year old who often fishes for rainbow trout in Trojan's lake, said he's heard whisperings about eight-legged frogs and three-armed turtles in the marshland.

Those are the kind of images fostered on animated series "The Simpsons," which depicts the nuclear plant where Homer works as an accident-prone place of leaking toxins, glowing goo and green steam.

Although "Simpsons" makers deny any connection to Trojan, people here have long believed the plant was the inspiration for the show because its creator, Matt Groening, grew up 40 miles to the south in Portland and has peppered his scripts with other local references.