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1975: Trojan: PGE's Nuclear Gamble | Deep Throat in Jeopardy


Space hippies Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles, who met while he was a psychiatric patient and she a nurse, hold a conference on UFOs and human evolution in Waldport--thus starting a movement that will end 22 years later when 39 Heaven's Gate devotees, clad in black Nikes and purple shrouds, commit mass suicide.

AM Northwest kicks off with host Jim Bosley. The new show pits the zany and popular weatherman against KGW-TV's venerable Telescope show, hosted by longtime media favorite Dick Klinger.

Unemployment in the Portland area hits 39,600, or 7.8 percent; the U.S. Labor Department puts the city on a national "critical list," along with New Haven, Conn., Youngstown, Ohio, and Wheeling, W.Va. Overall, Oregon has higher unemployment than at any time since the Great Depression.

A Hollywood film crew visits the Oregon State Mental Hospital to shoot One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, based on the novel by Ken Kesey. Asked whether he thinks the movie is an attack on mental institutions, hospital supervisor Dean Brooks, who authorized the visit, says: "It's an attack on all institutions."

Portland sci-fi writer Ursula K. Le Guin demonstrates her popularity among both readers and writers: Her novel The Dispossessed wins a Hugo (awarded by fans) and a Nebula (awarded by scribblers).

Former Mayor Terry Schrunk, whose reign stretched for 16 long years until 1972, dies of a heart attack at age 61. A World War II Navy veteran, Schrunk entered politics from the Fire Bureau. Years later, his son Michael would become Multnomah County district attorney.

Tri-Met creates Fareless Square and abolishes its differential fare system in favor of a single, citywide ticket--price: 35 cents. A few months later, the agency hikes fares by a nickel.

Saturday Market debuts beneath the Burnside Bridge; vendors and craftspeople stand cheek by jowl, hawking everything from macramé wall hangings to glazed jars, while shoppers enjoy calypso, shish kebab and chapatis.

Under pressure from local African-American leaders, U.S. Attorney General Sidney Lezak launches a federal inquiry into the shooting death of 17-year-old Rickie Charles Johnson by Portland Police Officer Kenneth Sanford and the fatal shootings of three other young black men by the city's police.

PSU president Joseph C. Blumel overrides a faculty committee and fires foreign-language professor Frank S. Geise, who was convicted of conspiracy in connection with the bombing of two military recruiting stations. Two weeks later, the Vietnam War ends with the fall of Saigon.

Watergate shenanigans hit home when former Oregon congressman Wendell Wyatt pleads guilty to making illegal contributions of $1,500 to $2,000 to President Nixon's 1972 campaign. Wyatt, state chairman for Nixon's infamous CREEP, or Committee to Re-Elect the President, is fined $750.

About a thousand Portlanders line up for gamma-globulin shots after an outbreak of hepatitis that originated in two Portland restaurants.

Washington Park becomes a literary mecca when Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks opens the Portland Poetry Festival: eight days of readings, exhibits, a play and a symposium.

Trucks remove 400 tons of junk every weekend from 90,000 Portland homes under Operation Cleansweep. Coordinator Patti Jacobsen observes: "If you can imagine what it looks like to see 14 yellow trucks with silver wheels and one 40-foot semi rolling in and burly truck drivers getting out and staring at longhairs, you've got the scene."


Police officers raid the Aladdin Theater and seize reels of Deep Throat on the grounds that the X-rated film violates Measure 13, an anti-obscenity initiative passed the year before. During the trial, Oregonian movie critic Ted Mahar testifies in defense of the film, even though he is not allowed to review it in the Big O. "Deep Throat is a film with modest goals, but it does reach them," he tells the jury. "It is unique in being the first adult film to have original music written for it." The jury-- which is treated to a private screening--eventually decides that the film is not obscene, and Deep Throat continues to play at the Aladdin for years to come.


  Of all the looming environmental disasters that have confronted this region in the past 25 years--the felling of the old-growth forest, the extinction of salmon, the rape of the Willamette River--none can match the sheer potential for catastrophe of the Trojan Nuclear Facility, whose atomic heart began to glow in 1975.

We never knew how lucky we were. For 16 years, a vital backup safety system at the plant 40 miles north of the city was not in working order. In the event of overheating within the reactor core, the Emergency Core Cooling System could not reliably have been called upon to prevent meltdown.

The problem was not discovered until 1991, when the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined Trojan operator Portland General Electric $280,000 for the breach.

"We were one broken pipe away from Chernobyl," says Greg Kafoury, an anti-Trojan activist for many years.

Trojan's problems started even before the plant began operating. In 1972, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Geological Survey had found a "concealed fault" running through the Columbia River next to the plant site. In the article, John Gofman, an Atomic Energy Commission scientist, compared Trojan to "locating 2,500 atomic bombs' worth of radiation in Portland's back yard."

Even as Trojan went on line, Willamette Week was pricking holes in it, criticizing the whopping $2.2 million visitor's center. WW wondered why PGE should spend all that money ($6 from every ratepayer) to propagandize about nuclear power, given the emerging safety and waste problems at Trojan. PGE's response, in a call from spokesman Steve Loy to WW editor Ron Buel, was, "Why don't you guys get off our back?"

By 1977, Trojan officials were not so imperious. Their plant had in fact been seriously compromised during construction. The earthquake risk was far greater than anyone had imagined: Walls in the containment building were missing crucial reinforcing rods and didn't comply with the Uniform Building Code for masonry. PGE sued the contractor, Bechtel, and shut down Trojan for eight months for rebuilding. "Considering the magnitude of the earthquake loads and the importance of the structure, it was the grossest kind of error," said a 1981 review by consulting engineers Preece-Goudie of San Francisco.

When the extent of the errors was discovered, Bechtel tried an engineering patch that actually weakened the building. Court records show this decision stemmed from pressure from PGE management to avoid construction delays and cost overruns.

In court testimony, PGE president Robert Short testified that "the Bechtel people described the problem as very severe. The direct quote was, 'This is the worst mistake we have ever seen in a construction project of this size.'"

PGE's lawsuit against Bechtel was settled out of court, and the full docket of briefs, depositions and engineering reports was sealed by a federal judge. The details would probably still be secret if someone hadn't leaked the documents to Kafoury in 1986.

While PGE was playing its high-stakes game of chance, scientists were taking a closer look at the potential risk. In 1987, USGS researchers reported in Science magazine that a major quake on the order of 8 or 9 on the Richter scale would hit the Northwest--not a question of if, they said, but when.

Activist Lloyd Marbet devoted decades to the cause of killing Trojan. He put three initiatives to close Trojan on the ballot--in 1986, 1990 and 1992--only to be beaten each time by PGE's millions. Through a series of legal and ballot maneuvers in the late '70s and early '80s, Marbet did manage to stop two proposed PGE nukes at Pebble Springs in Oregon's Gilliam County. When PGE tried to charge Oregon ratepayers for the hundreds of millions of dollars it had lost on Pebble Springs, Portland lawyers Dan Meek and Linda Williams sued and won. They were awarded nearly $2 million in legal fees, which paid for the anti-Trojan ballot initiatives.

In 1992, PGE announced that the steam generators at Trojan were crumbling and would be replaced. The generators, which turn heat into electricity, had been built by Westinghouse and contained defects seen at other plants. One last measure to close Trojan failed that year on the November ballot.

A week after election day, Trojan's pipes burst with a major leak, and the plant was shut down. Robert Pollard of the Union of Concerned Scientists released an NRC memo showing dissent within the agency regarding Trojan's safety. Pollard said the plant had "a high likelihood of an accident occurring with severe consequences to the public." In spite of an Oregonian editorial calling for immediate restart, opposition was growing within the NRC.

PGE closed Trojan for good in 1993, but its legacy didn't end there. The company then tried to recoup $550 million from ratepayers in lost profits through 2011. When a court ruled the charge illegal, PGE went to the Oregon Legislature in 1999 to push through a bill overriding the court's decision, which was signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

"It was pure corporate welfare on the backs of ordinary people," says Kafoury. "It would have been a great opportunity to turn the tables on the bad guys."

(The ratepayers may yet have the last word: Kafoury and his consumer-advocate allies have submitted more than enough signatures to put the issue on the November 2000 ballot.)

In 1999, Trojan's reactor core was barged up the Columbia River to its final resting place at Hanford. PGE has floated the idea that the site be designated a state park. If so, we'd like to suggest a name that summarizes its legacy of boneheaded engineering accomplishment: Homer Simpson Park.


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