It is time to shut down the Northwest’s Fukushima-style reactor on the banks Columbia River
Dirty, dangerous, and expensive – the Columbia Generating Station has been silently running on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation for the last thirty years. Energy Northwest (formerly the Washington Public Power Supply System – WPPSS) plans to extend that for another thirty years. This is an irresponsible risk to the people, the environment, and the economy of the Pacific Northwest. Rather than courting disaster in return for less than 4% of the region’s electricity, the CGS nuclear plant should be shut as rapidly as possible and its highly radioactive wastes stabilized.
Why Shut the CGS Nuclear Plant Now?
The aftermath of the shocking Fukushima Dai-ichi multiple nuclear plant catastrophe, brought on by March, 2011’s massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami, has refocused many US nuclear critics’ attention on our own commercial fleet of 100 operating nuclear power plants. Here in the Pacific Northwest, with Trojan shuttered since 1993, there is one remaining nuclear power plant still operating – the Columbia Generating Station (CGS).
Located on the Columbia River within Washington’s Hanford nuclear reservation, the CGS nuclear plant is now thirty years old. It was formerly known as Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) Nuclear Plant #2 – the only nuclear plant completed by Washington public power utilities out of five under construction, leading to what was at the time the largest municipal bond default in US history. WPPSS (pronounced “whoops”) has since changed its name to Energy Northwest.
Almost completely unnoticed during the last three decades of political fights over ending Hanford’s Cold War era bomb-making capability and developing the proper methods of cleaning up that heavily contaminated radioactive waste site, this lone nuclear power plant has been quietly churning away. After Fukushima, a number of individuals and groups in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia took a closer look at the CGS – a plant so shy it took the word “nuclear” out of its name. Ten years in advance of its license expiration, the plant went before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and extended its license until 2043, a full twenty years beyond its designed life.
The CGS nuclear plant is an aging hazard to our river and the entire Pacific Northwest. Here are a few pertinent facts about the plant:
* The reactor is poorly designed, vulnerable to catastrophic radiation releases. It is a GE Mark II Boiling Water Reactor similar to the four Fukushima Dai-ichi plants that experienced catastrophic accidents in Japan last year. It has an elevated spent fuel pool, inadequately reinforced, identical to one which nearly collapsed at Dai-ichi #4, and still threatens Japan and the North Pacific with another massive release of radioactive material.
* The reactor has the potential to suffer hydrogen explosions. The CGS nuclear plant also shares the potential problem of improper venting that caused hydrogen explosions at three of the Fukushima reactors when they lost their coolant.
* The local earthquake danger is greater than the plant was designed to withstand. The CGS nuclear plant is threatened by additional documented earthquake faulting in the Yakima Fold and Thrust belt (see http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022173243_nukequakesxml.html), putting the nuclear site at greater risk of seismic activity at a ground motion twice the maximum that the plant was designed to withstand.
* We don’t need the power. According to State of Washington figures, this plant has produced less than 4% of the electricity Pacific Northwest residents consumed over the past decade – and in 2012, due to an extended six month shut down for repairs, it produced even less. Energy conservation alone could make up the 4% difference, and wind and solar energy are also viable substitutes.
* Shutting it down will save money. Respected utility economist Robert McCullough estimates that Northwest ratepayers could save $1.7 billion over the next 17 years if the plant is shut down (see http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-21636-costly_to_the_core.html).
Many of us who have looked closely at nuclear power issues believe continuing to operate this aging nuclear plant simply makes no sense. If the true costs are included, the energy produced is extremely expensive and the toxic wastes produced pose an unacceptable health risk.
What can I do?
If you are living in a publicly-owned utility in Washington state, your utility may be a member of Energy Northwest. YOU may actually be part-owner of the Columbia Generating Station. Contact one of the groups listed in the next section to find out if this is the case.
* If your utility IS an owner of the nuclear plant, contact your elected representatives and ask them to close the CGS nuclear power plant.
* If your utility IS NOT an owner of the nuclear plant, but you are concerned about the future of the Pacific Northwest and want to help end nuclear power in our region, please work with the groups listed in the next section to research, fundraise, and raise awareness.
Who are we?
Beginning the fall of 2011, a number of environmental groups in the region began to organize against extending the operation of this demonstrably dangerous nuclear plant. These groups include the Oregon and Washington Chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility, local chapters of the Sierra Club, Heart of America Northwest, Columbia Riverkeeper, Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Ground Zero Community, Oregon Woman’s Action for New Directions, the Alliance for Democracy, and No Nukes Northwest.
Through a series of conferences, rallies, meetings, and strategy sessions, we have coalesced around a multi-pronged effort to demonstrate the unsafe nature of operating this nuclear plant and the manageable consequences of shutting it down. We are now beginning the process of seeking support throughout the utility districts of Washington, which collectively own the nuclear plant, and of explaining our findings to citizens of the Pacific Northwest, and to appropriate decision-makers and opinion leaders in the region. The campaign has begun and, with your help, we will win.
For more information:
Contact Oregon and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Director of the Joint Task Force on Nuclear Power. Chuck Johnson may be reached at (503) 777-2794 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PSR website has an extensive number of links for further information about nuclear power, its problems, and its consequences: http://www.psr.org/chapters/oregon/environmental-health-/nuclear-power.html