Taking Down Big Nuke

Oregonians can rejoice that we are no longer threatened by the kind of nuclear meltdown disaster occurring in Japan. This did not happen by chance and citizens from other states might benefit from thinking about this.

Portland General Electric Company’s Trojan Nuclear Plant, downriver from Portland, began service in 1975. Throughout the late 70s, opposition to nuclear power grew in Oregon. There were various attempts to curtail nuclear development through public education, civil resistance at Trojan, legislative action and ballot measures.

In 1980, a ballot measure written by Chuck Johnson and me, and actively supported by a statewide coalition of nuclear power opponents, qualified for the ballot and passed by a margin of 52%. It required an operating nuclear waste repository and a vote of the people before another nuclear plant could be sited in this state. Since the nuclear industry was unable to meet either of these reasonable requirements, no additional nuclear plants were built in Oregon.

A determined band, headed by Lloyd Marbet, continued to work at shutting down the Trojan plant for another 15 years before PGE finally threw in the towel at the close of 1995. The reactor was moved to the Hanford Reservation and the cooling tower demolished. Nevertheless, the highly radioactive spent fuel removed from the reactor during Trojan’s years of service still remains on the site.

It is important to note:

1. The nuclear industry would never have voluntarily quit. They had to be beaten by citizen activism to protect Oregonians from the disaster we warned would eventually happen and which now is happening in Japan.

2. Governments will not protect their people from this danger. They are too easily bribed by the nuclear industry (yes, bribed is a harsh word, but even legal bribery is not good for the citizenry).

3. It is true that the nuclear industry has a good record of avoiding really serious accidents over the past 60 years of its existence – only a dozen or so – a point repeatedly brought up by proponents. However, as we are seeing in Japan, when a disaster does happen it creates a mess with global consequences.

4. The nuclear industry has required subsidy after subsidy of your tax dollars since day one of its existence. If those subsidies had not been forthcoming, there would have been no nuclear industry. Now the Obama administration, despite its cuts to nearly every non-defense program, is proposing new subsidies for this industry.

The people must decide whether they want to make the devil’s bargain that nuclear power represents. There are energy alternatives other than fossil fuels: wind, solar, biofuels and others. It will be objected – correctly — that none of these can substitute for oil and coal. However, that is true whether or not nuclear is added to the mix. The fact is, we are going to have to learn to use less energy and use it more wisely no matter what we do. Oil is running out, coal creates too much greenhouse gas pollution to continue to use it if we want to survive, and nuclear suffers from the same problems today that it did when I became an anti-nuclear activist in 1974. There is no place to put the radioactive waste that makes environmental sense and the technology is too dangerous in case of earthquake damage, tsunami or terrorist attack.

We, the people, will shoulder the costs for nuclear development, the costs when the inevitable accidents occur, and the radiation poisoning that will result. Is this a reasonable price to pay for convenience?

PETER BERGEL is the Executive Director of Oregon PeaceWorks in Salem, OR. He directed the 1980 campaign to pass ballot measure 7, which resulted in a nuclear plant construction moratorium.


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