Union workers move Trojan nuclear reactor to Hanford graveyard

RAINIER - A union crew was in the media spotlight the weekend of Aug. 6 as it helped orchestrate the move of Oregon's only nuclear reactor to its burial site 270 miles away.

The 10-man work crew at the mothballed Trojan Nuclear Power Plant loaded the 1,000-ton reactor onto a 20-axle, 320-wheel trailer, then slowly and methodically maneuvered it down a quarter-mile paved road to a barge slip. There it was loaded onto a specially-made barge for transport up the Columbia River to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington for burial. Trojan is located 35 miles west of Portland along the Columbia River.

"It went very well," Steve Nichols, project manager for Portland General Electric (PGE), the utility decommissioning the largest commercial reactor ever taken off line in the United States, told reporters. "It's been very routine."

PGE closed the power plant in 1993, two decades earlier than planned.

Moving the reactor started early Friday, Aug. 6, with workers from North American Energy Services, the company contracted by PGE to dismantle the power plant, removing three sections of a chainlink security fence to allow the trailer and reactor out of the yard.

North American provided support service throughout the transport, including erecting scaffolding, fire watch, miscellaneous iron work and electrical work. Its employees are members of the Iron Workers, Carpenters, Laborers, Boilermakers, Electricians, Operating Engineers and Teamsters unions.

Once tied down on the 320-wheel "Scheuerle," the reactor moved along at no more than five miles per hour as workers continuously adjusted and readjusted levels on the trailer to negotiate one sharp turn and several bumps in the road.

The crew, employed by Bigge Crane and Rigging of San Leandro, Calif., consisted of Portland Iron Workers Local 29 members C.W. (Chuck) Clark, Steve Winchester and John Phillips; Oakland Iron Workers Local 378 member Glen Ament; Gladstone-based Operating Engineers Local 701 member Don Fincher; San Francisco Iron Workers Local 377 members Steve Grogan and John Turnwell; Teamsters Tom Cove and Brian Ushery; Seattle Operating Engineers member Arlan Sunston, and project manager Jim O'Callahan.

"I'm a working man, a labor man and a business man, when you get clearance to go to work you do the best you can and you work the hardest that you can. That's what we did here. In other parts of the country you'd need 40 or 50 men to do what we did," said Chuck Clark, a former business manager of Local 29.

It was the last day of work for Clark, who retired after 41 years with the Iron Workers.

Ironically, Clark helped build the nuclear plant in 1972. "I get to help destroy some of America's finest technology. That's how I feel about it," said Clark.

Bob Morgan, project manager for the New Jersey engineering firm of Burns & Roe, which designed all the packaging and steel shielding that surrounded the reactor, said the crew "worked very well together in a nuclear environment. This project involved a lot of good people brainstorming" to get it done.

The reactor was encased in 200 tons of foam-like concrete and shielded by up to six inches of steel before being shrink-wrapped in a blue plastic casing. The frame and reactor weighed 1,320 tons, with more than 290 tons of steel.

Thompson Metal Fab of Vancouver, a union shop represented by Sheet Metal Workers Local 16, built the frame that the reactor sat in as well as the bolsters on the barge that secured the reactor.

"We've never done anything like it before," said Bill Gertz of Thompson Metal Fab. "It was awfully heavy." He said the project took more than a year, with 25 to 30 men working on it at any one time. Officials said the reactor posed little risk to the workers handling it once it was encased in concrete. Bill Holmes, a member of Iron Workers Local 29 employed at North American Energy Services, said in three 10-hour days working on or near the reactor prior to its move he picked up 1 millirem of radiation. PGE allows 2,000 millirems a year and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows 5,000 millirems a year, workers told the NW Labor Press.

Once on the barge, two tugboats and an 87-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter spent the next 36 hours moving the reactor eastward past Portland, up the Columbia River to Hanford - at a speed of about 12 mph. It is the first time a radioactive shipment this large has moved through a major U.S. city and the first commercial power plant reactor to be shipped and buried whole.

The reactor passed through four sets of locks before reaching the Port of Benton in Washington. There, union Iron Workers from the Neil F. Lampson Co. of Pasco, Wash., transported the reactor the final 30 miles by road, where it was buried in a 45-foot trench and covered with soil and six inches of gravel.

The cleanup at Trojan will continue into the next millennium. Workers continue dismantling machinery, removing asbestos and piping and scrubbing the site clean of any radioactivity. PGE will then likely implode the 499-foot-tall cooling tower.

Highly radioactive spent fuel rods will remain on site until a national high-level nuclear repository opens (possibly in Nevada). In the meantime, PGE is encasing the rods in concrete storage canisters.

August 20, 1999 issue

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