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Park Generates Some Fallout

The ill-fated nuclear reactor that is thought to have inspired the oozing, green-glowing plant on The Simpsons is now inspiration for something else: Oregon's newest state park.

Six years after it closed down, owners of the Trojan nuclear plant want families to roll their RVs on to the site and camp out in the shadow of a 500-foot cooling tower and a fortified tank of spent radioactive fuel. Some state officials are reacting 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 to show how safe a decommissioned nuclear plant can be.

"This is such a great site," PGE Vice President Fred Miller said. "It's unthreatening."

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

And PGE says it is taking steps to protect the proposed playground from the vestiges of the largest commercial reactor ever taken off line in the United States.

Earlier this month, a pair of tugboats hauled the 1,000-ton nuclear reactor up the Columbia 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.

The company also wants federal funding to demolish the cooling tower, nearly two decades ahead of schedule, to rid the site of the concrete colossus that is its most ominous nuclear reminder.

"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 on a lake on the Trojan grounds that is already accessible to the public for day use.

As her 3-year-old daughter dredged up a load of weeds on her line, she laughed: "That's what you catch at the nuclear park."

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 television's The Simpsons, which depicts the nuclear plant where Homer Simpson works as an accident-prone place of leaking toxins, glowing goo and green steam.

Although editors of "The Simpsons" deny any connection to Trojan, people here have long believed the plant was lampooned on the show because its creator, Matt Groening, grew up 40 miles to the south in Portland and has peppered his scripts with other local eferences.

"They should call it `Simpson Park'," Mike Etringer said with a smile as he baited his son's hook.

But Trojan's real-life problems were no laughing matter.

After 16 years of operation, the company took the unusual step of closing the plant after a series of problems, including a safety system that drew federal fines, an accidental release of radioactive gases and cracked steaming tubes.

The shutdown came two decades earlier than planned, after PGE officials concluded it would cost too much to repair cracks in more than 3,000 of the heat-exchange tubes in the plant's 326-ton generators.

Plus, the reactor was too expensive to compete with the Columbia River dam system.

Long-time plant critic Lloyd Marbet, of the group Don't Waste Oregon, said that every step of PGE's experiment with nuclear power has been on the fly.

He warned the state's seven-member Parks Commission to think carefully before approving the Trojan site as the first overnight campground to be added to Oregon's system since 1971.

"I don't think I'd want to be camping in the park," he said. "I wonder how many people would like to camp next to a repository for spent fuel with no place to go."

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