Looming ominously over a verdant river valley near Elma, Washington, the twin cooling towers of Unit 3 and 5 of the Satsop Nuclear Power Plant serve as memorials to an amibitious plan by Washington State to revolutionize energy production.

It was the early 1970s, and a consortium of municipal power companies joined together for an auspicious multi-billion dollar plan to build five nuclear power plants across the state that would create over 6 Gigawatts of electricity.

Washington State already produced the most hydroelectric power in the country, but statewide demand for electricity was growing by 7% every year, and nuclear power was nominated as the solution.  Three plants were to be built in or near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation on the Columbia River, and two others were planned for this site near the Satsop River.

The Washington Public Power Supply System (or “Whoops” as it was later mocked), ran into severe financial and public perception problems when the plants at Satsop were only 76% complete.  Construction costs had run $960 million over budget, and American citizens were reeling from the shock of the Three Mile Island incident in New York,  bringing the WPPSS to collapse in 1983.

Only one of the 5 planned facilities was ever completed and activated: Washington Nuclear Power Unit 2, now called the Columbia Generating Station,  located on the Hanford Reservation far to the south and east of its ill-fated siblings at Satsop.

No radioactive fuel was ever brought to the Satsop facility.  The turbines that would create electricity, and all other machinery associated with the reactors, have been removed and liquidated. But the cooling towers remain.  A vertigo-inducing 46 stories high, the concrete towers can be seen for miles, and are regularly used as landmarks for trans-continental flights.

The Satsop facility lay dormant for a decade until the Grays Harbor County government petitioned WPPSS to leverage the site for economic development.  A top of the line communications infrastructure has been one of the incentives that brought businesses to the renamed Satsop Development Park.  Steel tank manufacturers, an internet service provider and a commercial drivers’ training program now all conduct business under the shadows of the benign towers.

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6 responses »

  1. Grace says:

    Beautiful photos!

  2. Paul says:

    Another example of the professional use of tax payers money. 24 billion dollars now going to ruin.

  3. Harry Styles says:

    I lived nearby during construction, it was a boondoggle for all. Stories of workers taking naps, extravagant hunting/fishing trips for higher ups, home improvement projects for executives living nearby. It was more about employing and spending money on workers and being a public works project than it was a serious endeavor. I guess as with all public projects there is expected to be some waste but this place was out of control. And after they finally shut it all down, the multi millions of dollars of material simply left laying around for another decade as it eroded and rusted was incredible to see. The amazing thing to me to this day is no one ever went to jail

  4. Tom S. says:

    I’m from the midwest, new the the Pacific NW and was unfamiliar with this place. I drove by today and had to check it out and was totally amazed. It was like driving through a Many-Multi-Million Dollar ghost town. What an incredibly shocking and sad waste.

  5. Jeff says:

    Have been there and explored it many times. There may be businesses there but they won’t stop you from checking out the area, and on the weekend you can climb fences freely and go into some of the buildings including the reactor containment vessels.

    I still can’t believe that nobody purchase and completed the plant. Where else could you get a smoking deal on a 75% complete nuke plant.

  6. Mike says:

    I worked in hole #3 as a carpenter for years and I’ll say I didn’t see the waist everybody talks about. The construction workers took pride in their work, we were proud that we were working on one of the largest PW projects in the state.
    FYI, the cooling towers are 496′ tall and 1′ thick. The containment buildings have a 9′ slab and 2 set of walls 5′ thick. The reactor is still in #3 and weighs 600 tons. The crane that installed the reactor is big blue, it fell over and killed 3 iron workers back east. I could tell you more but it I would be here all day, cool stuff.

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