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Columbia River Dissenters Series
Tape 1, Side 1
25 October 1999
GH = George Hinman
CH = Clark Hansen
OHS Inv. # 2736
George Hinman was born in 1927. In 1952, Hinman received a Doctor of Science degree in Physics from Carnegie Melon University and taught physics at the Carnegie Institute of Technology until 1963. In 1969, Hinman came to Washington State University as the director of the Nuclear Radiation Center and was on the faculty of the Physics Department. In the 1970s, Hinman became involved in environmental and energy issues and joined the Energy Policy Council to forecast energy consumption in the Pacific Northwest. His forecasting showed that the growth rate for energy consumption in the region was much slower than had previously been estimated. His reports led WPPSS (Washington Public Power Supply System) to review the need for the proposed nuclear power plants. In 1980, WPPSS cancelled power plants 1 and 3 and in 1981, plants 4 and 5 were terminated.
CH: This is an interview with George Hinman at the Washington State University. The interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hansen. The date is ten twenty-five ninety-nine, and this is tape one, side one. I thought we might begin by getting some personal background on how you ended up coming back here, where you grew up, your educational background, and things like that.
GH: You want a narrative of that?
CH: [laughs] Please.
GH: I grew up in the Midwest. Was born in Evanston, Illinois. Have lived in Illinois and Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina. My father worked for the Shell Oil Company, so we moved to different parts of the country on his different assignments. I finished high school at Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1944.
CH: And you were born when?
GH: I was born in November 7, 1927. After I graduated from high school, I went to what was then Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, and received bachelor degrees in physics and mathematics, masterís degree in physics, and doctor of science degree in physics, the last degree being in 1952.
CH: Thatís in Pittsburgh?
GH: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, right, yes. And following that period of schooling, I remained employed on the faculty at Carnegie Institute of Technology until 1963 when I moved with the former chairman of the physics department to San Diego where I worked for a nuclear industry called General Atomic. Before going there permanently I had spent summers there. The facility is in La Jolla in the northern part of San Diego, and I worked there full-time then from sixty-three to 1969 when I came to Washington State University to be the director of their Nuclear Radiation Center and a member of the Physics Department.
CH: Why was it that you went back into education and didnít stay in the business end of that field?
GH: The industry I worked for was very academically oriented at the time I went there. And as they realized over the course of time that they were going to have to start making money, and as they were having trouble with their principal product, a gas-cooled nuclear reactor called the HTGR, I felt that their future didnít look all that bright, and the kind of part that I played in it even less as part of their research organization. So I decided that I would go back to academia, and the opportunity came to come to Washington State University, so that is where I moved in l969.
CH: 1969. And then when you came here, what were your programs here that you were focused on?
GH: I was first of all directing the work at the Nuclear Radiation Center. We have still here a nuclear reactor that was made by General Atomic, the company that I worked for. Thatís really the way the connection was first established. And I also taught courses in physics at that time, nuclear physics, freshman physics, various physics courses. But I had been interested in the environment, even when I worked at General Atomic. And my interest in that area grew, and later on I became associated with environmental work. Was director of the Environmental Research Center here at Washington State University for a number of years. And then worked into the subject of energy, not necessarily nuclear energy although nuclear energy was included, including also many other forms of energy, hydroelectric energy, fossil fuel energy, conservation measures. And around 1974, actually following the energy crisis precipitated by the oil embargo from the Middle East, I got involved with an organization that Dan Evans set up called the Energy Policy Council. And in that role I was responsible for forecasting energy consumption in the Pacific Northwest. And that activity grew. I was involved in other systems studies, I guess I would say, of energy in the Northwest for a number of years, the Northwest Energy Policy Project that Mike Katz directed. And later than that the Washington Public Power Supply System issues that the Washington State legislature became involved in. After that time I actually moved to New Mexico to be the director of an energy research and development institute there, the New Mexico Energy Research and Development Institute. But I took that position on unpaid leave from Washington State University to really determine over the course of a couple of years whether I wanted to move down there permanently. And ultimately I decided to move back to Washington State because really the politics in New Mexico for someone working for the state were too precarious in my mind for someone who didnít have a long history and family connections, and so on. So I came back here in 1983 and have been here working more and more with the environmental area. I gave up being director of the Nuclear Radiation Center and ultimately the Environmental Research Center. Worked with a small Office of Applied Energy Studies, and then in 1989 I became the chair of the Program in Environmental Science and Regional Planning and held that position for the next eight years until I retired from the University in August of 1997. Since that time I have been re-employed on a part-time basis with the University and have been teaching classes in environmental subjects.
CH: Okay. So when you first became involved with the energy issues, what kinds of kinds of issues were - I know that you had mentioned forecasting. Were there other types of issues that you also were involved in?
GH: I was involved - generally the state or parts of the state were interested in the need for energy. And I did, for example, a project for what was called, I think, the Oceanographic Commission of Washington on the need for oil. It was related to the Alaskan oil situation at that time, as I recall. I was - at first the questions that the Energy Policy Council had to do with were how was the State of Washington going to fare under the problems that developed as a result of that oil embargo. But my part was primarily at that time to determine what the future need for energy in all its forms, not just oil but other forms as well, what all of those energy needs were going to be. We also did a project for - I think this was the Pacific Northwest Regional Commission, as I recall, on energy needs of the Northwest, a kind of separate project slightly preceded the work for the Energy Policy Council. That started around 1973. And that concerned the whole Northwest, whereas the Energy Policy Project - and Iím sorry, the Energy Policy Council work really concerned only the State of Washington. Now a little bit later, in around 1977, I worked with Walter Butcher. Essentially all of this work that I have so far talked about on energy was with Walter Butcher. We worked on a project of energy conservation on what effects it might have on the need for energy in the region. We found, incidentally, - at least our conclusion was that the growth rate for energy in the region, especially electricity, with particular emphasis on electricity, was going to be much slower than people had previously thought. And therefore the need for growth and power sources was going to be less than people had thought. The wisdom of the day was that the electric power requirements were going to double every ten years. I think for the growth rate that was seven percent per year. And we didnít think so, and that did create quite a lot of controversy at the time. It subsequently turned out that it didnít grow at seven percent per year, and we felt somewhat vindicated but incurred some disregard from the utilities at that time, as I recall. Go ahead.
CH: No, I was just going to ask you on some of these previous energy involvements that you had, Energy Power Council and the Northwest Energy Policy Committee, and so on, were you involved in forecasting previous to this study that you had just mentioned?
GH: The first one that I was involved with was the one for the region, 1973. The next one that I was involved with was for the Energy Policy Council - Iím pretty sure thatís the right term - that Dan Evans set up. And that was for the State of Washington.
CH: In what year was that?
GH: That was in 1974 and 1975. Then letís see. We did some additional forecasting as I recall in the period seventy-five to eighty, but I donít remember exactly whether that was sponsored or that was just something that we did on our own. And then of course we got this request from the legislature to look at the need for plants four and five of the Washington Public Power Supply System because the costs of those plants had risen to such high levels. And in connection with that project forecasting was done. Actually we did not ourselves do that forecasting. We contracted for it - in the particular case of the forecasting element, I believe it was Charles River Associates. Our part in that project was to supervise the overall project which included demand, supply, economic forecasting, social factors, expected costs of plants four and five, and - those were the main ones. I think I may have missed a couple of modules, but there were several modules in that study. But the ones that really counted most in what happened - well, the one that counted most in what happened was the forecasting which indicated that these two plants were not going to be needed at the time they were scheduled to be completed. And so they were actually cancelled. I think there were other groups working on this problem. There was a governorís council of three people, as I recall, who also were involved, because there was a lot of controversy, especially after some of the bonds that had been issued were defaulted. But I believe that itís true that the precipitating action for cancelling plants four and five were the initial results on the forecasting that came out of the project that we were involved in.
CH: So the original concept of - when the state originally thought - originally being I think in the late sixties, early seventies - that there would be a need for twenty-five additional plants. That was - was that in response to the energy crisis or was that prior to the energy crisis?
GH: No, I believe that was prior to the energy crisis. That was called - what was it - the thermal...
GH: Hydrothermal program that arose because it was recognized that the supply of hydro power which had been sort of considered inexhaustible for awhile was finally getting used up, and that thermal plants were going to have to be introduced in order to meet the increasing demand. And at that time in the very early seventies, late sixties, early seventies, nuclear power was very popular. And one can understand that in the Northwest where the coal, except for the Centralia coal field, is rather difficult to get out and expensive. And the alternatives are to import it from somewhere like Wyoming and so on. Anyway, the idea was that here was a chance for nuclear power which at that time was forecast to be very inexpensive. And I worked for, as I say, a nuclear company when the cost for installing nuclear plants was down in the range of a hundred and fifty, two hundred dollars a kilowatt compared with, for example, what it turned out to be for some of the plants like WNP2 where it was over a thousand dollars. It was - I canít remember whether it was around two or three thousand dollars a kilowatt, or million dollars a megawatt. But those were the reasons why the hydrothermal program was developed and why nuclear power played an important role in it.
CH: Was the - when you were referring to the hundred and fifty, two hundred dollars per kilowatt rate, what did that end up being for a typical nuclear plant then, for a total cost?
GH: Some of them - well, in the very early days, I think that it is fair to say that the vendors were taking a loss lead, and so some of the very early plants were very cheap, including the plant by Portland...
GH: Trojan. Yes. Then as time went on the costs grew to be one, two, three thousand dollars a kilowatt. And in the case of four and five, my recollection is it got up to five or six thousand dollars a kilowatt.
CH: Some people have criticized the critics of some of these plants by saying that a lot of this increase of cost was due to new regulations being foisted upon them by environmental regulations that were coming out, that they hadnít anticipated when they were first building the plants. Is there any truth in that?
GH: I think there is a mixed story there. I think there may - there probably is some validity due to the fact that there was an increasing degree of regulation of the plants requiring additional containment and other factors that would affect the cost to some extent. I think itís also true that the management in the early days for four and five for example or even for some of the earlier plants was not really all that experienced. I think some of the people who were in charge were not very experienced managers. Washington Public Power Supply System, after all, had only - before starting these five plants - had only built one dam I think, and the power generating equipment for the Nuclear Reactor at Hanford. And while they employed people that knew people, I think that management was a problem, as the legislative staff in Olympia contended. I think they had valid points as well. It was a combination of the two things, but I do think that management had a considerable part in it. Yes.
CH: Then when they made this forecast for the twenty-five nuclear plants, or twenty- five new plants, did this forecasting include some kind of economic picture as to where the Northwest would be at the time that these would be completed. I think that Walter Butcher said that they had actually anticipated that they would be completed at the end of this year by that original plan, by the end of 1999 or the beginning of 2000. Do you know anything about what the population or economic figures showed that the Northwest would be at that time?
GH: My recollection as to what the forecasts were going to be for population and economic activity were coming out of - I was looking, trying to remember where we got those forecasts (from the OBERS studies) and where other people got them. But they are pretty much from a utility point of view at that very early time, I think those forecasts were very much straight line forecasts from an earlier period. And that earlier period was in fact the period when there was a seven percent growth. And there was a cooperative forecast of what was called the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee that also generated forecasts for electricity. Now Iím really talking about electricity in connection with these power plants, not other forms of energy. And so they had the bases for the forecast, but my own opinion is that they were not all that rigorously done, that they were rather, Iíd say, primitive in terms of modern-day forecasting. And the expectation was that things would just go on as they had been going on in the nineteen sixties, up until the early seventies. I hope that Butcher said much the same thing. [laughs]
CH: [laughs] Yes, yes he did. But I have to wonder about the BPAís role in this, and werenít they scrutinizing these forecasts fairly closely, and also werenít they responsible for telling the utilities what demands might be placed on the system in near term?
GH My recollection is that these forecasts were gathered together, and more of the controlling forecaster for the electricity in the region was PNUCC, (Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee). And Bonneville at that time was not playing any role other than just supplying the power from the dams. I think they - letís see, Iím trying to remember the extent to which they had forecasts of the -. See this was sort of the - this is the kind of thing that - the West Group Forecast was sort of the forecast for the region, and Bonneville wasnít paying any sort of check on them as far as I can recall.
CH: Was that unusual?
GH: I donít think that was their role at the time to do that. There is another factor that probably I should put in Iíve now recalled, and probably Walter Butcher told you about. After we finished our work on the Northwest Energy Policy Project, we were approached by the General Accounting Office and asked to do some work for them in connection with the stresses that were developing in the region as a result of the saturation of the hydro power possibilities and the higher costs of the new power sources that would be required. This GAO work and other influences in the region foretold the passage of the Northwest Power Act and the formation of the Northwest Power Planning Council. The result was an increased emphasis on energy management by Bonneville and the Council. Forecasting was part of this as...
(End of Tape 1, Side 1)
Tape 1, Side 2
25 October 1999
GH: ...it came from the same group. And the responsibility for forecasting that Bonneville assumed eventually followed the Northwest Power Planning Councilís formation. Of course they had their forecasts and Bonneville had its own forecasts, but that was the time when they began to do their more sophisticated forecasting.
CH: So you had mentioned earlier that the forecasting tools that they had been using, the Washington Public Power Supply System, were relatively primitive, and that they were pretty much straight line forecasts. By straight line you mean that the rate of growth that they had experienced before was just going to continue on without any interruption?
GH: Right. Right.
CH: Were they taking into account the projected costs of the new plants in what the rates would ultimately be when they came on line?
GH: You mean in how those changes in costs as they moved from hydro power to thermal power would affect the demand?
GH: I donít believe so in the very early days. No.
CH: They knew even at the beginning, didnít they, that the cost of nuclear plants would be more than the cost of hydroelectric, right? They did know that.
GH: Yes, they did know that. They did know that.
CH: And were they accounting that there would be some increase - if there was going to be an increase in cost for construction, that there would also be a higher rate for that energy thatís produced from those plants?
GH: Iím sure they realized that and expected that. And, as a matter of fact, thatís where the controversy began to arise between the publicly owned and the private utilities, because the preference position of the publicly owned utilities was that they were going to continue to get this very low cost power, and that the high cost power that Bonneville would acquire under the hydro thermal program would be going to the privately owned utilities. And it was because of that - the results of that - the issues began to arise, say in Portland for example, where Portland was going to have to spend a lot more for power than Vancouver right across the river. And so Portland was going to form a publicly owned utility itself and thus qualify for this power. And it was that kind of controversy that developed and resulted ultimately in the formation of the Power Planning Council, I guess the law , the Pacific Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act.
CH: So when you came out with your first forecast for the Washington Public Power Supply System, and you had forecast a lower usage, or lower growth rate rather, what was their response to that?
GH: I think that one of the responses was that they cancelled plants four and five.
GH: Yes. They cancelled them.
CH: This is in what year?
GH: This was in - letís see. I believe that the first inkling that the demand was going to be low enough that it didnít pay to go ahead with them was near the end of 1981. But the report that we finally issued didnít come out until some time around May, as I recall, of 1982, approximately May of 1982. And then there was the default on the bonds which, as I recall, was sometime later in 1983. So that was one response. But there was resistance to the forecasts which gradually faded away as it turned out that the demand didnít grow at all there in the period right around that time. So it was far from growing at the rate that the utilities had claimed.
CH: In your earliest studies of forecasting, did you say that was like seventy-three, seventy-four...
GH: Seventy-three, yes.
CH: And that study, did that also forecast a lower buy demand?
GH: Yes, it did.
CH: And that was for the legislature, wasnít it?
GH: No, the very first one was not for the legislature. It was for - Iím pretty sure it was for the Pacific Northwest Regional Commission.
GH: Which is one of those regional commissions that the Department of Commerce had for awhile, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and so on. And ours was the Pacific Northwest Regional Commission.
CH: And what was the response there then when you...
GH; The response was that people felt that we were way off base, and that here were some ivory tower people saying that the demand was going to be much lower. And there also was the utilities made an effort after awhile, I think not until seventy-five, seventy-six, to bring in some better forecasting methods. And in order to essentially check on what we had done...
CH: Was that a euphemistic term? I mean that it was better methods? Was the better method simply to find a method that would make it comply with what they were looking for?
GH: I donít know that that is true. I think we had criticism of our methods. The criticism of our method was that it was not a fully econometric model. It was end use forecasting based really on the expectation of how the energy and electricity would be used. And the reason that the numbers went down so much had to do with the saturation of some uses that had earlier been growing rapidly, but it wasnít put into a mathematical form, and so we were criticized for that on that basis. But on the other hand we turned out to be more right than they were, so to speak.
CH: But who was doing the criticizing?
GH: The utilities were doing the criticizing and also partly through their contractors. Iím trying to member the name of the person who first did the econometric forecasting for the utilities (Kent P. Anderson). I believe that NERA was involved. Probably when I look at your written version I can actually supplement what Iím saying here by having looked it up. But it was a combination of the utilities themselves, Wendell Satre, Washington Water Power, and the utilities people. Bruce McFadden of Kaiser Aluminum was a critic. And there were the people who were in the business who felt that our power forecasts were not right and were dangerous, that we were going to have blackouts, and so on, if people paid any attention to these hokey forecasts that we were turning out.
CH: And who was paying for these other forecasts that the critics - to your studies?
GH: The utilities.
CH: The utilities.
GH: Yes, the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee or the individual utilities, and Iím not sure ultimately it was coming from the utilities.
CH: So then they came out - Iím trying to picture the chronology in it. You did your study and then they came out with their own study saying that there was going to be a need for this power.
GH: Right. Yes. Even after the utilities began to sponsor econometric forecasting they continued to use the West Group Forecast as their official forecast. It was a composite of forecast of the individual utilities.
CH: And then were there any other analyses of the need for power, the forecasting before they started entering into the construction of the plants?
GH: All of those plants really began construction - they were authorized anyway way back in the years 1969 to 1974, and construction of them started - I donít remember just when four and five started construction, but they were under construction at the time that the legislature asked us to do the study. So they must have started construction - I can look it up and will look it up in the written version - but they must have been around seventy-seven, something like that. Because they started to run up very high costs and cost projections by 1981. Yes.
CH: And so the underlying problem then that - or how would you then state the underlying problem which resulted in the defaults that occurred?
GH: The defaults that occurred?
CH: The defaults that occurred on the bonds for the WPPSS power plants?
GH: Four and five were different from one, two and three because one, two and three were in - Iím not sure it was still called the hydro thermal program - but basically Bonneville had agreed to pay the cost of the power no matter how much it was, even zero power if the utilities did not. And so the bonds for one, two and three were really guaranteed by the federal government, and so they really were very safe. But four and five were not included in that system, and so those bonds were just revenue bonds based on the power that was going to be delivered by four and five. Well, when they were cancelled, there wasnít going to be any power delivered, and there was really no way for WPPSS to pay for those bonds, and so they defaulted on them.
CH: And the defaulting on those bonds was then by the private utilities or public, I guess, that had sponsored the construction of four and five?
GH: Washington Public Power Supply System was an official kind of corporation, and it is true that the utility owners are sponsors, I guess one would say, of those plants. The utilities who were indirectly sponsoring the bonds through their ownership of WPPSS said, ďWeíre not going to pay for them out of our revenues. The Washington Public Power Supply System issued the bonds and if youíre not going to get it from them, youíre not going to get it from us.Ē And that was it. Now of course they were liable according to the conditions of the bonds, but the courts relieved them of liability by deciding that they did not have the authority to obligate themselves to pay.
CH: The bond holders ended up held with...
GH: The bond holders. Yes, and the bond holders were - there may have been some owned by the utilities, but it wasnít the utilities themselves that were left holding the bag. It was the bond holders. I remember in those days I was trying to remain neutral. I realized at the time that there was no danger in buying the bonds for one, two and three. And they were being sold at something like seventy cents on the dollar. And furthermore they had very high interest rates. Some of the interest rates on some of those bonds, because of the concern about four and five, were up in the twelve percent range. And while they had call provisions, until they were called , you would be making a lot of money, and then youíd get face value, although there were some efforts to try to make a settlement at less than face value. But they never succeeded because they were subject to law suits and so on. So anyway, they were very safe. But I didnít buy any because I didnít think it would look good for me to be working in this area and profiting from this inside knowledge that I had. [laughs]
CH: [laughs] Has there been a change then in forecasting as a result of the default?
GH: Oh, yes. Our forecasts at the time of - in the 1981-82 time period - really done by Charles River Associates - were just before the Power Planning Council was geared up to start forecasting. Now of course the forecasting business has become very sophisticated, and itís been done both by Bonneville and by the Power Planning Council sort of independently or semi-independently at any rate. And now itís a very sophisticated process. And still the future is uncertain, but itís nowhere what it was back in those olden days when people were just drawing straight lines.
CH: When you came out with your forecasts, did you come under any pressure by people in political offices?
GH: People in political offices? To change our minds?
CH: Yes, to either change your mind or recant or come out with a new study. Either people in the legislature, the governor or any of the other people who might have been uneasy over the conclusions.
GH: Our WPPSS study was supervised by a committee of the legislature, and there were certainly people on that committee who tended to favor the utilities view of the world. So when we met with them, there were critical comments made. But my recollection was that the chairperson of that committee, it seems to me, was a woman, who was supportive of our work. Itís been a long time, I donít remember for sure. And by and large the committee was supportive and ...
CH: Supportive of your...
GH: Of our study. It was, you know, the actual work - almost all the actual work was done by nationally prominently contractors. And we sort of were the overseers of it and chose the contractors, but our choice of contractors had to be approved by another committee, an oversight committee. There was an oversight committee, and then beyond the oversight committee was the legislative committee to make sure that all was going well. And the oversight committee, not the legislative committee, had to approve all of the contracting that we did. And on that committee there were, in fact, some - I think there were two utility people on that as I recall, one from a private utility and one of them who either was still or had been working for Bonneville. And the Bonneville people in those days were pretty much utility oriented in their outlook.
CH: And who was governor during that period of time? Was it Dixie Lee Ray?
GH: Letís see, Dixie Lee Ray was the governor during the late nineteen seventies when we did part of the Northwest Energy Power Project, which she frowned on. In 1981-82 - you must know the answer to that, and youíre just checking whether I remember it. I donít recall who was the governor. It seems to me it wasnít Dixie Lee Ray, but...
CH: I heard at one point that Dixie Lee Ray had been very critical of your study, and that there was some pressures that she had exerted on some of the people.
GH: Oh, I think it may be - if you were talking to Mike Katz, she was very critical of the Northwest Energy Policy Project Study which also confirmed lower growth forecasts. But that was a little earlier than the nineteen eighties. In 1981 - I canít remember who was the governor of the state in 1981. At any rate, whoever it was did not exert any influence, or Iím sure I would have remembered it. (John Spellman)
CH: Right. Right.
GH: But I do remember that Dixie Lee Ray was very critical earlier, and so was, as I understand, Senator Jackson. No, wait a minute now. Let me see. No, Senator Jackson was very critical of the work that we did for the General Accounting Office which was around seventy-eight, seventy-nine. And I think that it may have been at that point that there was some proposal of some people to come out and publicly condemn it. But it was felt that it might be better not to say anything about it in order not to draw attention to it. Itís funny I canít remember the governor at that time. Who was the governor at that time, do you know it?
CH: [laughs] No, I would have to get a chart out myself just to figure that out.
GH: Apparently the legislature must have been dominated by Democrats at that time.
CH: But the study that you had done for the General Accounting Office was a follow- up study to the first one.
GH: It was a follow-up study - they chose us because of the work we had done on the Northwest Regional Commission, called the Northwest Energy Policy Project which is the project that Mike Katz was in charge of. From that they came to us and wanted us to work with them, but the stimulus for the GAO work was the developing unrest and friction in the region over the discrepancies in rates that were going to come about as a result of the preference position of public power and the fact that the region was going to have to turn to thermal power to expand its supply.
CH: And then what was your conclusion about how to deal with that problem in this follow-up study?
GH: I guess I would say that the GAO really wrote the report. We were consultants to the report. But the policy conclusions from the report were really written by the GAO folks, and it is my belief that the results of that work and the conclusions of it were very much followed in setting up the Northwest Power Act. Now I think that the people who set up the Northwest Power Act denied that that was true. And maybe it isnít true. One doesnít know where - but the ideas were very similar. So I guess in my own mind I always felt that we had quite a bit to do with that.
CH: In your being consulted then for this GAO study, in what area were you consulted for?
GH: We were consulted on sort of describing the future of the region according to three different scenarios. And one was an extreme renewable energies conservation scenario that was prepared by Bob Murray who subsequently became for awhile the director of the Seattle utility, and who is a very strong advocate on solar energy and so on. The middle scenario was our scenario which was sort of, do as well as you can, emphasize conservation and renewables, but realize that this is not going to be adequate for the whole of the future. And thatís the way the Power Planning Act goes, and I guess thatís one of the reasons I think we at least foretold it, if it didnít have an influence. And the third one was the conventional future if nothing was done, if things went on as they were. Now it was interesting to me that on this group of consultants there were two BPA people. They were the ones who were supposed to write this conventional future scenario. But I think they just couldnít bring themselves to write it, or for some reason they just wouldnít write it. So I wrote it. I wrote that one, too, actually [laughs].
CH: [laughs] Like playing both sides of the chess board, huh? But to be able to do that you had to sit in the other chair in essence and come up with that conclusion. And your conclusion was what if nothing were done?
GH: I donít remember how much was included in the way of cost there, but the region was just going to run into the problem that had stimulated the study in the first place, that there were going to be these large differences and discrepancies, and that the less favored group were going to be paying a lot more for their electricity.
CH: So then when these three futures were described, then they decided the middle one that you had originally looked at or described was the one that they would use?
GH: No, they put all of them in the report.
CH: They put all of them in the report.
[End of tape 1, side 2]
Tape 2, Side 1
25 October 1999
CH: This is an interview with George Hinman at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. The interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hansen. The date is 10/25/99, and this is tape two, side one. So everything was included in - all these different views were included - three different views were included in the GAO study and recommendations, and then they made the policy from this material.
GH: Yes. Right.
CH: Now was it the GAO that was making the recommendation for the policy, or was that then in the congressional hands where that policy was decided?
GH: The GAO just prepares reports for congress to use. Of course itís Congress that makes the actual policy. GAO simply submitted this report, and then the Northwest Power Act was enacted shortly thereafter as I recall. And the extent to which it was influential is not very well known actually, at least not by me. It seemed very similar, and timing-wise it was quite timely. And I think it had some effect, but some of the people did not feel that that was the case.
CH: The Act actually - wasnít that passed before the default actually happened?
GH: Oh, yes, the Act went into effect I think it was December 5, 1980. That is one date that I believe I remember correctly.
CH: So after the default were there additional measures taken then to ensure that this wouldnít happen again?
GH: As far as the Supply System went, they subsequently cancelled plants one and three, subsequent to their cancellation of four and five. And the only plant that was actually completed was plant number two. So that, I think, saved some money and was recognition that they were getting into hot water, and so thatís one thing that happened. I think the importance of the Power Planning Council in the early years was toward preparing good forecasting figures to be used in determining what the future supply should be. Bonneville certainly geared up to become much more capable of doing its own forecasts in connection with commitments it made to acquire additional resources. So I think all of those things were aimed toward not having this happen again.
CH: Whatís been your feeling about the way the Northwest Power Planning Council has performed since the Act has been put in place?
GH: I think they became quite expert at energy forecasting. The thing that strikes me is how the emphasis Power Planning Council has shifted from power to fish. And now at the present time the major emphasis and the controversial issues have to do with fish and not with power so much. You know, in the early days when they started in eighty-one, eighty-two, eighty-three, it was power that was the issue. And my recollection is that the fish business came in because John Dingell who was the chairman of the congressional committee that handled this Act was a fisherman. And that it was to some considerable extent as a result of his interest and the pressure from environmental groups in the Northwest that this business about the fish was put in there. And now it has become the major factor in the Northwest Power Planning Councilís activities.
CH: But wasnít he - wasnít the Northwest Power Planning Act, didnít it stipulate that power and fish would have equal emphasis?
GH: Yes, it did.
CH: And youíre saying that this is what he was responsible for?
GH: Yes, thatís right. I think he was - thatís my - youíll want to get that confirmation from others - but thatís my impression. And I remember at that time I used to go down to this conference called the Menucha Conference, down there at ...
GH: Mansion of the fellow who runs the, or used to run department store in Portland. We met there with the Fish and Wild Life people and generally environmental groups from the Northwest. And I remember calling up and urging that the fish be put in, and so on, and I believe that it was partly his own particular interest in fish that resulted in that being brought into that Act. I donít think that the utility people wanted it in there.
CH: No, I doubt it [laughs] - that they would want it, it would interfere with it. But preceding all this was the increasing involvement of Native Americans in what was happening to the return of the fish or the depletion of the fisheries, and competition with commercial fisheries, and sport fishers and things like that...
GH: Yes, yes.
CH: And that Judge Bolton in 1974 decided that Native Americans were due half of the fish that came up the river, and Judge Belloni before that in the late nineteen sixties had set that issue on the course which then eventually left - at least it was my understanding - which then left the government, especially the Federal Government to reconcile itself with not accounting for this in their energy policy, forecasting and development of power, and what not. But did you hear any mention of this when things were going on in the late seventies and early eighties, especially around the time of the act being formed? Could that have been another factor?
GH: Of course, I had - youíre attributing it more to a general government policy than to the interests of Dingell himself. Is that right?
CH: I was just speculating. And here again Iím just speculating. But I was just wondering if there could be other things that factored into it aside from Dingellís insistence, that maybe there were other issues, say for instance the Native Americans. And of course by that time there were a lot of environmental movements that were going on that were anti-nuclear because of Three Mile Island and some of these other things that had happened, that at that point then some of these other issues might have affected the ultimate creation of the Northwest Power Act.
GH: I think the fish issue was certainly active at that time, and the Native Americans concern about it was one factor. I remember there was a judge down in Ellensburg I think who - no, I think he was not a judge at the time. He was an attorney for the tribes, and we went down to see him. There was a fish biologist...
CH: This was when?
GH: This was right around the late seventies. We started an organization called Water Rights for Fish and Wildlife. It was...
CH: Michele DeHart, was she involved in that?
CH: Michele DeHart.
GH: Michele DeHart is a familiar name. Polly Dyer, also at the University of Washington, was involved in it.
CH: Michelle Dehart became part of the fish passage center in Portland, part of BPA, the Power Planning Council.
GH: Oh, oh, thatís where I remember that name. I donít think she was part of this. This was more of a grass roots organization.
CH: Laurie Bodie was another one that - she was an attorney that was involved with the fish through the environmental organizations from Seattle and...
GH: Could well be that she was there. I know there was a man from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Portland who really, outside of his duties, was very active in it. No, I think it was Fish and Wildlife Service. I canít remember which of the two.
CH: Ed Chaney?
GH: Ed Chaney was very active. I did work with Ed Chaney. Ed Chaney used to - I think he came to the Menucha Conference some times, and he certainly was involved in those issues of power. And I worked with Ed Chaney on that to some extent. Ed Chaney is not the one I was thinking of. But anyway, certainly the Native American issue was prominent at that time as one of the factors in saving the fish. But then the environmental groups of that era were also themselves active on it. I was. Iím a fisherman, and Iíve been interested in saving the fish for a long time. And Iíve worked with these other people I mentioned on that.
CH: Lloyd Marbett was another person in Portland that was involved in a lot of the nuclear issues and was the chief promoter of a number of initiative regarding Trojan nuclear power plant.
GH: I donít recognize that name. Well, I do sort of remember it. But I wasnít involved with him. I wish I could remember the folks that I did work with there. Itís funny I canít remember those names right now.
CH: There were a lot of people, and it was a long time ago. In terms of whatís going on now in relationship to forecasting energy needs and the way weíre headed regarding power policies, what is your view and prognosis of how things are being done now and where weíre headed in terms of these issues?
GH: I think that the reaction to the growth now is that people are going to build smaller units which is less risky in case the growth rate changes. I think the forecasts are certainly getting better. The current trend is to build gas-fired plants, and there seems to be plenty of gas, unlike the expectation in the late nineteen seventies that we were going to run out of gas, and therefore there was legislation to prevent that. But right now gas is all the rage for new power plants. To some extent I feel itís not a good idea to use up all our gas in - burning it up to make power. But thatís the cheapest thing to do. Therefore, that is what is being done.
CH: Of course now there are also the issues of global warming and whether any these products that come from fossil fuels are wise in being used. And in terms of even in some alternative forms of energy like wind and solar, there has been the issue concerning wind generating power from one of the projects over by Yakima that Native Americans were very concerned about because of the way - where the site was being chosen was a site that was particularly sensitive to them. And so there are a lot of other issues that now enter into even alternative energy.
GH: Thatís true. Of course gas is much better than coal in terms of CO2 production. A lot of the energy in burning gas comes from the hydrogen conversion to water rather than the carbon conversion to carbon dioxide. And from this point of view nuclear power is promoting itself now as not producing energy in that way at all, and therefore should be given a better reaction. As far as wind and solar energy, they are getting less expensive, but they are still pretty expensive, and of course they have to have back-up. The hydro system in this region is a great back-up, by the way. That is one of the great advantages we have for those intermittent sources. The wind doesnít always blow; the sun doesnít always shine. You have to have some way to take account of those times when those sources are not producing anything. And holding the hydro power for those occasions is something that Northwest probably has better than anybody else. So far as other factors, I guess that is true. I hadnít heard that there was an objection by the tribes to the location of certain power plants. I guess itís - well, you know that, and I donít, so...
CH: What was your feeling - or how was your feeling towards the issue regarding the removal, possible removal of those four lower Snake River dams to allow better passage of the fish up the Snake River?
GH: My early reaction was that I thought it was a rather drastic measure, and that one should explore other options like better transportation by barge, and so on. Iím not so sure that it will be - the big catastrophe is that Lewiston will no longer be a seaport. That is the thing that is generating the greatest hullabaloo. Lewiston wasnít a seaport until, when was it, 1974 or 1975 when Lower Granite closed. Now itís true there are a lot of things that have changed in the way they - particularly the wheat is shipped out and the fuel is brought up the river. The other factor - and so Iím not so sure that itís something that shouldnít really be tried. On the other hand, thatís the reason I mentioned Jim Anderson to you. Because I heard that his talk, it was just last Friday in fact, that the dams in fact have not had a tremendous impact on the overall returns, and that the decline in returns can be more accurately - or better explained in terms of the effects of major climatic changes in the ocean. And he has some pretty good evidence for that. I think that matter is not settled, so Iím ambivalent on it. Originally I was definitely not for it. Subsequently I felt I wouldnít be adverse to seeing it happen. I realize it would be a catastrophe for certain economic interests in Lewiston. But Iím not sure right now that itís helpful in view of what Iíve just heard from Anderson. So Iíd say caution. Donít do anything too fast, so to speak.
CH: [laughs] Of course the other area that youíve had a lot of expertise on has been regarding the nuclear waste and radiation issues. Is that...
GH: Right. For GAO. I worked on that for about ten years. Hanford and other places.
CH: In what capacity?
GH: As a consultant for GAO.
CH: Yes, yes. And what issues were you consulting for them on?
GH: There have been a number at Hanford. I reviewed their cleanup plans basically, the technical bases they expect to do the cleanup. I have also reviewed some of their proposals for reviving their nuclear activities. One was to convert one of the WPPSS plants to the production of tritium which is a weapons material. Another is the continuation of the operation of the FFTF which again is now considered to be a possible tritium producer. I think that prospect has gone away recently, however, because the government has decided to make its tritium at TVA, on one of the TVA reactors. So itís primarily reviewing their cleanup plans that Iíve been working with GAO people.
CH: And where does it stand right now?
GH: Right now they are still trying to move forward. Itís a very difficult problem. I think the technology in all cases is not demonstrated for some of the cleanup that they may be expected to do. The most difficult problems I see are removing or dealing with, but I believe removing and treating, the radioactive waste that is in the hundred and seventy-seven underground tanks down there and deciding what to do about contamination of the ground water that has taken place over the course of time and which presumably will continue to take place as more radioactive constituents move down into the aquifer below the site.
CH: And therefore drawing the water out which would draw the polluted water into the aquifer?
GH: The leaking radioisotopes will just seep down and join the aquifer and flow as the aquifer does over into the river.
CH: Do they know the true extent of that right now?
GH: They have a pretty good idea of it for some isotopes and have recently discovered that others are now entering that phase of contaminating the aquifer more than they had thought before. And itís hard to do much about it actually and try to keep it away from the river. I think theyíre trying to keep it away from the river. Theyíre trying to, in the case of some contaminants, they are trying to draw the water up out of the ground to treat it and then put it back down. Thatís a long, long-term project in my view.
CH: Is it realistic that it can be done?
GH: I donít personally feel that it can be done. I donít think that the ultimate solution is to keep pumping there forever. And I donít see that pumping for a finite period of time is going to be adequate.
CH: And what is the status of the one hundred and seventy-seven tanks, the ground tanks?
GH: There are several phases there. The first phase was to find out what is in the tanks. Itís difficult because of all the mixing that has occurred over the course of time and chemical reactions that have taken place. And thatís still in a very imperfect stage. Then the next phase is to decide how to remove the waste from those tanks. The current plan is to emphasis injecting water and dissolving or making a slurry out of the tank contents that are not already liquid and pumping it out. And I think thatís definitely what theyíre going to try with some of the first tanks which are mostly liquid anyway. But they are trying one of the so-called single shelled tanks where they will get better experience on how well this will work. One of the problem with this is that many of these tanks are leaking, and so they have actually been drawing the water out of these tanks to prevent the leaking. But now the idea is of shooting water back into the tanks in order to get the waste out is kind of contrary to the idea of keeping the water out in order to reduce the amount of leakage. And donít believe that hasnít been solved. And Iím not sure if they very recently started to withdraw from one or more of those tanks. I guess they may - Iím not sure theyíve actually done it for any tank yet. And Iím not sure how firmly theyíve decided they know exactly what is in all those single shelled tanks. But they still have a lot of ambiguity about it.
CH: How is it possible that there wasnít documentation on what went into the tanks?
GH: They know overall what went into the tanks, because they know what they bought and put into the tanks. But they donít know because of the way the tanks were connected and liquid can flow from one to another. When one overflowed, the overflow would go into another, and so on. And furthermore, theyíre not sure of all the chemical reactions that may have taken place over the course of forty, fifty years. So thatís the reason that you could take any particular tank and say, ďWhat is in this tank?Ē Theyíve had to try to determine that by taking core samples, but these tanks are typically, I mean they are seventy-five feet in diameter. And they may have anywhere tens of feet of waste in them which is not homogeneous, and they have limited numbers of places where they can open the tanks up and take a - send down a core, to take a core. So taking a couple of cores under those circumstances doesnít give one a lot of confidence that you know what is in the tank as a whole. And even to take those few cores has been a difficult problem. So they have tried to track where all of the waste has gone, from the place where it started, where did it go - but it hasnít worked out very well. They donít think they know it very well on that basis.
CH: Iíve heard that some of the tanks had even been boiling at some point.
GH: Yes. There have been boiling tanks, and there have also been what they call burping tanks.
[End of tape 2, side 1]
Tape 2, Side 2
25 October 1999
GH: ...serious matter because of possibility of an explosion. Thatís what they are worried about. And the explosion could come about because of the fact that those burps contain all of the compounds necessary for an explosion in itself. That is, the oxidant that is required, a nitrogen oxide and hydrogen are present in the burps, so that if there is an initiating spark of some kind it could explode. For awhile they had that taken care of. They were mixing the stuff around and keeping it from burping and pumping off the gases that came off. Now I understand that there has been some problem very recently. This is really one tank weíre talking about primarily now thatís caused this. They have other concerns about other organic compounds that might be inflammable or reactive, and for awhile they were worried about ferro cyanides which could have produced very large explosions, but I think they finally decided that those had all been decomposed over the course of time. So those are all factors that have really mitigated against an easy solution to the tank problem.
CH: So that the result of the - if they did have an explosion, what kind of an explosion would it be then?
GH: It depends on which kind one was talking about. I think the hydrogen nitrogen oxide explosions, I think were not so severe as to really blow the top of the tank out. But if the ferro cyanides had actually reacted and were present to the extent that it was thought they might possibly be, it could be quite a big explosion. It would blow the top of the tank out and release a lot of radioactive materials. I donít know what the organic concerns would be, but I think in any case there would be a fairly substantial release of some radioactive materials.
CH: Even on the other ones, wouldnít they - I mean if it had enough power to blow the top off it, wouldnít it also be releasing the gases or whatnot that were causing the top to blow off, to be released into the atmosphere? Wouldnít that be...
GH: Those gases would certainly be released, yes. They are not necessarily - yes, there would be a lot of radioactive release if the top of the tank blew off. There certainly would. But those most serious cases I think have been pretty well ruled out.
CH: The so-called green - was it called green runs or green...
GH: The green runs, yes.
CH: That was a release, too, wasnít it?
GH: Those were releases in the processing. They released a lot of iodine in particular, and there has been a concern for a long time that there would have been a particular thyroid disease as a result of the absorption of some of the iodine by children and by anybody, but especially the children.
CH: The tanks when they were originally built, how long were they meant to hold these materials?
GH: They werenít meant to hold them very long. I think there were two factors there. This is what I understand myself. We havenít done a GAO study on this particular aspect, but there were two factors involved. One, in the first place it was wartime, and there was - we were trying to beat the Germans to the atomic bomb. But it was felt that the ground under the tanks, in case they did leak, would have enough absorptive capacity to act as kind of ion exchange material to hold up the leaking radioactive materials. I think they were not able to get the - were not able to get, or decided on the basis of expediency not to use stainless steel for those tanks and used the carbon steel. And they were supposed to eventually disintegrate, and I think they had some plans to do something about them after the war was over. But then we went into the Cold War, and things carried on, and so they never got things taken care of in an early stage.
CH: Thereís been a lot of talk over the years about whether Hanford might be used as a permanent storage facility. And now theyíre talking about, was it Yucca Mountain?
GH: Oh, the repository.
CH: For the repository, the national repository.
GH: I think the state fended that off. I remember that period when people I knew were saying they canít have this in the State of Washington, and were raising objections to it and successfully so. So that - Iím not sure how well characterized the basalts were - I mean there was some word that they were cracked, and it wouldnít be a good idea to use this kind of geological site. But I - anyway, there was enough pressure to abandon that possibility.
CH: Now the removal of the waste that you have been talking about thus far, what would happen to that waste, then?
GH: It would go to Yucca Mountain.
CH: Yes, so that would then leave the Hanford area. Itís not that they would be taking it out of one kind of kind of tank and putting it into another?
GH: No, thatís not the plan now. Probably there are a lot of people who would like to do that, but no, itís supposed to go into that underground repository down there in Nevada.
CH: How were they constructing that that would be different from the way theyíre doing it now? What kind of tanks are they putting it into there?
GH: What they would be doing down at Hanford is they would be eventually embedding all the radioactive material in glass. Actually itís not embedding in the sense that there would be something inside the glass. It would be made into the glass, so there would be those glass logs that would be sent down to be put into that repository.
CH: At Yucca Mountain.
GH: At Yucca Mountain.
CH: And what is the life expectancy of that method of storage? Do they have any idea?
GH: They have a lot of different barriers there which last different amounts of time. I think the longest lasting is the matrix material, the ash. You know itís a kind of a tuff, t-u-f-f is the material. Eventually it is expected the glass will crack, the containers will corrode, and so it will come down to some number of hundreds or thousands of years to how well the basic geological character of the repository will hold it.
CH: And what is the half life of these materials?
CH: Most of them decay in a period where ten half lifes would, say, be three hundred years. Most of the activity at least for the Hanford wastes is in two isotopes, strontium 90 and cesium137, each of which has a half life of about thirty years. And so in three hundred years there would be a decline of two to the tenth power which is very big. Now there are some isotopes which last for a long time and that comes up in conversation. Idodine129 I believe is around seventeen million years. Technetium 99 is, as I recall, two hundred thousand years or something like that. And so there are some very long-lived - I donít remember technetium - I believe thatís right, but anyway Iíll check it if you send the written thing. There are some very long-lived ones, but the level of activity from those is very low. So saying theyíre going to last for a million years is not really a good indication of the time that the waste is going to be really hazardous.
CH: So if you were doing policy recommendations for the power companies or the power councils and things like that, what would you recommend for them in terms of dealing with power issues, power needs in this greater Columbia River Basin?
GH: For future power growth?
CH Yes, for future power growth.
GH: Iím not opposed to nuclear power. I think it has advantages. Iím not terribly concerned myself about radioactive waste disposal. I realize that there is a big cost question, and no utility is going to build a nuclear power plant at the kind of costs that existed back in the early nineteen eighties. But I guess I donít think that will happen any more in this country, so I wouldnít be adverse to additional nuclear power plants. I think that to the extent that one can use resources like, in particular, wind. I think of wind as being the most reasonable really renewable one, other than hydro power...
CH: Or solar?
GH: Solar if youíre willing to pay enough for your electricity. Solar, yes, I guess solar.
CH: [laughs] But is solar any less reliable than wind or...
GH: The sun goes down every day.
CH: Thatís true.
GH: So you can be sure that youíve got to have something to back up the solar. But as I say, the hydro system can do a great job of that if people are willing to operate it with that objective.
CH: Yes. Are there other elements to this look that weíre doing at your involvement in issues regarding the management of the Columbia River Basin in terms of energy or waste removal or anything else that we should take a look at?
GH: You mean not with respect to me but in general youíre talking about?
CH: No, in respect to you.
GH: Oh, letís see. Do I know anything else about anything else.
CH: Did you get involved in any other issues?
GH: Not really in any kind of expert role I guess, even to the extent that I am an expert in the things that I have talked about. No. I do feel strongly that some of the growth management issues are not being well dealt with. So there are some environmental issues that Iím very much interested in, but I havenít been in a professional basis involved in them. Iíve been involved in them to some extent on a personal basis, but not professionally. For example, this is an example, Whitman County has failed to follow the requirements of the growth management act with respect to designation of critical areas in the county. And I think it should. The position they have taken is that they will designate the critical areas when the use of land changes from agricultural to some other use. While it is agricultural they are just going to leave it as is. Not find the critical areas, because if they found them, I suppose they think they might have to do something about them where it might have some effect in some way on agriculture which is the land-use in something like ninety-five percent of their region. And they have recently re-zoned a lot of what I would call some of the more physically attractive parts of the region like the Snake River Brakes, or the river and so on, to permit a kind of cluster development. The basic zoning for agriculture in this county is that you canít build a house on anything less than twenty acres. Now they have zone clusters so that you can build ten houses on two hundred acres - but it doesnít have to be twenty acres by twenty acres, so it is sort of encouraging development in parts of the county where I think right now the great advantage to it is its attractiveness. And also around some of the lakes and so on, the same sort of thing. But I believe that, and I - but thatís my...
CH: I appreciate the time that youíve allowed me to speak with you on these issues, and ...
GH: Youíre welcome.
CH: Perhaps if we need to follow up, that you might be available for...
GH: Sure, sure.
CH: For further ...
GH: And be sure to send me those notes so that if I have said anything wrong, I can correct it. I donít think Iíve said anything wrong, but - I try to be very careful about that in fact.
CH: All right, we will. So thank you very much.
GH: Okay. Youíre welcome.
[End of interview]