THE MODERATOR – Fall 1998
From the Control Room
Several years of hard work and persistence have paid off. From every quarter we are hearing that we have accomplished our goal— B Reactor will be set aside as a museum.
Now the BRMA enters a new phase, in which we can help set up B Reactor to look more like it did in 1944, and work to get the reactor opened to the general public.
This will require time, money, and the efforts of many people to accomplish. The first task will be completion of the engineering study to establish the costs of making B Reactor safe for public tours. That study is a Tri-Party Agreement milestone to be started this fiscal year and completed next year.
Then comes implementation of the engineering study recommendations. After that, the road to the reactor from the Vernita rest stop needs to be upgraded and opened. At some point soon after, a dedicated staff will be needed at the Reactor.
Many decisions must be made regarding who will provide the staffing, who will fund and operate the museum, and what seasons and days of the week the museum will be open.
It seems like such an ambitious task, but surely no more ambitious than what we have already accomplished.
The Bruggeman building, about one quarter of the way to the B Reactor from the rest stop, appears to be seriously considered as a proposed Hanford Site interpretive center. One is certainly needed, and using the Bruggeman site would help to increase the number of visitors to B Reactor.
We must cooperate with commercial enterprises such as the Hanford Reach boat tours, and with not-for-profit groups such as the Railroad Society’s efforts to extend rail access to B Reactor.
Federally mandated historic preservation requirements have aided us in our efforts to date, and will be a valuable asset to our future efforts. However, our dream would never have gotten this far without the sympathy for our cause and the cooperation by the Department of Energy. We must provide the local DOE office with citizen support even more than we have in the past if the rest of our dream is to come true.
It may take several years or even decades, but with vigorous support from the B Reactor Museum Association and others sympathetic to our cause, it will surely happen.
Nominations for officers will be accepted at the November 14 meeting, and will be held open until the election. If you would like to serve on the board and help guide the BRMA through 1999, contact Lyle Wilhelmi, President.
BRMA Board Members – 1998
President: Lyle Wilhelmi
Vice President: Jim Stoffels
Secretary: Pam Novak
Treasurer: Roger Carpenter
Fund Raising: Pam Novak
Health, Safety, & Engineering: Del Ballard
History, Artifacts, & Exhibits: Madeleine Brown
Membership: Joe Hedges
Public Relations: Jim Thornton
Editor: Gene Weisskopf
Reactor Cocooning Update
In mid-October, newly appointed Energy Secretary Bill Richardson visited Hanford. He attended a ceremony at C Reactor where he blessed the cocooning work. I was invited to the event because of my position as Chair of the Hanford Advisory Board’s Environmental Restoration Committee. Also present were a few dozen contractor folks, DOE folks, and local dignitaries. A standing-room-only crowd in the front face room in the reactor heard Richardson, Senator Patty Murray, John Wagoner, and the heads of Ecology and EPA make congratulatory remarks about the progress of cleanup.
The skinny I heard is that the access door to the cocooned reactor had been welded shut in late September to meet the Tri-Party Agreement Milestone, but they unwelded it so the ceremony with the VIPs could be held within it on October 14.
The 105-C Reactor is now cocooned. Its “footprint” has been drastically reduced. The maintenance will be simply this: once every five years a worker will unweld the door and inspect within. One inspection every five years!
This cocooning is officially known as “Interim Safe Storage,” or ISS. It is a way to minimize the costs and risks to workers until implementation of the formal Record of Decision for the old reactors. That Record of Decision, signed in 1993, is for safe storage followed by deferred one-piece removal. The deferral is to be up to 75 years, which allows some cobalt to decay and, hopefully, for some better technologies to emerge for the daunting task of moving an entire reactor.
The Record of Decision also acknowledges the B Reactor’s historical significance and that historic preservation actions for B might include “preservation of some portions of the B Reactor for display on or near the present location or at some other selected location.”
At the cocooning ceremony, I was surprised to hear DOE-RL Manager John Wagoner compare costs of cocooning with the costs of the deferred one-piece removal, as if the cocooning were a substitute for the ultimate removal. I asked Linda Bauer, his Assistant Manager for Environment, if DOE were walking away from that Record of Decision. She assured me that DOE was not.
But I hear very few folks who support the official Record of Decision, and sometimes I hear it causing the same kind of chuckles that result when someone says that spent fuel will be disposed of at the repository in Nevada.
When DOE and its regulators negotiated the milestones for the old reactors, it laid out just a few and planned a study that would determine the next steps. The milestones called for a few old reactors to be cocooned, then to start a “competitive procurement initiative” to ascertain the most effective and efficient approach to the implementation of the Record of Decision. This milestone, M-93-12, is due February 28, 2002.
The idea is to ask industry to find a better way to move the reactors—a way that will minimize dose and industrial risks to workers and mitigate the miles of mangled habitat the current plan would entail.
This is a study to watch. If no companies can propose a better way, there is a technical justification for revisiting that Record of Decision. Cocooning work is now under way for F and DR reactors. Bechtel and DOE-RL put the funding for this work below the line, and count on supplemental funding coming from Headquarters. Funding for FY1999 is still not completely firm, but the work is continuing. They’re “betting on the come.”
Want to know more about cocooning? You can call Jim Goodenough, the DOE project manager, or Mike Mihalic, the Bechtel project manager. Phone 376-7411 to get their (or any other Hanford) phone numbers.
On August 12, I attended a Decontamination and Decommissioning meeting that featured all the reactors at Hanford. I have a nine page document showing the plan for B.
Although B was at the top of the list of things to be discussed, I knew it would be set aside for “more important” tasks, and that all we would get was the printout.
Soooo. . .when they were reviewing what was to be covered, a high mucky-muck asked for some clarification. That was all I needed to seek MY clarification.
The key assumption, I found, was that the “assessment” of B Reactor was to be done “for the purpose of protecting persons engaged in touring the facility.”
I asked for a clarification of “tours.” Did that mean congregating inside the gate and saying “There it is,” or actually getting inside and viewing all the non-contaminated areas of the 105-B building? I was told that it meant the standard tour routes inside the reactor building. I also got an intimation that whatever “tour” meant, it remained to be negotiated.
I said I thought the characterization study was the first step necessary for environmental restoration. It should be done soon, too, because it would be a real embarrassment if some new contamination were found that made the building unsafe as a museum. I was assured that such was not the case.
I asked if the hazards they were to characterize included maintenance needs, and was told “No.” I asked if a deteriorating roof panel constituted a hazard, and was told that such things would be taken care of.
They never did get to B Reactor in the rest of the meeting, which ran about an hour over the schedule and still only got half way through the agenda. We were told we could get all the information from the documents provided.
Doug Sherwood of the EPA obviously got a kick out of my questions, as I was the only “civilian” in a room of about 50 people (and the only one not getting paid to be there!).
Here Today, HAER Tomorrow
I’d like to say that the B Reactor HAER report is complete, but we’re still waiting to hear back from the DOE and National Parks Service. The report spent quite awhile in the hands of the “spy catchers,” the sleuths who review DOE reports to make sure we don’t give away any secrets or information that has economic value to the United States. So far, no calls from the FBI.
In the meantime, many members of the BRMA have reviewed the document extensively, ensuring that the final product will be both a group effort and a very good one at that. Their work is invaluable, especially so because all of them donated their many, many hours.
Editing for grammatical bugs is no easy task, and the more eyes that are applied to the job, the more thorough it will be. It’s especially tough when the person responsible for the mistake in question is sitting across the table from the reviewer. But kindness has prevailed, and tact has been well applied.
Checking for technical accuracy is even harder. Not only must facts be right, but they must be presented in a way that conveys the actual story. With our reviewers’ combined Hanford experience amounting to several hundred years and dating back to 1943, it wasn’t always easy for them to pin down one specific event. The review process has been a very healthy exercise for us all.
So far, the reviewers include (in alphabetical order) Del Ballard, Madeleine Brown, Richard Dierks, Jim Frymier, Greg Greger, Roger Hultgren, Ron Kathren, Bill McCue, Dee McCullough, Richard Nelson, Pam Novak, Miles Patrick, John Rector, Roger Rohrbacher, Bob Smith, Jim Stoffels, Lyle Wilhelmi, Kelly Woods, and Harry Zweifel.
Many thanks to them all for their outstanding efforts. The money they graciously declined will soon go into the coffers of the B Reactor Museum Association, where it will help to make B Reactor Museum a reality.
Boating to B
Last August 12, a crew of 19 intrepid men and women of the BRMA (and one 12-year old girl) took to the Columbia River for a daring voyage north up the river, all the way to the B Reactor. Thankfully, they went by boat, and on a brand new boat at that, as passengers on the Chinook Wind from the local river-touring company Columbia River Journeys.
Although they never actually went ashore at B Reactor, they explored its vicinity for possible dock sites in anticipation of the day when the reactor will be accessible by road, rail, and river.
The trip turned out to be as close to perfect as one would ever want. A stunning, bright blue summer day was probably a little too hot on land, but mild and inviting on the cool water of the river.
One would think that being on the Columbia would simply be a reversal of what we usually see from its banks, but it’s not at all familiar. It really is like being in a different world. First of all, it’s a lot wider when you’re actually in the middle of it. Then there are the islands, the reeds along the far banks, the burrows and nests you unexpectedly encounter, the darting fish, and enough birds to keep any peeping Audubonian quiet for a long while.
On this one trip, the wildlife count included beavers, pelicans, mule deer, blue herons, white-crowned night herons, ring-billed gulls, great egrets, cormorants, bark swallows, cliff swallows, a coyote or two, and a pair of river otters. It was a real reminder of what an attraction a river and its shores can be for animals, birds, and fish. And people, too.
The jet boat could really roar up the river, but it stopped frequently to meander among the sites. It reached Taylor’s Flats about an hour into the trip, which marks the lower end of the Hanford Reach. From that point all the way to Priest Rapids Dam is the only free-flowing stretch of the Columbia within the United States.
Two and a half hours into the trip brought the boat to the F Reactor, and in another 15 minutes it passed H Reactor and followed the big bend in the river that turns to the west. In the distance could be seen the D and DR Reactors, and farther still was the snowy peak of Mt. Rainer, reminding the marveling passengers of just how far away the horizon really is in eastern Washington.
It was only a few more minutes before the D and DR Reactors went by, the point at which the tour boat normally turns around and heads back to Richland. But this time it was going all the way. Shortly thereafter came the N Reactor, followed by the two K Reactors, West and East. And then it was the 200-foot tall exhaust stack of the B Reactor peering above the bank, and the 181-B river pump house marking the farthest extent of the journey.
Here the boat and its passengers lingered, taking more pictures, getting drowsy in the sun, and daydreaming about the time when this would be the disembarkation point, and the beginning of a short trek inland to the soon-to-be-world-famous B Reactor.
Scouting for a Dock
The occasional bus tours to B Reactor are ready to be augmented by boat tours. There is an excellent dock location, either for the commercial river tour boats or for private boats, near the 1904-B outfall structure, just down river of the 181-B pump house.
An existing road extends due north from 105-B to the top of the river bank, and only minor work would be necessary to construct a graded footpath downhill to the water’s edge. A small dock can be installed there and fenced in as required for security concerns. The area was scouted during the August boat trip, and the existing slope to the river bottom is steep enough for boat access, with no dredging necessary. The distance from the reactor to the bank is about half a mile; a shuttle vehicle may be handy during inclement weather.
Columbia River Journeys has said they are ready to start running tour groups to B Reactor as soon as a dock is constructed. A one-way boat tour would be ideal, with passengers going to or returning from the reactor by bus.
Building a dock could be a less expensive alternative to replacing Route 6 west to the Vernita Bridge, as described in the feasibility study, and can do a lot to stimulate public interest in trips to a B Reactor Museum.