THE MODERATOR – Fall 2000
K > 1
There is one word that aptly describes the many roles that B Reactor has played in world history—convergence. No matter which historical thread one ponders, it is drawn through B Reactor and woven neatly into the many other threads that meet there. Convergence.
World events converged; scientific theories, discoveries, and experiments converged; people converged; national and international politics converged; hopes for an unlimited, clean source of energy converged; environmental issues and technology converged; the hopes for worldwide peace converged; and now people and events are converging once again as we recognize the critical paths of history that run through this unique structure. Convergence.
And that was your poetic thought for the day; a bit corny, perhaps far-fetched, but more likely an understatement. Especially so in the past three months, as you’ll find in the “What’s Been Going on” section of this newsletter—July, August, and September were about as busy as one would ever expect, hope, or care for. Events and people were converging at the reactor at a feverish pace. Although there was no ribbon-cutting ceremony at the reactor (just in case your hopes were rising), many very positive events took place, and the groundwork was laid for many more.
Welcome John Wheeler
Perhaps the most notable thread that converged at B Reactor was the visit by John Archibald Wheeler, who came to Richland in mid-August to participate in a notable scientific conference and an even more notable deluge of memories. Wheeler is most famous to us in the BRMA for his role in designing the Hanford reactors for the Manhattan Project during the War. He was a key scientist on the project, as well as a scientific liaison between the Met Lab in Chicago and DuPont. He had the much valued ability to elucidate the scientific issues from Chicago to the engineers at DuPont, while also being personable and tactful enough to mix with both groups.
But Wheeler is generally more renowned for all the other work he has done in his long career. He was first invited here for his August visit by Rai Weiss and Fred Raab of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) on the Hanford Site. Rai is a scientist who splits his time between his work at M.I.T. and LIGO, while Fred is LIGO’s director. Wheeler’s life-long contributions to physics provided the scientific foundation that led to what we see today as a huge L-shaped structure, with each arm being almost 2½ miles long, in the desert west of Route 10 near the Hanford Site. So there are two remarkable structures that brought Wheeler back to Richland.
He first came here in the Fall of 1944 as a scientific advisor during the construction of the Hanford reactors. He had an office in the 300 Area, which he shared with BRMA member Kelly Woods; the two and their families became friends during that intense period while Hanford was being built and started.
Wheeler carries a special fame around here for the concerns he brought to DuPont about the possible negative effects that fission by-products could have on the reactor’s ability to sustain a nuclear chain reaction once it was running. DuPont made what turned out to be the correct and quite prescient decision, and increased the number of uranium-bearing process tubes in the reactor from about 1500 to 2004. Without that decision, the reactor could never have reached its design rating power level of 250 megawatts (MW, that’s heat in this case, not electricity).
To provide a suitable venue for Wheeler’s visit in the year 2000, we scheduled our August meeting at the Atomic Ale brewpub for Sunday the 13th. Although Dr. Wheeler is approaching the age at which one is expected to slow down a little (actually, he’s about 20 years past that point), his schedule was as robust as anyone would care to have. His wife Janette did not come with him due to unexpected but not untypical impingements of life, but he was escorted by his one-time graduate student and protégé, Kip Thorn, and Thorn’s wife, Carolee.
That Sunday morning, they drove from Seattle, where Wheeler had arrived, to Richland. Dr. Wheeler then spent several hours at CREHST autographing his recently published memoirs, and talking to the many locals who came to see him. Late in the afternoon, he and the Thorns drove the few blocks to Atomic Ale, where a full house was there to greet them (a mix of BRMA members and their families, and several tables of gravitational-wave astronomers from LIGO, most of whom seemed quite young by comparison). Wheeler was given a seat at the head of the table at the head of the room, with a microphone and speakers nearby. Thanks, Lyle, for setting up our sound equipment.
Your fearless leader (a polite way of saying I don’t mind talking to/at a crowd) had a wireless microphone that he took to various BRMA members and family who were contemporaries of Wheeler at Hanford in 1944 and 1945. Some were more than willing to have a microphone shoved in their face, while others were a bit shy. But the Memories Mine held a rich vein, with the likes of Kelly and Lydia Woods, Roger and Bluie Rohrbacher, Tom Clement, Roger and Idelle Hultgren, John Rector, Annette Heriford, Jim Frymier, and Carol Roberts. It wasn’t just a convergence, but a maelstrom of memories with infinite potential.
The Rohrbachers showed a Christmas card they had received circa 1945, and asked if anyone could guess who the two kids were in the photograph, posing with a pile of toy blocks; the letters on two of them spelled out “PU” (as in plutonium). It didn’t take long for the correct answer to come along—Charlie Wende’s family.
Carol Roberts talked about the youthful years she spent in Richland, and how in a single day she saw the town she lived in take a prominent place in world history.
Roger Hultgren had the best show-and-tell—his small notebook from wartime Hanford, with the notes he took during classes in various nuclear topics, which were essentially the first organized classes ever given to those in operations at Hanford. The instructors names included Parker, Gamertsfelder, Wende, Kanne, and John Wheeler.
I asked one question of Dr. Wheeler that I had been wondering about for a long time. I pointed out that Enrico Fermi was known by his code name, Mr. Eugene Farmer, when he made trips to Hanford. What was John Wheeler’s code name during the Manhattan Project? The question was followed by a millisecond pause, after which came the rather deflating answer “I didn’t have one.” What? The famous John Wheeler didn’t have a code name? The man who studied under Niels Bohr, who co-authored with Bohr the first paper to explain the fission process? No code name?
Obviously, there had been some sort of SNAFU in the Corps of Engineers, so that poor Dr. Wheeler had to risk his neck by appearing under his own name. The other, even less appealing possibility is that no one recognized his name and therefore never even thought about issuing him a code name. One would think that a basic code name could have been given to him simply out of professional courtesy.
Wheeler is known for having popularized the term “black hole” and “wormhole.” More important to us locally, in his memoirs he points out that Fermi was using the term “slower downer” to describe the graphite that literally did slow down the neutrons in a reactor. Wheeler saved all who were to follow a lot of verbal trouble by suggesting, instead, the term “moderator,” which was soon accepted as a better term.
The evening at Atomic Ale slowly wound to its inevitable end. It all seemed to be a great success, at least from my perspective (the fact that we were able simply to meet in the same place at the same time was a great success, given the possibilities during the planning phase). Karen Nixie and the Atomic Ale staff did a fine job of keeping the crowd fed and watered, and she reported that we performed admirably, too.
Thanks to all of you who came to this memorable, if low-key, event. And thank you John Wheeler, for allowing us to share in your memories from the time when your life, and that of many others, converged at B Reactor.
Experts Converge at B Reactor
On September 11, a panel of experts converged on Hanford to view, discuss, learn, and ponder the future of two DOE “signature facilities” from the Manhattan Project—B Reactor and T Plant. The DOE on the national level is distilling its historic properties to just the few key buildings that embody the technology that was born during our efforts to make an atomic bomb in WW II. Nationwide, there are eight signature properties.
Besides the two at Hanford, there are three at Oak Ridge, TN—the X-10 Graphite Reactor, which was the semiworks (although air-cooled ) for the Hanford reactors, as well as the K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant and the Y-12 Beta-3 Racetrack, two examples of the U-235 separations process.
At Los Alamos is the V-Site Assembly Building and, nearby, the Army’s Trinity Site. Chicago has the Metallurgical Laboratory, consisting of the Chemistry Building and CP-1 (although the pile itself is long gone).
Few would doubt the historical significance of those eight structures, but the question remains, should they or can they be preserved? The six-member panel of professionals in the field of architectural and historic preservation had been called to Hanford by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (several of its members were also on the tour), a relatively independent federal agency that advises the Executive branch and Congress on historic preservation issues. The Council would pass along the findings to the DOE’s Corporate Board on Historic Preservation, which was established by the DOE to help create a long-term preservation strategy for DOE properties, especially for the eight signature facilities.
A variety of organizations was invited along on the tour to answer questions and offer opinions and feedback. The BRMA was represented by Larry Denton, Roger Rohrbacher, Lyle Wilhelmi, and Gene Weisskopf, while Ron Kathren and Annette Heriford were there representing other organizations. Everyone met downtown at the Federal Building, where DOE Hanford manager Keith Klein gave us a pep talk and his support.
One intriguing perspective came from Gladys Wiltse of the Yakama Nation’s cultural resources program. She suggested that an 1855 treaty allows the Yakamas to say something like “After you’ve cleaned things up, please pack your signature buildings and vacate our property.” A reminder of how fragile any one version of history can be.
The group of about 30 boarded a DOE bus that found its way through the Hanford Site to B Reactor. Just about everyone was impressed by our reactor, as evidenced later on during discussions, when the general consensus was that preserving B Reactor was basically a “no-brainer.”
It’s a complete building in reasonably good condition that tells the entire story of Manhattan Project reactors. In fact, that’s not really the case in some of our opinions (where is the 190 building or the high tanks?), but when compared to all the other properties these people have considered in their careers, B Reactor is a real showpiece.
Such was not the case with T Plant, the 221-T building. Although its size is impressive and its purpose seemingly understandable, there is nothing there that compares to the reactor’s front face and control room, nothing that tells the whole story so well. The group was led through portions of the three 800-foot long galleries by David Levinskas and Bobby Baker, and given a look at the canyon through a television. At the end, though, it seemed that the significance of the building’s achievements had not come across.
Given that T Plant is much more of a radiological problem than B Reactor, the building is many times larger than 105-B, and it could be used for low-level waste storage, it’s possible that the panel may not recommend that it be preserved. That would be a shame, for without the panel’s and the Advisory Council’s encouragement, other voices may eventually turn the discussion away from the building’s historic role during the Manhattan Project.
That would be an immense loss for Hanford, whose own story is such a key to 20th century history. A similar thought was expressed by Greg Griffith, the Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer here in Washington. He emphasized the importance of telling the entire story of the Manhattan Project by tying the various sites together into one cohesive narrative. We look forward to the recommendations of the panel and the decisions they produce at the DOE.
Don’t Worry, Phase II Isn’t the Last
The Phase II study was completed in late June and sent to the EPA for their approval. In mid-July, the EPA expressed their lack of enthusiasm (my own tempered phraseology) for the report, primarily because it covered only a portion of the 105-B building and none of the grounds around the building. Full coverage would have been expected, for example, even if the DOE been planning to cocoon the building. The EPA had also been expecting a public comment period for the document. The bottom line is that the Phase II study will not be the last one that’s needed before B Reactor is put on a course to becoming a museum.
Next up, the Engineering Evaluation Cost Analysis (EE/CA) report for B Reactor. Memorize that acronym, as you’ll be hearing a lot about it over the next year. Our understanding is that this type of report has been done for the other Hanford reactors, but in this case may be more comprehensive because B Reactor is slated to be preserved, not torn down.
At a meeting at Bechtel on August 23, we learned from the EPA (in the form of Dennis Faulk at the meeting) that they will need to know why the DOE would like to preserve the building, instead of taking the simplest route for clean up: simply tearing it down, as was done to C Reactor. We hope (actually, assume) that preserving it so it can become a museum is perhaps the worthiest of purposes.
In that same vein, the EPA will want assurances from the DOE that the building will actually become a museum (those assurances may come from the local DOE office, not D.C.). On the other hand, the decision would not force DOE to preserve the building forever. If circumstances changed in the future, the building could be looked at again and a different decision made.
At this meeting, as she did at our BRMA meeting in September, Dru Butler gave an overview of the EE/CA process and schedule: the report has already started, it will be finished in April 2001, put through a public comment period in May and June (keep your pencils sharpened), finalized in July, and “sealed” via an action memorandum in August 2001.
Finally, if you’re concerned that the EE/CA will really be the last report done on B Reactor before it can finally get on the museum track, don’t start worrying yet. At the meeting with Bechtel and the DOE on 9/14, Gene asked that very question.
After a short and hopeful silence, Chris Smith answered “Actually not.” It turns out there will be an “Auditable Safety Analysis” (ASA) report that DOE will need to put together. However, it should not be a problem and will be started while the EE/CA is being put together. Does anyone want to place a bet on what the absolutely final report will really be, and when it will be issued?
B Reactor Budget
Several recent articles in the local newspaper have discussed the 2001 Hanford budget, and mentioned tantalizing dollar signs for B Reactor. The first number we heard was $950,000, but that may now be $500,000; we’re not sure yet.
The money would go toward increased access and hazards mitigation. Del asked if it would be separate from other monies when DOE gives it to Bechtel. Chris Smith of the DOE said that the money is part of the $10 million that is heading for work in the 100 Areas, but was requested specifically for cleanup B Reactor work.
The most important things, though, may not be the actual dollar amounts: 1) the DOE specifically asked for money for work at B Reactor (we hear Dee Lloyd’s voice in there), instead of pulling bits of money out of the 100 Area D&D or S&M budget; 2) Congress said okay, we want work done to help preserve B Reactor; 3) the money will, indeed, facilitate ongoing work at B Reactor; 4) Congress won’t be surprised when more money is requested in 2002 and beyond; and 5) eventually Congress will ask the DOE “Just where is this museum we’ve been funding?” Which would be fine with us!
Along with this money, Dru Butler was happy to report to us that there will be about $517,000 available for hazards mitigation and related work at B Reactor. The money comes from a “baseline change process” (BCP), in which the money saved from cost underruns on other Bechtel projects in 2000 can be shifted to B Reactor in 2001. Bechtel made this proposal to DOE, and are waiting for DOE’s okay.
For 2001, the money would be put toward generating the EE/CA report and for maintenance work that need not be delayed until the EE/CA
finalized. Funds will also allow the reactor to be opened up eight times for public tours in 2001, and will initiate a long-term plan for B Reactor, although the plan really can’t get going until the EE/CA process is finished.
So B Reactor might end up with over a million dollars for hazards mitigation, repairs, and the like. Or it might be a half-million, depending on whether the 2001 budget dollars simply replace the dollars that were saved by Bechtel in 2000. Time will tell.
One final note, a million bucks may sound like a lot, but it’s really just 0.07% of the proposed 2001 Hanford budget. To put it in other terms, imagine that the budget is the Empire State building. You’re standing on the sidewalk in front of it, craning your neck looking up at the building in search of that B Reactor money. And then a toy poodle wanders by and piddles on the wall of the building. That’s about the height of the B Reactor money.
NONETHELESS, we’re ecstatic that the DOE is not just grouping B Reactor with the other reactors in Hanford budget requests, and that Bechtel is finding the means to keep the ball rolling at the reactor, and that Congress is learning about this historic building, albeit somewhat indirectly through budget requests.
BRMA Board Members – 2000
President: Gene Weisskopf
Vice President: Jim Stoffels
Secretary: Madeleine Brown
Treasurer: Joe Hedges
Health, Safety, & Engineering: Del Ballard
History, Artifacts, & Exhibits: Lyle Wilhelmi
Membership: Joe Hedges
Public Relations: Jim Thornton
Editor: Gene Weisskopf
We thank Susan Praino and the thoughtful people at Battelle who make donations to the BRMA when we provide tour guides for their B Reactor tours. It’s nice to know they’re thinking of us.
White Bluffs Log Cabin
The oldest man-made structure in the Hanford–Tri-Cities area is the log cabin at White Bluffs, on the Franklin County side of the river. A hundred years before B Reactor was built, White Bluffs was already an established settlement, an important trading and transportation center for Ben Snipes’ cattle drives and for the British Columbia gold rush. A small town grew up around the ferry and the Hudson’s Bay Company house. The log cabin was most likely a blacksmith shop.
The town of White Bluffs is long gone, but the log cabin still remains. After a century and a half of neglect, it’s in badly deteriorated condition and is nearly falling down. Now for the good news: since the cabin is less than a quarter-mile from the river, it’s part of the Hanford Reach National Monument, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is interested in preserving this historic structure.
A site visit by an FWS archaeologist is scheduled for October. Hopefully, the log cabin will be able to join B Reactor as one of the National Monument’s crown jewels.
[Editor’s note: Since the Hanford reactors are not a part of the National Monument lands, we think Jim intended to say “Hopefully, the reactor will be able to join the log cabin as one of the National Monument’s crown jewels.” A gem of a thought.]
B Reactor Inventory
Thank you BRMA members! Many of you have heard about the B Reactor inventory, as we have had a tough time identifying many of the things we found. Several times we printed photographs of objects and brought them to the meetings for identification. We appreciated all your help. We also had help from several members while they were at B Reactor to give tours, including Larry Denton, Dee McCullough, Roger Rohrbacher, Bob Smith, and Lyle Wilhelmi. Thanks so much to all of you who helped out with this project!
During August and September 2000, the CREHST Museum staff completed this inventory of the historic items in the “clean” areas of B Reactor, a job that had been requested and funded by the DOE-RL. The task was initiated in February and March, but because of the high cost of opening the reactor, the inventory was put on hold until August.
During the inventory, Michelle Skinner and I photographed and bar-code tagged each item. We recorded information about items in a specialized, museum database computer program that included object name, brief physical description, manufacturer, date, identifying numbers or inscriptions, and measurements. We recorded a total of 643 items. Gene Weisskopf has a printout of the records and a CD with photographs of everything.
If you handle items when you are at B Reactor, please don’t remove the tags or bar codes, because the inventory information is meaningful only as long as the tag stays on the item.
You may also notice documents missing from the front face exhibit area. Some of these were being “loved to death,” so to preserve them we replaced them with color copies of their covers. We removed the log books from the desk in the control room office, which were being consumed by rats! We placed them in protective storage where the rats couldn’t find them. (Pest control guys did catch the rat!) DOE-RL asked us to remove the contents of the file cabinets in the control room and control room offices. We boxed these and stored them in a locked room at B Reactor.
Historic Furniture at B Reactor
Wheels often turn slowly, but they do turn. In December 1998, a panel was convened by CREHST to lay the ground work for deciding what to save for the Hanford collections. This panel included Hanford retirees, historians from several Washington museums, and local historians. During discussions, the subject of furniture came up. The panel agreed that duplicates of pieces should be offered to B Reactor to refurnish it to its period of operation.
Almost two years later, this was accomplished. Lyle Wilhelmi made the decisions for placement; several pieces went into the control room and the control room offices. Lyle also decided to remove the exam table and medical cabinet from one office, since it had not traditionally been used that way. That room is now furnished as an office again. Extra pieces will be used later as additional rooms are added to the tour route; meanwhile, they are in storage at B Reactor.
Historic furniture pieces have been corded to keep people from sitting on them. This furniture looks like it will last forever and we hope it does. To help that goal, we ask people not to sit in the furniture. There are lots of other chairs at B Reactor now, mostly the white plastic ones the BRMA purchased for tours. They’re much easier to replace than a 50-year old oak office chair.
Again, thanks for all your help and continuing support……Connie
Local Book, Local Review
Nuclear Legacy: Students of Two Atomic Cities,
by Maureen McQuerry, with Tetyana Gavrysh and Inna Ryazanova, Advisors and Editors; Battelle Memorial Institute, 2000
When Gene Weisskopf, President of the BRMA, asked me if I’d like to write a review of this book, I did not hesitate—I said “Yes!” How hard can that be? I’ve given book reviews before. Well, it was not as easy as I thought. How does one report on the hours of research done by the students of two Atomic Cities, Richland, USA, and Slavutych, Ukraine?
The Hanford students not only researched the 200 years of history since Lewis and Clark arrived, but reported on the Native American culture before the advent of the white men.
The Ukrainian students reported on the history of the twelve-year old town, Slavutych, built to house the 50,000 residents of Prypyat, the town where the Chornobyl reactor disaster took place. They told of the beginnings of the surrounding area with “History so old, it gives me shivers,” said Olga Ryezan. Old manuscripts confirm that Kyiv is 1500 years old and Chernihiv is 1300 years old.
Included are biographical sketches of the scientists involved in the work that led to the dropping of the Atom Bomb over Hiroshima. Hearing of the local residents who had to give up their property and evacuate their tiny towns, and their emotions doing so, makes for some emotional reading.
Then there are the feelings of the employees who worked on the B Reactor, not knowing what was going to happen or even what purpose the building would serve. There are articles on today’s leaders in their respective towns, and what the future may hold.
Some of what the students have written is not how this reviewer remembers it, but research facts and memory facts do not always come together, although both are assumed correct.
The students report about the Cold War and the security involved to prevent terrorist actions or shootings around the nuclear facilities. They discuss their individual perspective to a most controversial subject: Nuclear Energy and what to do about cleaning up the radioactive disposal sites.
The history of the Chornobyl RBMK-1000 Reactor in the Ukraine tells some facts that had not been released to the public before the students started their research. This chapter proclaims the firemen as heroes and reads with the suspense and pathos of a best-selling novel—but the facts are all too true.
The American B Reactor at Hanford and the other wartime reactors were discussed by these students, including the start-up of the N Reactor and what the future could hold for the FFTF.
Every resident in the Quad Cities should read this book. Better still, every family should have a copy of Nuclear Legacy in their home libraries. This book should be required reading for every Congressman and leader in Washington DC, so that they might better understand that nuclear energy is a viable source of power, as well as health-related products like isotopes.
What the students have written shows not only nuclear energy and the results of war armament, but also the peaceful use of the atom. They think that writing this book will bring cultures together for a common cause and possibly a world without the horror of war—an unreal dream? Perhaps! But the students involved in writing and researching this book think not.
[A “thank you” to Mike Hughes and Bechtel for sending a copy of Nuclear Legacy to the BRMA. The spirit behind the gift is much appreciated.]
What’s Been Going On Since July 1, 2000
7/12 – Joe Hedges, our Treasurer, and Gene go over B Reactor tour guide schedules with info. from Roger Rohrbacher, and write honorarium checks, to those who served as guides ($25) or drove their cars ($25) to a tour. Gene stops by Atomic Ale to talk with Karen Nixie about our upcoming meeting on 8/13.
7/14 – Gene talks with Tim Peckinpaugh, who represents Tri-City interests in Washington, D.C., about future plans and costs for a B Reactor museum. The 2001 Hanford budget is winding its way through Congressional committees, and any relevant data about B Reactor could be of interest to members of the House and Senate who were dealing with the Hanford budget.
7/15 – Tri-City Herald newspaper runs an article about the upcoming Hanford budget, and mentions $1 million that could be earmarked for B Reactor work.
7/15 – Public tour of Hanford, including B Reactor. Del Ballard, Bob Smith, and Paul Vinther serve as tour guides. But when they show up in the morning, the reactor gate is locked, as it is at 9:00 when the tour bus arrives. Evidently, no one at Bechtel was told about the tour; someone finally comes to open up by 11:00.
7/20 – Gene drives out to B Reactor to serve as a tour guide for a group of 20 or so Bechtel summer interns, but is surprised when Larry Denton and Mike Hughes, the President of Bechtel Hanford, Inc., step off the tour bus at the reactor. Turns out the interns were getting the deluxe tour of Hanford and the reactor, while Mike was getting a chance to exercise his own interest in Hanford history and explain it to a very young audience (most of whom were born 10 years or so after the reactor was shut down).
7/21 – We learn that the EPA in Richland is not exactly happy with the results of the Phase II report, and gave it failing marks on two primary issues: only a portion of the building was covered in the report (the so-called “current tour route”), and none of the grounds was included, even though tourists might be walking around the building for various outdoor exhibits. The job of finalizing plans for B Reactor will have to be done in the next study, called an Engineering Evaluation Cost Analysis (EE/CA) report. (We received a formal letter stating the EPA concerns on 7/27.)
7/21 – On Larry Denton’s suggestion, we write a letter to Mike Hughes of Bechtel that outlines some of the ongoing BRMA issues and concerns. The letter, which was first read/edited by Larry, Lyle, Madeleine, Del, and Jim Stoffels, included these topics:
Suggestions that could help streamline the process of arranging B Reactor tours
- The need for “real” Hanford badges for our tour guides
- A need to relax the age (=18) and nationality (U.S. only) restrictions for B Reactor visitors.
- A question concerning the number of visitors allowed into 105-B each year—does anyone have a quota? The more or fewer the better?
- A need to expand the reactor tour route.
- A general question about how plans and spending for B Reactor are established, and how we’d like to see and be involved in that process
- The need for a single point of contact at Bechtel in all issues relating to B Reactor (a “B Reactor czar” as Gene likes to think of it), which would make our role easier while also ensuring that at least one person has a handle on all activity pertaining to 105-B.
- Finally, our concerns about being able to hold onto the large cache of unused reactor graphite for future museum use. Graphite is the one material that uniquely identifies Hanford reactors.
7/26 – Tom Marceau e-mails Gene re the new required radiological training for visitors to B Reactor, essentially the General Employee Radiological Training, or GERT, which is “the minimum radiation safety training requirement for members of the public entering the following areas when under continuous escort.” Those areas including Radiologically Controlled Areas (RCA) and Fixed Contamination Areas (FCA), like parts of B Reactor. After the traditional gasp of astonishment at yet another set of rules seemingly coming from nowhere, Gene gives Tom a call to get a few more details.
Afterwards, there seems to be a silver lining—the DOE efforts to formalize the rad training (familiarization) for visitors will hopefully provide an opportunity to include the hazards pep talk that visitors receive at the reactor, thereby killing two birds with one stone (sorry for the avian figure of speech, Madeleine).
7/26 – Tom e-mails Gene re the repair work that would begin soon at B Reactor. Sealing cracks, etc, and closing off the ventilation ducts that run along the roof so they no longer open into the building.
7/26 – Gene meets with Bob Dorhman, a professor at the School of Art at the University of Oklahoma. Bob was traveling to various atomic sites over the summer, gathering material for an art-related book about the images and icons of the Atomic Age. Since B Reactor was not open that day, Gene took Bob to the Spudnut shop, where they discussed Bob’s project and BRMA efforts and goals.
7/28 – With the August 18 deadline for submitting our 1999 taxes to the I.R.S., Gene enters five years of BRMA checking account transactions into Quicken (a computerized bookkeeping program), starting from January 1995. In the process, he grouped transactions into several basic categories, such as memberships, newsletter expenses, “trinkets” (hats, badges, etc), and tour guides. He reconciled the data with all bank statements for that period, and everything balanced to the penny. From this point forward, he and Joe can easily enter each month’s transactions to keep the computerized account information up to date.
7/28 – Ron Kathren offered his views on the new radiological training required for visitors to B Reactor. It seems that the bottom line is that the DOE interpretation of the rules will stand (it is their reactor, after all), and Bechtel is obligated to satisfy those rules.
7/28 – Send Tim Peckinpaugh a collection of B Reactor information, including a 4-page condensation of our Vision Statement, and a cost estimate based on numbers derived from the Phase II study.
7/31 – Tom M. talks with Gene again about the handling of rad. training for visitors. Bechtel, DOE, and various rad. people are trying to put together a reasonable solution. May be a written document that visitors will read on their way to the reactor, and then sign a form saying they’ve read it. Gene emphasized again that this process should include the hazards pep talk people already receive at the reactor, and signing once on the bus would obviate their having to sign in again at the reactor.
7/31 – BRMA receives a copy of the book Nuclear Legacy: Students of Two Atomic Cities from Mike Hughes at Bechtel. Writing and publishing the book was a joint effort among student in Richland and Slavutych in the Ukraine, and tells the story of life in an “atomic city” by the kids who live in them.
8/2 – Gene gets a call from Mike Fox at Tri-City Railroad. He’s interested in what we’re doing, has been to our Web site. They can use the railroad track as far as the Energy Northwest reactor, and the Port of Benton will eventually gain access across the entire Site. They have a railcar they plan to refurbish that has a kitchen, bathroom, and seats eight in a dining room. They’re interested in making it available for tours across the Site, for dinner tours, etc. He was especially interested in taking us out for a test run across the site to B Reactor. Sounds like a good deal with lots of potential.
8/4 – After much discussion and data gathering, Gene sends to Mary Goldie at DOE the necessary badging information on seven of our members who have served as tour guides—BADGES! At least, she will see if they can get through the system (a normal assumption, to say the least).
8/5 – Tour of B Reactor for the Hanford–White Bluffs reunion. Roger R., Larry D., Jim Williams, and Gene serve as tour guides for the busload of pre-Manhattan Project natives and various relations. It’s especially exciting for all of us to be the first graduating class of the new “General Radiological Training for Tours,” course #105651, Rev0. This involved reading a 7-page document at the hotel meeting room before boarding the bus. It talked about the nature of radiation, doses, types of hazards we might encounter, and, of course, the standard discussion of dental x-ray equivalency. Concise and well written, it adds a bit of drama and realism to the tour.
The group was very impressed with their tour of B Reactor; many of them had never seen the inside of this historic building, the construction of which forced them from their homes in 1943. The only problem was an absence of chairs, a situation that normally is not an issue, but this tour included many septua- and octogenarians. Time for the BRMA to get into action on a new issue.
8/7 – Gene spends a good part of the day (seemingly) on the phone and e-mail helping to arrange various upcoming B Reactor tours, especially August 14 for John Wheeler. Ample time spent getting badging info. sent in for our guides. Roger Rohrbacher is our official Tour Coordinator, but he doesn’t have e-mail and, let’s face it, he’s not 100% responsible for all aspects of every tour.
8/8 – Gene calls Paul Griffin at Bechtel about getting a copy of the finished Phase II report (we still haven’t received one). He said they were waiting to see if they were going to have to revise it based on the EPA comments, but he’d send a copy.
8/8 – We receive a copy of a letter from DOE to Allyson Brooks (State Historic Preservation Officer) regarding roof repairs at B Reactor, saying that DOE (Dee Lloyd), Bechtel (Tom Marceau), and the BRMA have all given their OK for the proposed roof repairs, and that “…this action will not affect the qualities of the property that qualify it for listing in the Register.” It asked for an expedited review to take advantage of the warm summer weather.
8/8 – Gene sends an e-mail to Don Eckert, the “guy in charge” of the work crew when B Reactor is opened up for tours, asking if it would be okay for BRMA to buy a dozen chairs to keep at the reactor for tours. Don thought it would be okay, he’d check on it. There was no problem if we were buying them, but I was reminded by one of Don’s bosses that future questions such as this could be directed to the proper authority, which evidently is now Dru Butler in a new role as Task Lead at B Reactor.
8/9 – Gene gets an introductory call from Dru Butler, the new Task Lead at B Reactor. They had met at the June 22nd B Reactor grand event, and now there was a new channel of communication to open and maintain. Her job falls under Surveillance and Maintenance (not Decontamination and Decommissioning), which bodes well for normalized activity at B Reactor (i.e. roof work and other maintenance to help preserve the building).
In a letter from Mike Hughes responding to our letter to him in July, he introduces Dru as “the B Reactor Task Lead, serving as BHI’s single point of contact for all activities associated with this facility, including tours, planning, surveillance and maintenance, facility upgrade, and regulatory issues.”
We discussed some positive budgetary news for 2001 (see related article). Dru invited us to get together in the near future to discuss various issues, including those that were brought up in our letter to Mike Hughes in July. She finished the conversation with a bit of encouragement about the rad training for reactor visitors. Her boss, Jerry Maguire, had been working to help make the final product reasonably slim and concise
8/10 – Roger R. and Bob Smith serve as guides for a B Reactor tour for the “graphite-moderator reactor safety group”, with Richard Romanelli as their escort.
8/10 – Gene gets a call from Bill Bequette, the retired editor of the Tri-City Herald, who is interested in B Reactor and how a museum might come about. He had seen our Vision Statement; we’ll send him a current one. Their talk covers such issues as tour boats and trains, a road to Vernita, school-age kids not being allowed in the reactor, and more. Gene will send him various other BRMA materials (and a membership form, just in case).
8/10 – Gene gets a call from Dan Carter who runs the Genie bus and tour company. He was wondering about us and future tours to B Reactor. He would love to see the DOE contract out their bus needs.
8/11 – Tour of B Reactor for Congressional aids and committee staffers who are touring Hanford prior to budget negotiations in Washington, D.C. Gene meets Larry Denton in the Federal Building in the morning and they drive to the reactor to serve as guides. There are about 15 on the tour, along with Mary Goldie and Marla Marvin from the DOE. It’s a good tour, not crowded, with sufficient questions to show that they were interested.
The bad news is that Gene has to drive home alone. Poor Larry volunteers to return to Richland with the visitors, not in a bus but in a tour boat on the Columbia River. What dedication! He was in their midst for a good three hours as they journeyed down the river. Gene assumes he was getting grilled on every budgetary aspect of B Reactor but, in fact, everyone took the afternoon off and had a great time in the boat. So they all got to take part in our visionary tour, where visitors arrive at the reactor by bus and return to Richland by boat.
8/12 – Public bus tour of Hanford makes a stop at B Reactor. Roger R., Del Ballard, and Bob S. take the morning bus, while Tom Clement, John Rector, and Gene take the afternoon bus. About 16 seats on the afternoon bus were filled by BRMA members and their families. Thank you Mary Goldie for helping some of our members show off the reactor.
8/13 – A special BRMA meeting at Atomic Ale in honor of John A. Wheeler (see related article in this issue of The Moderator). The membership at the meeting votes unanimously to approve the amendment to the bylaws that were published in the previous issue of The Moderator.
8/13 – Public presentation at Battelle Auditorium to honor the life and work of John Wheeler. His one-time graduate student and protégé Kip Thorn gives a very entertaining and informative overview of Wheeler’s life. A full house is very appreciative of the opportunity to learn about the man who was the primary scientist working with DuPont on the design of the Hanford reactors during the Manhattan Project. Wheeler’s work in physics also added much to the path that led to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) at Hanford. Wheeler’s amusing but poignant first comments after Thorn’s hour-long introductory talk—”It’s the first time I was ever at my own obituary.”
8/14 – Tour B Reactor in the morning with John Wheeler and friends from BRMA and LIGO. Bus and badging graciously provided by the DOE with the assistance and cooperation of Pam Daly. BRMA members Tom Clement, Larry Denton, Dee McCullough, John Rector, Roger Rohrbacher, Gene Weisskopf, and Kelly Woods are on the bus. All of them except the “kid” (Weisskopf) were contemporaries of Wheeler when he worked at Hanford and lived in Richland from the Fall of 1944 through Summer 1945. (See related article in this issue of The Moderator.)
After the Wheeler tour bus leaves, Roger R., Larry D., and Gene stay around to serve as guides for a Battelle-sponsored tour for the International Nuclear Safety Program (INSP). As happens so frequently at the reactor, the visitors speak with accents that hinted of Lithuanian and Russian. Unlike many tours, however, this one was filled with a dozen relatively stunning young women. But they were, indeed, of Russian and Lithuanian origin. (One of our ongoing jokes about tours at B Reactor is that it helps to get in if you have a Russian passport). Their interest in the reactor and their questions are exhilarating and encouraging to the guides (which probably explains their somewhat elevated pulse rates).
Another positive note—Battelle thanks the BRMA for our tour guides by sending a $100 donation to the group.
8/14 – Afternoon tour of the LIGO facilities taken by BRMA members Del B., Dee M., Jim Stoffels, Kelly W. and his wife Lydia, and Gene.
8/15 – Kelly Woods is interviewed in front of a video camera by the BRMA. He lives in Oregon, so being able to do the interview while he was in town was a great opportunity. The video work was done by Nick Nanni, the jack-of-all-electronics at Battelle’s EMSL building.
8/15 – Our taxes are in the mail! Although no money is owed for our non-profit work, we had to supply five years of data for the 501(c)3 tax forms.
8/16 – Jim Williams write a letter to the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the current state of the “oldest building in the Hanford/Tri-Cities area, the log cabin at White Bluff’s that was built in the 1870s.” Jim would like to organize a few volunteers to work with F&W on making improvements to the cabin in order to stabilize its condition. The BRMA, the Hanford/White Bluffs Pioneer Association, and the Franklin County Historical Society all saw merit in Jim’s proposal. The cabin is not a nuclear reactor, but it’s part of the region’s history.
8/21 – Nicely written article in the Hanford Reach (which circulates on the Hanford Site) about John Wheeler’s visit to B Reactor, with photographs, as well.
8/23 – Introductory meeting at Bechtel to “kick off” work on the Engineering Evaluation Cost Analysis (EE/CA) for B Reactor. (See related article in this issue of The Moderator)
8/25 – Gene meets with Dick Fox at Tri-City Regular to discuss the possibilities of organizing a train tour to B Reactor, sort of a test run for interested parties, including the press. To make a long and drawn out story short (long as in over the next six days), our plans eventually evaporated in the face of getting permission to use the track all the way to B, and Dick’s narrow window of opportunity to have a real passenger car to carry a load of people. But the concept is a good one that we hope to bring back in the near future.
8/26 – Public tour of Hanford and B Reactor in the morning, hosted by tour guides Bob S., Tom C., and John R.
8/27 – William Bequette writes about B Reactor in his column in the Sunday Tri-City Herald. The retired editor muses that if medals were awarded not just to people but to things, B Reactor would deserve one for helping win WW II. Also mentions our efforts at keeping the historic building in the public eye.
8/29 – Roger R. and Gene serve as tour guides at B Reactor for a Department of Defense tour of the Hanford Site. They also take out six plastic lawn chairs to store at the reactor for tours that need them. The BRMA bought the chairs for $5 each, a wonderful end-of-season price. A second Battelle tour follows for a group that deals with the decommissioning or conversion of Russian and Ukrainian production plutonium reactors.
Also, roof repairs are now in progress, as evidenced by the huge crane that’s parked at the reactor’s front door, able to lift workers and materials to any roof of the reactor. For one brief and humorous moment, both Roger and Gene envisioned a huge wrecking ball hanging from the cable. If Bechtel had wanted to play a warm practical joke on us, that would’ve done it.
8/31 – The BADGES are here!! Mary Goldie sends us an e-mail saying that our seven badges have been approved. Hallelujah. It’s amazing how such ordinarily mundane news can be so exciting. Gene calls or e-mails the seven soon-to-be-proud badge holders: Tom Clement, Larry Denton, Dee McCullough, John Rector, Roger Rohrbacher, Bob Smith, and Paul Vinther.
Having badges will greatly facilitate our participation in B Reactor tours, and eliminate numerous phone calls to request temporary badges (and remove the opportunity for requests to get lost, misdirected, etc.).
8/29 – An e-mail arrives at our BRMA Web site from a 5th grade school teacher in Irrigon, enquiring about bringing some school kids to the B Reactor Museum. Sigh. Gene e-mails back to say sorry, there is no such thing and, besides, 5th graders are too young to get in anyway. The teacher soon wrote back and asked “If I remember correctly, Hanford used to have a technology museum open to the public that was very child friendly. I went as a child and received a radioactive marble that I actually still have! Is this facility still open?”
Again, Gene e-mails back to give the sad news that the Science Center is long gone, but he will pass along her memories to Lyle (who once ran the Sci Ctr for the DOE). Gene also pointed out that the marble had been irradiated to make it turn cloudy, but doing so had not made it radioactive!!
Gene explains the role CREHST now plays as our local museum, and a few days later hears that the teacher has arranged to bring two busloads of kids to CREHST, where they will receive the “full treatment” of science talks, lessons, and hands-on stuff. So maybe their own kids will someday be able to see a B Reactor Museum.
9/6 – Lyle Wilhelmi and Gene attend the cultural resource issues exchange meeting, hosted by Dee Lloyd, the man of culture for the DOE. The first topic is about some side effects of the big Hanford fire in July. Several previously uncataloged but interesting cultural sites were revealed after the fire.
Dru Butler, the B Reactor czar for Bechtel, talked about her new role as B Reactor Team Lead. The upcoming EE/CA report will be a defining document in the future of B Reactor (as is the recently completed Phase II study). There will be a public comment period after the report is released, around May or June 2001, so the BRMA needs to be ready for that.
One of Dee Lloyd’s slides was of the (in)famous “Blue Lady” painting that lies deep in the bowels of H Reactor. Although Lyle and Gene are at first scandalized to see this image displayed at a public meeting (perhaps for the first time in history), they took comfort in the fact that the picture is, after all, “art.”
Tom Marceau talks about the upcoming (9/11) tour of Hanford by the expert panel for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. They’ll be looking at two of the DOE’s eight “signature properties” from the Manhattan Project-era: B Reactor and T Plant. The Council is a somewhat independent advisory group, not beholden to Congress or the White House.
9/9 – An article in the Tri-City Herald discusses the 2001 Hanford budget, including “In other budget news, the U.S. Senate on Thursday night passed the Energy and Water Appropriations bill for fiscal 2001, which includes…about $1.5 billion for Hanford, covering projects such as $950,000 for a B Reactor museum.”
This is an overstatement, however, as any money set aside for B Reactor is not to make a museum, but to start making upgrades to the building that will allow for public access. Nonetheless, the fact that our government is actually thinking about B Reactor, let alone specifying funding for it, is a great milestone.
9/9 – Joe, with the bank statement and check register, and Gene, with Quicken on his computer, update and reconcile our BRMA checkbook. Everything balances, checks and deposits are categorized in the computer—the system works.
9/11 – The Expert Panel, convened by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the DOE, tours the Hanford site, specifically B Reactor and T Plant. The BRMA is represented by Larry, Roger R., Lyle, Gene, while BRMA members Ron Kathren and Annette Heriford are also on the tour, but were invited under different personas. (See related article in this issue of The Moderator.)
9/11 – At the BRMA’s September meeting, Dru Butler speaks to the group of her role at Bechtel in relation to B Reactor and the BRMA.
9/14 – Del, Lyle, and Gene attend meeting with Dru Butler and associates at Bechtel, regarding ongoing issues at B Reactor. Issues that are discussed include:
Dee Lloyd and Michelle Kovach discuss the trip they made to the Experimental Breeder Reactor–1 (EBR-1) museum at the INEEL site in Idaho. You can visit it at http://www.inel.gov/resources/tours/ebr1.htm. Dee noted that the reactor became a museum long ago, around 1976 (it was designated a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1966; B Reactor does not have that designation, although Dee would like to apply for it). Children are allowed to visit the museum; it’s free, and open 9:00–5:00 from Memorial Day through Labor Day; there’s a classroom next to the reactor for school tours to meet and learn about the reactor. Once a year, seven radiological technicians do a week-long survey of the building, taking smears, etc. It’s a major but finite job and expense that ensures the building remains safe for visitors.
Dru Butler presents a compact set of guidelines for B Reactor tours for our comments and suggestions. We will add items to the Tour Guides section to help tour-coordinators factor us into their tours. The 2001 budget was discussed and almost clarified, as were the plans for the upcoming EE/CA report (see related articles).
Gene asks how Bechtel gets its direction concerning B Reactor from DOE? Has DOE spelled out their goals so Bechtel can act accordingly? Is there a document that explains their wishes? Basically, the answer is that there is no document from DOE that defines any special interest and procedures for B Reactor. However, Tom Marceau points out that the fact that the reactor is on the National Register of Historic Places means that Bechtel has to handle it appropriately (part of Tom’s job), with or without DOE guidance.
9/15 – Tour of B Reactor for the 55th Camp Hanford reunion. Gene and Larry drive to the reactor with six more lawn chairs, and meet Bob Smith and Dee McCullough at the reactor. This time Gene sets up our wireless microphone and speaker system at the front face (thanks to Lyle for getting the necessary equipment for our tours), and we set up about 20 chairs near the front face, as well. There are enough chairs for those who would like them, and it keeps the visitors together more than if they were standing. The microphone allows everyone to hear the tour guide who’s speaking, so the variation seems to work very well. We split the group in half so they can tour the control room without being too crowded.
Of course, our side of the plan went well, but the first of the two expected tour buses arrived almost 40 minutes late, and the second bus came right on time 20 minutes later, so there was a bit of a mess dealing with both crowds. We and they survived, and many of the Camp Hanford visitors express their keen interest in finally seeing the building they had been protecting (they had not known much, of course, with secrecy the rule).
While at the reactor, Connie Estep and Michelle Skinner from CREHST were in the final stages of their artifact inventory at the reactor, and took advantage of our being there by showing various artifacts (which is probably too nice a word for some of the things) to Dee, Larry, and Bob.
9/15 – Lyle sends a letter to Keith Klein, Dru Butler, et al regarding our concerns about the cache of graphite that may end up in the dump before anyone can claim it for posterity. The letter results in our learning via Dru that the graphite is currently stored in the 105-KE reactor, and there is tons and tons of the stuff (about 320 tons). Enough that we might actually have to think about just how much we’d want for future use. To see the graphite ball rolling, even just a little, was very encouraging.
9/19 – Tour of B Reactor for a dozen local representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The F&W is the agency that oversees the recently named Hanford Reach National Monument, so they were on what could be described as a familiarization tour of Hanford. Obviously, we wanted to impress our new neighbors with their visit to the worlds’ first full-scale nuclear reactor, etc., etc.
Gene and Tom C. drive out to the reactor, where they meet Lyle (who had driven out with Connie Estep to see about having some artifactual furniture moved into the building) and Jim Williams, who we encouraged to come along so he might talk with the F&W people about his interest in refurbishing the White Bluffs log cabin.
The tour group’s questions grew more relevant and numerous as the tour continued, so it seemed that they were getting tuned in quite well and were very interested. That’s always encouraging, to see the light bulb come on when people finally realize just where they are (the only place on Earth where people first put to work the power of the stars, etc., etc.).
9/20 – Gene and Carol drive to Spokane, where Gene will present a paper on B Reactor at a joint conference of the American Nuclear Society Radiation Protection and Shielding Division, and the Columbia Chapter of the Health Physics Society. Gene wrote the paper last April, and brought along slides to show at his presentation (he gathered a dozen from all the slides the BRMA has collected so far, and made up a dozen new ones).
He gives his talk the next morning to a comfortably full meeting room. He was fortunate to have a very good warm-up act, Dr. Penberthy, the “father of radiation-shielded viewing,” and an even better introduction by Ron Kathren, the session’s chairperson. Being called a “renaissance man” seemed to strike the proper chord.
Gene gave his 20-minute talk, B Reactor, World’s First Reactor, America’s Future Treasure, went through his two-dozen slides, and managed not to embarrass the BRMA, whose hat he wore throughout. At least one new membership was picked up at the meeting.
9/22 – Gene talks with Mike Huntington of the WA State Railroads Historical Society. Mike had a question about BRMA, and the discussion veered off into railroads, Hanford track, cabooses, and Tri-City Railroad. Mike suggested that if the BRMA ever needed any large-scale storage space, the Railroads Society might be able to offer us space in their Pasco warehouse.
9/23 – After getting ideas from Lyle and Roger R., Gene writes up a short list of suggestions for the Tour Guide’s section in Dru Butler’s tour procedures and sends them to her.
10/1 – Gene whiles away a Sunday reliving the past three months in eight densely packed pages.
In the midst of all the recent activity, several new members have converged with the BRMA. If we haven’t already said so (or even if we have), thank you for joining our efforts to make it possible for the rest of world to converge with history at B Reactor.
Dru Butler Richland
Lloyd Connell Kennewick
Kelly Grahn North Aurora, IL
Taylor MacKenzie Hermiston, OR