THE MODERATOR – Spring 1999

From the Control Room

Lyle Wilhelmi
President, BRMA

As it has been of late, the pace of activities in the BRMA seems to be increasing; there’s a lot going on. While the level of excitement will vary among different people, I’ll address the happenings of the last few months in the order that I find most exciting.

At the top of my list is Gene Weisskopf’s wonderful B Reactor note card collection. Gene expanded on a concept that he saw in a set of Richland “letter house” cards he purchased awhile back at Allied Arts. Gene and I worked on what should be included on the note cards, and to make them even better, the envelopes will have a cache of B Reactor on the lower left. A little extra work and a nice touch, but who cares as long as Gene volunteered to do it!!! You will love them, and all who come to the BRMA meeting on April 12th will get a free package of the note cards.

The cost to make each package is quite reasonable (thanks to Gene’s laser printer), but we need to establish a retail price. The intention is not to make money but to spread the word about B Reactor (but why not make a bit of a profit, too?).

Second most exciting is the hazards survey that took place two weeks ago. Gene and I provided input at the pre-survey planning meeting, and will also attend the post-survey review that will be held before the writing the hazards report. We look forward to that report because it will, in large part, establish what needs to be done to make B Reactor safe for tours (in the ultraconservative estimation of DOE). Once the hazards have been categorized, it may turn out that with a few modifications there may no longer be a justification for limiting tours to those older than 16.

Del Ballard continues to make progress on the proposal for a boat dock between the Vernita bridge and B Reactor. Del has pursued this project with all the tenacity of a pit bull, and the future possibilities look great.

In the almost ho-hum category comes the news that we have signed the contract to write the Historic American Engineering Record for T Plant. It seems kind of “old hat” since we already did the HAER for B Reactor. It will be a big effort and we will be calling on some of you so that we might take advantage of your memory banks.

Finally, I met with Carol Scally from Washington State University, who is interested in Hanford historic preservation and interpretation efforts. I provided her with written answers to several questions and had a two hour meeting with her. It appears there is interest at WSU in doing doctoral studies about Hanford history, historical properties disposition, and historical interpretation. We will provide them with any assistance we can to encourage these sorts of university efforts at Hanford.

BRMA Board Members – 1999

President: Lyle Wilhelmi
Vice President: Jim Stoffels
Secretary: Gene Weisskopf
Treasurer: Roger Carpenter

Committee Chairs:

Health, Safety, & Engineering: Del Ballard
History, Artifacts, & Exhibits: Madeleine Brown
Membership: Joe Hedges
Public Relations: Jim Thornton
Editor: Gene Weisskopf

B Reactor Hazards Assessment Survey

Gene Weisskopf

In spite of the budget constraints that are restricting progress at making B Reactor into a museum, one important item will soon be completed: the Hazard Assessment and Characterization survey of B Reactor. This is good news, because the survey is one of the milestones (M-93-04) in the Tri-Party Agreement (TPA).

On March 17, thanks to an invitation from Mike Mihalic of Bechtel, Lyle and I met with Tom Marceau to attend the preliminary meeting of the team that would be making the survey. The meeting was held at the temporary office buildings that are now located in the 100-D Area. The D and DR reactors are the next reactors scheduled to be put into interim safe storage (ISS), budgets willing.

Under the direction of Paul Griffin, about a dozen team members from various backgrounds were there to participate in the survey. They would be looking at a variety of safety and health issues, including the structure itself, its electrical and mechanical systems, radiological hazards, chemical and heavy metal hazards, and so on.

The survey would find potential hazards that anyone touring the reactor building might encounter. Unlike many other hazards assessment surveys at Hanford, this one was not being done so that demolition workers would have a plan for removing the building. Instead, the survey would determine if reasonable steps could be taken to mitigate any problems, and make recommendations about which parts of the building should be kept off-limits.

In the process of collecting the information for this survey, we hope that a variety of questions will be answered about the reactor. The final report should prove to be a valuable tool in the ongoing process that will someday transform the reactor into a museum.

Even though the report is not yet final, a few days before the deadline for the Moderator we received a draft version of the environmental assessment portion of the report. This five-page document is essentially a bulleted list of potential problems, The items in this report cover a broad range of potentially hazardous materials, such as peeling paint that may contain lead, friable asbestos, mercury switches, unmarked 55-gallon drums, and PCB-containing flourescent light ballasts.

The items are arranged by location, such as Outside the Facility, Current Tour Route, Fan Room, and Fuel Storage Basin Area. Some items are found in a single location, while others are found in multiple locations.

This portion of the report ends with a list of recommendations to mitigate the problem areas, most of which are pretty straightforward. For example, there’s removing lead blankets, removing or encapsulating asbestos, and sealing the building to prevent birds and animals from entering.

Once the other reports are completed (electrical, radiological, structural), we’ll have a comprehensive list of what needs to be done before the public can tour B Reactor (that list must include, of course, the all-important key to the front door).

Thank You­-Letters

Gene Weisskopf

After attending the DOE meeting last February for the proposed Hanford 2001 budget, it was evident that the old rule still applies: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” When no one speaks up for an issue, it’s all too easy for that item to be bumped to the bottom of the list, or fall off the list completely.

That’s why we extend a hearty Thank You to our members who took pen (or keyboard) in hand last month and wrote letters to the DOE in support of funding for ongoing projects at B Reactor. The copies that were sent to the BRMA represent a healthy cross-section of our membership. Keep up the squeaking!

It’s in the Cards

Gene Weisskopf

One question always facing the BRMA is how can we disseminate information about B Reactor. We recently found a new way to do just that, which makes use of two very old technologies–hand-written note cards and the U.S. Mail.

I’ve had the idea percolating in the back of my mind ever since I bought a set of note cards at the Allied Arts store in Richland. Each of the four cards in a set had a black and white line drawing of one of Richland’s “letter” houses. Each card identified the type of house and included a brief account of how these government-built houses came to be.

The drawings came from Richland housing spec sheets circa 1945. The housing cards were created by Connie Fastabend as a donation to the Richland Museum Fund. A simple concept produced wonderful results that clearly echoed Richland’s unique history.

Now we’ve created a similar project for B Reactor and its atomic history. Four thumbnail versions are shown at the center of the page. We’ve scanned images from the Hanford Technical Manual (many of which we used in the B Reactor HAER report) and printed them on one quadrant of parchment-style stationery. Each image presents a vivid reminder of the days when “drawings” were actually hand-drawn, and our world was mostly mechanical, not electronic.

On a second quadrant appears a caption for the diagram, a brief description of B Reactor’s historic role in world history, and the BRMA mailing and e-mail addresses. Folded into fourths, the picture ends up on the front and the text on the back.

The note card fits perfectly into a matching A-2 envelope, which is also a beauty, thanks to local architect Ted Luvaas. He drew an eye-catching rendering of B Reactor and offered it to the BRMA for whatever purpose we wanted. The envelope is a perfect place for it.

Of course, each diagram will undoubtedly be a complete mystery to most people, and that’s fine with me. The point is to introduce them to things they probably know nothing about, and in the process tweak their curiosity. When they turn the card over and read about the world’s first nuclear reactor, maybe they’ll be stimulated to seek out more information.

Our hope is that our members will use the cards on occasion for letter-writing, and give the cards as gifts to families or friends who might be interested in getting a peek at how the Atomic Age started.

Come to our April 12th meeting to receive a sample packet of four cards. We’ll be making more for sale. Drop me a line at if you’d like to order some.

Sharing the Wealth

Gene Weisskopf

To give someone an A-1 tour of the Richland-Hanford area, you have to include the Spudnut shop in the Uptown, preferably before the sun’s up. That’s exactly where I was this morning (April 8) at 5:15. This was the last leg of a tour I was hosting for a high school senior from Coupeville on Whidbey Island, named Caspian Kuschnereit. It’s a long story, but I’ll whisk you through it as fast at it seemed to go by.

Caspian found the BRMA’s Web site while researching a history paper about Hanford, its role in World War II, and the world history that followed. He dropped me an e-mail via the Web site, telling me of the paper he was writing for History Day, a nationwide competition, and requesting any assistance we could provide, such as Hanford-related reference material, photos, and such.

After a series of e-mails, postal mails, and phone calls, I learned that Caspian’s paper had come in second for his region in Washington state, which would send him on to the state competition a few weeks later. With fame and stardom within his grasp, he decided to make the trek to Richland to get to the source. I gladly offered to help him while he was here, and give back a little from all the atomic history that’s been showered on me since joining the BRMA.

Through the help of Pam Novak, we visited Battelle Tuesday morning to learn about the International Nuclear Safety Program. We spent about two hours talking with Darrell Newman, manager of the Russian Production Reactor Core Conversion Project, and Stan Goldsmith, both long-time Hanfordites. Dave Payson and Jim Thielman served as our hosts, and made sure Caspian got plenty of materials afterwards (I had to clear my throat more than once to be included).

Caspian learned how the Russian graphite-moderated plutonium-production reactors are different from those at Hanford. Since the Russian reactors are no longer needed to create plutonium, but are needed very much to create steam to heat cities, they are being converted, with the help of the Core Conversion Project, so that they produce no weapons-grade plutonium while operating.

After Batelle, we went on an extensive tour of the FFTF, arranged with the help of B&W Hanford engineer Dave Gerkensmeyer. Chris Stape and Dave spent about two hours walking us up and down and in and out. On leaving the containment vessel, we even got to go through a hand and foot counter (“Two each, you’re okay” Dave quipped, probably for the 500th time in his career). Caspian was definitely impressed with all of it.

Wednesday morning we took a road tour of the Hanford Site, driving for miles out into the desert, which was a treat in itself for the poor kid from the wet side of the state (perhaps an even bigger treat was doing the tour in my wife Carol’s new yellow VW Beetle!). We drove out to the B Reactor, where we got to look at it from a half-mile away, like kids looking in the pet store window. I tried to explain again why we were not allowed inside.

After the road tour, I did what any good tour guide should do and took Caspian to meet Bill McCue, a visit I had arranged the day before. Bill was more than gracious, and what I had planned as a brief introduction turned into a half-hour discussion about the first days of atomic power.

When we were finished, Caspian proved his alertness by asking if he could have the sheet of paper on which Bill had been sketching to explain how the reactor was cooled in zones. Bill was sharp enough to sign it for him, and I walked out empty-handed! It was a wonderful scene that Caspian will surely recount throughout his life.

We then made a stop at CREHST, where Roger Rohrbacher happened to be on duty. We browsed and yacked with Roger, and I got to tell Caspian how even I grew up with Bakelite telephones, manual typewriters, and slide rules.

On the way to the DOE Reading Room, we drove by Del Ballard’s house, where Caspian said a brief Hello to one of the guys who helped build the FFTF, and was the last one out of the reactor vessel when it was finished and then sealed.

At the Reading Room, Terri Traub helped Caspian get going, but he was soon swimming through a dozen or two documents and running the copy machine. I regaled Terri with my theory that when Secretary Richardson was in Richland this Saturday, he was going to announce that B Reactor had won the America’s Treasures Grant.

Finally, Caspian and I headed back to my house, where he dumped his reading material on the dining room table and sat down to sift through it. Except for a break for dinner, he spent most of the night working on his paper on my laptop. At 5:00am, we were heading to the Spudnut shop on the way downtown to meet the Greyhound.

Being tour guide and host was a great pleasure. To me, Caspian was the vanguard for the people who will someday come to Richland from throughout the world to see where the Atomic Age took root.

America’s Treasure?

Gene Weisskopf

That’s the question. The B Reactor may be historic, but is it worthy of receiving a Save America’s Treasures grant? Last February, the BRMA assisted in the writing of an application for this grant, which was submitted at the end of February. The grant was created via the White House; Mrs. Hillary Clinton is one of its promoters. It was established to show support for a special few of our country’s national artifacts. The possibility of winning a grant to help preserve B Reactor couldn’t have come at a better time.

If the B Reactor were actually to win a Save America’s Treasures grant amidst all the ongoing debate over DOE budgets, the DOE would be greatly encouraged to “get moving” on the necessary engineering studies. The publicity alone would be worth wheelbarrows of money, because so few people know about the world’s first nuclear reactor. The money from the grant would really jump-start the museum-making process. Since the funds must be matched by public donations, there would by a flurry of money-hunting activity around all aspects of the reactor.

The grant application was nurtured through the process by Dee Lloyd of the DOE here in Richland. The final product was excellent and quite convincing. The results of the grant competition should soon be known, and we’re full of anticipation as we wait.

Shown below is a sample from the application. As you’ll see, it readily invokes the exigency and importance of preserving the reactor as a museum.

Excerpts from the Save America’s Treasures Grant Application

The 105-B Reactor is the world’s first full-scale, plutonium production reactor. It was instrumental in fulfilling the objectives of the Manhattan Project, winning a war, and establishing world peace. It is a resource that provided great benefits to the American people, but one that remains inaccessible to them. The long-term goal is to re-open the B Reactor as a public museum and to establish an interpretive center. The proposed project is to stabilize and preserve the reactor to support eventual realization of the goal.

In 1991, the ACHP asked whether “the opportunity to view an actual 1950s nuclear reactor control room…(would) enhance public understanding of this complicated period of American history?” The answer to this question is “Yes”. Properties that played key roles in the production of plutonium should be prime candidates for preservation for the Department of Energy. For nearly fifty years, the history of the Manhattan Project and Hanford’s role in the Cold War have been largely invisible. For national security reasons, the role of the facilities was classified and the public was deliberately kept in the dark about what was going on “behind the fences”. With the end of the Cold War, this history no longer needs to be kept secret. In recognition of the global significance of events that occurred on an isolated stretch of the Columbia River in central Washington, RL conducted a four-year project to document the history of the Hanford Site. Nevertheless, documentation of Hanford’s mission only symbolically removes the fences.

Heritage tourism would allow members of the local, national, and international communities to literally walk behind the fences and experience the facilities first-hand. There is no substitute. Additionally, the identification, collection, preservation, display and interpretation of significant objects relating to Hanford’s history (i.e., manuals, tools, instruments, machinery, clothing, etc.) are key components of this initiative. Many of the facilities at the Hanford Site are in areas that are highly contaminated and cannot be released for public visits due to safety and health concerns. This grant will work to remove and isolate hazards inside the B Reactor and allow limited guided tours of the facility. Everyone has been affected and shaped by the events that took place here in the desert of Washington.