THE MODERATOR – Spring 2000

K > 1

Gene Weisskopf
President, BRMA

With all the activity that’s been going on in the past three months, you might think we were actually working on a B Reactor museum. Of course, that would be silly, because there ain’t one. The building’s still standing there with its doors locked most of the time, the water shut off, maybe with a few new cobwebs and a burned out lightbulb.

Whoops, watch it. I have to catch myself when I fall into these morose reveries, which seems to happen whenever I find myself imagining the possibilities of a B Reactor museum and then come back to reality.

For example, I might daydream about the yellow school buses parked in front of a bustling 105-B museum, and then my mind snaps back with the realization that the number of people who even know of B Reactor’s existence, let alone its historical significance, is probably less than the number of dollars it takes to get the doors open for one of the small, DOE-approved tours that are occasionally allowed into the building.

If there were only one thing the BRMA could do to promote the future B Reactor museum, it should be education.

We need to explain to people the origins of the reactor and the way it worked, and its role in the Manhattan Project, World War II, and the Cold War, its contribution to the waste that is now part of the Hanford cleanup, and the fact that it was the world’s very first application of nuclear energy.

How can anyone not get at least a little bit interested in this historical lens, through which one can view a thousand different strands of our history? Maybe if I were to grab them by the lapels and shake them around a little bit, people would understand more clearly.

Well, the steam pressure seems to be returning to normal, and the gauges are back in the green zone (and you thought 2004 Panellit gauges were sensitive). I hope you’ll excuse me, but it’s better to let off a little steam here in private with other BRMA members, rather than in some public venue.

In spite of my occasional flare ups, I’ve been enjoying the work we’ve done and the progress we’ve made. Later in this edition of The Moderator, you can read about some of the steps we’ve taken since the previous edition of the newsletter in January.

Once people have learned some of B Reactor’s story, it’s a lot easier for them to see why it should become a museum. Once there’s a museum, the world will be able to learn the story at the exact spot where it all took place.

So spread around those B Reactor note cards, buttons, our newsletters, and those nifty Prelude to the Atomic Age booklets we’re publishing, and don’t be afraid to remind people of where the Atomic Age really began. (No, no, not Chicago, not Los Alamos….)

BRMA Board Members – 2000

President: Gene Weisskopf
Vice President: Jim Stoffels
Secretary: Madeleine Brown
Treasurer: Joe Hedges

Committee Chairs:

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

State of the HAER Projects

As those of you who came to our last meeting are aware, the B Reactor HAER project (Historical American Engineering Record) has been reviewed by the National Park Service and come back with a thumb’s up— they liked it!

Right now, the document is being put into HTML format so it can be placed on the Internet for public review, along with the other parts of the Hanford Historic District document.

Once the public review period is over, we’ll be ready to add the finishing touches and print it on acid-free paper. Tom Marceau is handling the photographs, which must also be reproduced on archival-quality paper. We’ll then be ready to send it off to the N.P.S. office in Seattle, which will forward to Washington D.C. and the Library of Congress.

It’s about then that we can actually say “It’s finished!”. We’re planning to have the document reproduced for local consumption, although the method, format, and timing have not been decided yet.

Read Hanford History on the Web

Our B Reactor HAER document is heading to this address on the Internet:

On that page, click the “Historic District Book” link, which will bring up the table of contents for the entire history. Our B Reactor document is one of the 100-Area Appendices. There’s a good chance our document will be posted by the time you receive this newsletter (its listing in the table of contents will be a link).

Hopefully, the text portion of the document will be put into HTML format to keep the file sizes small and easy to open in your browser. If it ends up in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) files, the files will be many times larger, which in itself is a deterrent for public access.

Take a look, and should you have any comments about our HAER document, please let me know (

Hanford Construction Movie Gets a Sound Track

Many of you have seen all or part of the War Construction in the Desert movie. An hour and a half of spine-tingling excitement (milling the graphite for the reactor core), along with some brain-numbing moments as well (five minutes of appendectomy in full color). It’s a wonderful glimpse at life at Hanford in 1943 and 1944.

The only drawback to the movie is that it’s silent. There are descriptive titles before each new scene, but people who aren’t familiar with Hanford and the plutonium production process would miss a lot.

Unless, of course, they were sitting with someone who actually helped build or operate Hanford, and could explain all the stuff that goes by on the screen. Or with someone who hangs out with people who were actually there, and isn’t shy about talking it up while the movie runs.

The silent version of the movie is available from the DOE for $15 (call 376-1418), but another, audible version has made its way into Richland. No, it’s not an original sound track, it was artfully added to the movie by Tod Kenning of CREHST.

He spent many hours dubbing in the narration from the first public showing of the movie last October at the Kennewick library. He added a brief introduction, and a few new pieces that help tie the movie together. Even better, he wasn’t shy about removing some of the more torpid parts (the appendectomy was, thankfully, removed with great success).

If you want to give a copy of the movie to a friend or relative who will be watching it without your being there to add the colorful dialog, think about getting the version with the Tod-o-Rama sound. They’re available at CREHST for $19.75 for CREHST members, and $21.95 for nonmembers.

What’s Been Going On Since the Year Began

1/6/2000 – Del Ballard, Lyle Wilhelmi, and Gene Weisskopf meet downtown with parties concerned with the Phase II engineering study that was about to be sent out for bids. Later, all bids were over budget. Dee Lloyd later wrote a letter to Skip Gosling, the historian back at DOE headquarters, emphasizing the importance of not shrinking the scope of the project (which we have not determined as yet).

1/27 – Gene spoke and gave a slide show at the dinner meeting of the local chapter of the American Records Managers Association, several of whom he had worked with while researching B Reactor and T Plant.

1/28 – Gene and Tod Kenning do a video interview with Roger Hultgren at his home. Unfortunately, Roger shushed Sugar (the blonde, four-legged Labrador) from the room.

2/2 – Del and Gene trek to Mattawa for a cultural resource issues meeting. Tom Marceau reports that our B Reactor HAER document is coming back from the NPS. Tom says he talked to the right person, and from now on safety glasses and hardhats will not be required for B Reactor tours.

2/3 – Gene made a brief public statement in support of funding for B Reactor at the Hanford Advisory Board meeting in Kennewick.

2/7 – A letter of introduction was sent, with trinkets, to DOE Hanford manager Keith Klein.

2/9 – Move the granite monument to B Reactor. A big “Thanks” to Del for not only arranging transport of the monument from Jim Acord’s old studio to the reactor, but for actually transporting it there, too, with his truck and heavy-duty trailer. We also thank BRMA members Jim Williams and Gene Weisskopf, and Del’s son Bruce Ballard, for their help in moving this important B Reactor trophy with its plaques commemorating the honors that have been awarded to the reactor.

Ron Kathren had invited a group of two dozen health physics and instrument techs to the reactor for a tour. Bob Smith coordinated the tour guides, with Larry Denton at the front face and Bill McCue in the control room. Many thanks to you all.

Dee Lloyd and Tom Marceau talked with Bob Staab from WSU Pullman and Harvey Gover from WSU Tri-Cities about the possibilities of using B Reactor for archival storage. Ron Kathren might be the first to take advantage of this, as he has begun the process of donating his substantial health physics library to WSU. A suitable place to store them would be part of the deal. From Dee Lloyd’s perspective, finding other uses for the reactor would funnel more attention and money to it. It would be especially rewarding to have historical books and documents there.

3/6 – Jerry Woodcock secured six civil defense radiation detection instruments for the BRMA.

3/8 – Cultural resource issues exchange meeting at WSU library. Gene spoke about “how to get to B Reactor”(someday, by bus tour, car, boat, train, hiking, etc.) and what it will take to make it into a museum.

3/9 – Closed out our office space at Bechtel, which we never really utilized.

3/14 – Mrs. Roberta Flickinger donates a Marchant calculator to the BRMA for future use in a B Reactor museum. In spite of its 20+ pounds, there’s no square root button.

3/15 – Gene, Del, Lyle, and Dee McCullough attend the opening session of the Hanford 2002 budget workshop in Richland, and the session concerning environmental restoration budgets. No funding for any B Reactor activities. Gene and Dee come back from the public comments session at the end of the day. Dee does a very nice introduction for Gene, who then speaks about the lack of projects and funding for B Reactor. Speaks with Beth Bilson of DOE afterwards, who was quite encouraging about the future of B Reactor, and claimed to be ultimately in charge of it (but nonetheless did not possess a key to its front door).

3/17 – Gene spoke to the Tri-City Industry Kiwanis club at their lunch meeting, and showed pieces of the War Construction in the Desert movie (a good many in the audience had already seen Hanford being built—when it happened the first time in the 1940s).

3/21 – Lyle and Gene meet with Dee Lloyd and Skip Gosling, whose DOE title is “Federal Preservation Officer, Chief Historian.” Skip works within the Beltway in D.C., and knows all too well the way politics has to be factored in to historic preservation issues (in other words, there’s only so many bucks and enthusiasm to go around). He suggested several possibilities for the future of B Reactor, including its being taken over by a private foundation or by the National Park Service. Although the DOE could somehow keep it funded as a museum, that’s not really their line of work.

Skip went on to say that the DOE’s Corporate Board on Historic Preservation is heading toward establishing a Manhattan District of eight important properties that represent the work that was done to build an atomic bomb in World War II. Two of these treasured sites are right here at Hanford—B Reactor and T Plant. Skip thought B Reactor was a home run in terms of getting the recognition it needs from DOE. (Of course, he couldn’t say when.)

3/21 – The New York Times reviews the play “Copenhagen,” which tells the story of the mysterious meeting between German physicist Werner Heisenberg and Danish physicist Niels Bohr in the early days of World War II. Was Heisenberg trying to let Bohr know that he was not pursuing an atomic bomb for Germany, or was he attempting to find out if the allies were working on the bomb? The well-researched play proves once again that the story of nuclear energy and the atomic bomb still hold our imagination.

3/22 – Lyle and Gene host a tour at B Reactor for Dee Lloyd.

3/23 – A letter of introduction was sent to John Wheeler (of xenon fame), who is still a professor at Princeton University. Included the usual BRMA newsletters and trinkets. We hope he now has a B Reactor refrigerator magnet stuck on his file cabinet.

4/1 – The 60% review meeting for the Phase II engineering study at B Reactor should be held about now. Find out at our April 10 meeting at the Richland Library.

A Member Writes

This isn’t about a letter-to-the-editor. In this case, one of our members has taken pen (keyboard) in hand and written a story of the ten years he spent working at Hanford.

Carl Higby came to Hanford in 1950 and, like so many of you, worked in a variety of jobs. He writes with a light but thorough hand, so it’s fun to read while still giving the reader a glimpse of the science and engineering that was involved.

He includes lots of names, which should interest those of you who spent your career at Hanford, and includes a few tales that you may not have heard before. Like the time the KE Reactor outfall pipe floated to the surface of the Columbia River, and a patrolman almost shouted “Whale ahoy!”

Carl expresses his great respect for those who built and operated Hanford, and leaves one with a feeling that he enjoyed his career here and would gladly do it all over again. Thanks Carl, for sharing your story with us, and please bring another copy or two to the next meeting.

Another Member Writes

This time it’s a letter from BRMA member Bill Michael in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Although he began the letter at the turn of the new year, he didn’t finish until recently. Sadly, his wife Lorraine passed away in mid-January. Our thoughts are with you, Bill, and we appreciate all the more your interest and enthusiasm for B Reactor and the BRMA.

Bill had sent a few mementos to the BRMA in years past. He has a few more he’d like to send (inlcuding the winning baseball from a game he pitched!), but he wisely and somwhat coyly asked if the items he sent were being displayed or were hidden away in someone else’s attic. I didn’t know.

There was a loving cup (trophy) that he was awarded for some humourous event, and some “last day covers” that were cancelled at the Hanford post office on its last day in operation. He thought Jay Haney might know where they are, but does anyone have Haney’s phone number? In Wenatchee?

One of Bill’s artifacts is his baseball uniform from his days at Hanford. For now, I told him to hang onto that treasure until we report back on his previous donations. Bill’s baseball career is something we’d dearly love to hear about, maybe in the next issue of The Moderator.

Critical Mass

One person who’s been quite busy the past few months is Joe Hedges, our membership-, Treasurer-, and phone-guy. That’s Joe’s voice on the telephone when you get the meeting-reminder call each month. He’s so great!).

Joe has entered quite a few new members into our books, for which we thank him profusely. We welcome all of you who have recently joined our ranks:

Quincey Baird Richland
Paul Beardsley Richland
Daniel Carter West Richland
Joyce DeFelice Pasco
Connie Estep Richland
Betty Gulley Richland
Carl Higby Richland
Darwin Lambier Richland
Leland Nitteberg Kennewick
Alan Peterson Flagstaff, AZ
Ronald Reynolds Brookhaven, PA
Richard Shaff Richland

The best way for the BRMA to illuminate the history of B Reactor is by spreading the word, and the best way to do that is by speaking in many, many different voices. Thanks to all!