THE MODERATOR – Spring 2002

K > 1

Gene Weisskopf
President, BRMA

Au revoir, mes amis

I joined the BRMA in the spring of 1995, which somehow works out to be seven years ago, even though it feels like only three or four. In all those years, I’ve had countless experiences that would have been missing outside the BRMA, along with ups and downs that both elevated my spirits and rubbed them raw. With an introduction like that, you might wonder where I’m heading, so I’d better jump to the end—it’s time I stepped down from the lofty heights of power in the BRMA.

I don’t have the luxury of saying “the job is done,” but I can say that “my job is done.” What is obviously needed to complete the job of making B Reactor available to the public is time and lots of it. But my own chronological bank account is running close to empty, and to continue in my role as president would be counterproductive to the BRMA and to myself. The capabilities I brought to the job have been played many times over—my strengths have shown themselves in many different ways, while my weaknesses have made themselves evident, as well.

When I first joined the group, I never imagined that I’d still be dealing with B Reactor in the year 2002. In retrospect, it seems that most of what we’ve done has been the process itself—keeping the flame of preservation alive so that the process could inch ahead, bit by bit. I’ve sometimes wondered if, perhaps, we’ve been “enablers” in this glacial process, adding validity when we should have been thumbing our noses.

Maybe I’ve devoted too much time to my participation in the BRMA, when I could have approached it simply as a minor sideline with consequent minor expectations. But it was too easy to get involved, the subject matter far too interesting, and there was certainly plenty to do.

There’s no way I can summarize the past seven years in a mere page or two of The Moderator—you’ll have to go back and read the past two-dozen issues to see what we’ve done (and not done) and to see how I’ve been involved. Suffice it to say that it’s been a wonderful opportunity for a worthwhile endeavor with a group of wonderful people.

My hope is that a new president will step up and accept a mid-term election from our membership, and take over the reins from soon-to-be president Jim Stoffels, a role to which Jim is not ready to succumb.

I have no doubt that B Reactor will one day be open to the public as a worldwide attraction (although I’m not placing any bets on when). Until then, the BRMA can continue to serve as the focal point for interest in B Reactor and the history it represents.

We should keep in mind that B Reactor is not just a local issue. The historic reactor belongs to the taxpayers who built and operated Hanford and were given a decisive means to end a horrific war, and who are now paying to clean up the site.

Of even greater importance, this milestone in human evolution belongs to the world that was given the promises of nuclear power, while having to live under the shadow of nuclear weapons. The mission of the BRMA is a worthy one, and I am pleased and proud of my participation. You have my respect and friendship.

BRMA Board Members – 2002

President: [available] Vice President: Jim Stoffels
Secretary: Betty Gulley
Treasurer: Warren Sevier

Committee Chairs:

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

A Grand Opportunity

Lyle Wilhelmi

Dru Butler has alerted us to a timely opportunity. A symposium ‘The Manhattan Project: A Living Legacy’ will be held in Washington, DC, Saturday, April 27, 2002. The symposium is sponsored by the Atomic Heritage Foundation, The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The Save America’s Treasures group will announce two sizable grants. One is for Manhattan Project Properties at Los Alamos and the other is for EBR-1, the experimental breeder reactor, in Idaho.

We have not known of these groups nor their activities previously, but it appears they are big guns in historic preser- vation. Several major players in the Manhattan Project will make presentations, and there will be allied activities where we might make our presence and intentions known. If there is a place to gain some national visibility this seems to be it.

At the first meeting of the Outreach Committee formed at last month’s meeting, we agreed to attend this symposium. This is a great opportunity to gain support for our museum with historic preservation people around the nation.

While in Washington D.C. our membrs will visit as many decision makers as possible. The message is simple: Congress must tell DOE to make B Reactor into a museum, or tell another federal agency to work with DOE to make this happen.

Madeleine Brown has agreed to make this trip. One person can do an adequate job. But to do a great job, we need two people. So who wants to go to DC?

If DOE-RL will not fund the trip for us there is no better way for us to spend some BRMA’s far-from-meager funds.

Without such aggressive activity all our work to date will end up as a control panel exhibit in a museum elsewhere.

Whatever comes of the Symposium let us dedicate ourselves to a very active high profile campaign to make B Reactor a museum for generations to come.

What’s New at the B Reactor?
A Project Update for January-March 2002

Dru Butler

Tours and Security

Public tours remain suspended due to sitewide DOE security restrictions. The outlook for the DOE-RL public bus tours (including tours of B Reactor) this summer is uncertain.

Tours for media members, VIP’s and contractors/DOE folks with badges have been continuing. With help from BRMA guides, we’ve given groups of radiological control technicians historic tours throughout the quarter. Engineers from the Waste Treatment Plant Project took a tour, which they appreciated very much. Reporters from the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the East Oregonian have toured B Reactor and interviewed BRMA members.

Hazard Mitigation at B Reactor

Don Eckert and his field crew, and the BHI design engineers have been busy preparing for these facility upgrades: electrical system improvements, roof panel repairs, and fall hazard protection above the front face work area and around the valve pit. During the summer of 2002 I expect that the B Reactor will be out of service from time to time as work is completed.

Waste Management Symposium 2002

I had the opportunity to attend and present a paper at the Waste Management Symposium 2002, in Tucson, Arizona. The paper is co-authored with Gene Weisskopf. See page 4 for the paper’s abstract.

More than 50 people attended the presentation. The audience was diverse, including DOE, contractors, and regulators. I spoke with the mayor of Carlsbad, NM, a college professor from Texas, nuclear scientists from Chile, Belgium and Canada. All of the handouts I provided were quickly taken, and a list was formed for those requesting tour brochures or HAER reports.

I had the chance to speak with John Wagoner (past DOE-RL manager) and he put me in contact with a new non-profit group, the Atomic Heritage Foundation, regarding Manhattan Project history and preservation.

Also at the symposium were Washington Department of Ecology managers John Price and Max Power, who presented a paper; Washington State’s Perspective on Long-term Stewardship. The paper includes a discussion on long term trust funding, and the “inter-generational transfer of information” via preservation of B Reactor and the Hanford Reach National Monument. John and Max also attended the presentation that I gave, and expressed support for preservation of B Reactor.

One question was posed by a DOE-HQ manager was concerning the potential for public use at B Reactor. He asked if any visitor use studies had been done. (I know that CREHST has worked with a contractor to complete one of these assessments for their proposed facility, and BRMA has provided some planning estimates.)

Hanford’s Historic B Reactor: Preservation and Environmental Restoration

Drusilla Hobbs Butler and Robert F. Potter, Bechtel Hanford, Inc.
Gene Weisskopf, B Reactor Museum Association

Abstract

Hanford’s B Reactor played a unique role in the history of the United States and the world. In 1944, B Reactor was the first production reactor ever built, and was operated as part of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War until 1968. Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) periodically hosts public tours, and has initiated hazard mitigation work to keep the reactor safe for visitors, workers, and the public.

B Reactor faces an uncertain future. As the Hanford cleanup progresses, it is clear that a decision must be reached regarding the long-term fate of the historic, old building. Will it be treated differently than Hanford’s other production reactors that are slated to go into an Interim Safe Storage configuration? There is strong stakeholder support to preserve the building as a museum of sorts, and the B Reactor Museum Association (BRMA), a non-profit group, is a strong advocate for preservation.

Along with cleanup regulations, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) may have a bearing on the fate of B Reactor. Although clearly not in the museum business, DOE has offered to partner with a suitable, non-profit or government group capable and interested in assuming operational responsibility for a museum at B Reactor.

This paper will provide:

  • A look into the remarkable history and operation of B Reactor
  • A discussion of the BRMA stakeholder group and its interests for B Reactor
  • The unique regulatory status and challenges that face B Reactor as a part of the overall cleanup of the Hanford Site
  • Information about the condition of and tour status at B Reactor today
    A discussion of “if “ or “when” B Reactor will become a museum.

The Paths of Fiction

Gene Weisskopf

Almost a year and a half before the atomic bombing of Hiroshima announced the arrival of the Atomic Age, a mundane adventure story named “Deadline” appeared in the March 1944 edition of the magazine “Astounding Science Fiction.” The story described how the fissionable isotope uranium-235 could be separated from uranium and fashioned into a bomb of stellar power. This so paralleled one of the two key paths of the Manhattan Project that it sparked a government investigation of the author, Cleve Cartmill, and his editor, John Campbell at Street and Smith Publications in New York.

Although the few technical details in the story were evidently not very accurate, alarms were nonetheless raised by the very fact that it discussed a U-235 atomic bomb of city-crushing size, as these two excerpts show:

Have you heard of U-235? It’s an isotope of uranium….I’m stating fact, not theory. U-235 has been separated in quantity easily sufficient for preliminary atomic-power research, and the like. They got it out of uranium ores by new atomic isotope separation methods; they now have quantities measured in pounds.…But they have not brought the whole amount together, or any major portion of it. Because they are not at all sure that, once started, it would stop before all of it had been consumed—in something like one micromicrosecond of time.

“I see,” he said…”Two cast-iron hemispheres, clamped over the orange segments of cadmium alloy. And the fuse… is in a tiny can of cadmium alloy containing a speck of radium in a beryllium holder and a small explosive powerful enough to shatter the cadmium walls. Then… the powdered uranium oxide runs together in the central cavity. The radium shoots neutrons into this mass—and the U-235 takes over from there.”

Of course, just such a process was in the works at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. There, the isotope U-235 was being separated from uranium and shipped to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where a scant 140 pounds of the material was built into the atomic bomb that devastated the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Another historically interesting aspect of the “Deadline” story is the extent of the investigation that followed it, as well as the extent of the investigation of that investigation by BRMA member William Ryan in Wilmington, Delaware. He and I discussed the story when he was visiting Richland in November 2000—Bill had actually heard of the story and investigation when he was working at Hanford for Dupont, helping to get B Reactor built and then started in the fall of 1944.

In the past year, Bill spent countless hours pursuing the government documents of the “Deadline” investigation. As happens so often, he was quite impressed by the monolithic lack of enthusiasm on the part of those who could supply the documents. To make a long, long story much shorter, he succeeded in acquiring a number of documents that discussed the investigation, and has put them and the details of his quest into a very enjoyable booklet. Bill has offered to make it available to those who are interested. You can contact the BRMA at our e-mail or postal address.

Two key points that Bill reveals are that the investigation in 1944 was much deeper than the details in the story warranted, and that Cartmill and Campbell had no knowledge of atomic energy beyond what was available in the popular scientific publications of the day.

“Deadline” is yet another historical gem from the birth of the Atomic Age. Its value lies not so much in the details it contains, but in the clear lesson it teaches of the pioneering role that literary works of fiction can play—the quest for scientific truth can only be driven by the fuel of curiosity and imagination.

What’s Been Going on Since January 1, 2002

1/2 Gene talks with Jim Williams about securing a bit of tank waste for future display. From our perspective, the upcoming tank wastes vitrification project will essentially be the last step in the Manhattan Project. DuPont knew that the tank wastes would someday need to be permanently disposed of, but didn’t want to spend the time and effort in the midst of the war. Since all the high-level waste is still, in theory, in those tanks, then it follows that somewhere in the tanks, probably in the 200 West area, are the byproducts of the very first batch of B Reactor uranium that went through T Plant in December 1944. So preserving a teaspoon of waste would be preserving a bit of that historic moment. Jim will do some paperwork sleuthing to see if those early batches can be traced in the tanks.

1/15 Gene speaks at the local American Nuclear Society dinner meeting. Sort of like bringing coals to Newcastle, but the audience of 100 or so were receptive and seemed to appreciate the enthusiasm. Dru Butler and Bechtel offered a free B Reactor HAER document with each new membership, and we picked up 30 new members.

1/24 Gene fills out and files the BRMA’s federal tax return. No money owed, just a reporting device.

1/30 The “Hiroshima Flame Interfaith Pilgrimage” comes to Richland, a five month spiritual pilgrimage for peace and nuclear disarmament across the United States. About 35 people walked through Richland to the gates of Hanford’s 300 Area. One of the countless historical ripples that were created with the advent of nuclear weapons in 1945. An article can be found in the Tri-City Herald at: http://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/2002/0131/story1.html

2/13 Gene talks to the staff and volunteers at CREHST about B Reactor’s current status and where it’s heading. A receptive audience, especially interested in tours.

2/20 Gene meets with Dru Butler at Atomic Ale to go over the Waste Management talk she’ll be giving in Arizona next week. Dru bought the beer; Gene may need to list that in next year’s taxes.

2/27 Dru Butler gives Gene’s and her paper at the Waste Management meeting in Tucson, then gives a large sigh of relief.

3/14 We send in a few comments on the post-EE/CA TPA milestones, mainly that we’re concerned with the fact that although the DOE is obligated to come up with an “end-state” plan for B Reactor, that plan won’t be worth much if there’s no enthusiasm behind it.

3/14 Tour at B Reactor for a reporter, photographer, and graphic artist from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. BRMA members Dee McCullough, Paul Vinther, Everett Weakley, and Gene host the tour and spend a couple of hours showing off the reactor and answering questions. An article about Hanford cleanup (and hopefully B Reactor) is scheduled to appear in the newspaper around mid-April.

3/27 Today at auction, Albert Einstein’s letter to President Roosevelt in August 1939 sold for the unexpectedly huge sum of $2.96 million. This was the letter that was written by Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner and discussed with and later signed by Einstein, that is credited with getting the United States to begin serious work on the possibilities of making an atomic bomb.

Critical Mass

Welcome to the new members who have joined the BRMA in the past few months. What a bumper crop! See Gene’s January 15th “What Happened” entry, then vote: Did they join because of Gene’s scintillating talk, or Bechtel’s and Dru’s promise of a free HAER document??

Ernest Antonio Richland
Scott Barrett Richland
Derek & April Brice Kennewick
Robin Bushore Richland
Carl Connell Richland
Daniel Cook Richland
William Dautel Richland
Les Davenport Richland
Theodore Deobald Richland
Sean Eiholzer Richland
Robin Feurbacher Richland
Stephen Gedeon West Richland
Carl Holder Pasco
Jerry Holm Richland
Tim Johnson Pasco
Gary Kloster Richland
Wendy Lacey Richland
Wanda Munn Richland
Joe Nelson Richland
Larry Nielson Richland
Marlene Oliver West Richland
Brenda Pangborn Richland
Susan H. Pearce Benton City
Paul Rittmann Kennewick
Kevin Schwinkendorf Richland
Pete & Alice Shaw Richland
Cheryl Whalen Kennewick
Jessie Willoughby Richland
David Wootan Richland
Burton E. Pierard Monroe
William McCullough Richland
John Nesbitt Richland
William & Marilyn Darke Richland
D. Louis Hamilton Kennewick
Louis & Margaret Jenepher Field Pasco