THE MODERATOR – Spring 1998
From the Control Room
The mission of BRMA continues to develop, sometimes faster than we can easily handle. Gene Weisskopf is organizing information from a variety of sources for the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) document; Del Ballard is collecting engineering documents, drawings and diagrams, and I am collecting the photographs.
We have sorted through tons of material to get what we think is the best. The outline is starting to take on the look of a real narrative. Once the document is fleshed out, we will be calling on more of you to help review it, and to add your personal stories about the construction and operation of B.
We have used some of the funds received for our progress on the HAER document to make copies of the video interviews. We are reviewing them in search of material to include in the HAER document.
CREHST is under contract to DOE to inventory DOE property and artifacts used for exhibits, which will include the artifacts collected for display at B. Those taking the inventory must describe each artifact and tag it, which will require the help of some of the people who worked at B. We will be calling on you in the future for help on that project.
All the artifacts we collected at 105-C will have to be surveyed and, if they are found to be unacceptable, decontaminated. DOE has indicated they will try to accomplish that soon, so that any artifacts that are exposed to the elements can be brought indoors.
The wood furniture transferred to 105-B for use in exhibits has been stored in a radiological buffer zone and must be cleared before it can be inventoried. The easiest way to accomplish this is to survey the area and remove the Buffer Zone designation, which DOE will try to do as soon as possible.
There is some concern by DOE that since the health hazards at 105-B have not been properly evaluated, that a “characterization” must be made before general tours can be continued (tours such as those that have been done in past years). DOE has said that they will try to characterize the areas frequented by visitors as soon as possible.
A meeting was held to discuss the future of the Hanford Site railroad and rolling stock. DOE is willing to give those items to any responsible group that has a use for it (see the railroad article later in this issue). Tearing up the tracks poses a considerable problem for DOE, such as the disposal of creosoted ties. Of course, BRMA would like to see the railroad maintained, with rail transportation from Richland all the way to B Reactor.
There is more, but this is typical of our progress in making B Reactor a real museum. With any luck, we will have all the problems solved about the same time as the high-level waste problem is resolved.
BRMA Board Members
President: Lyle Wilhelmi
Vice President: Jim Stoffels
Secretary: Pam Novak
Treasurer: Roger Carpenter
Fund Raising: Pam Novak
Health, Safety, & Engineering: Del Ballard
History, Artifacts, & Exhibits: Madeleine Brown
Membership: Joe Hedges
Public Relations: Jim Thornton
Editor: Gene Weisskopf
Words from Our Glorious Past President
It’s interesting how things happen sometimes. Take our continuing discussion with DOE about greater access to spaces in B Reactor. We have been discussing this with them for quite some time. Along comes a friend of mine, Dr. Ron Kathren. He gets interested because he hears that some foreign visitors (happened to be the Russians this time) got a royal tour, while he was put off in his request.
Now, Ron is a very interesting and highly intelligent guy. He also has some of the tenacity of a pit bull. He is also a superbly qualified Health Physicist and a past President of the Health Physics Society, among his many other qualifications. Not the kind of fellow you want to get into a debate with about doses, rates, exposures, etc., unless you have done all your homework, several times over.
For the past six months, Ron has been nipping at DOE’s heels on this issue, and also taking big bites out of various other parts of their anatomy. It’s to the point where cracks are beginning to appear in the defenses that surround the issue of opening up more parts of B Reactor. Expect further developments.
I just finished a three-hour discussion with a writer from England, who is doing a story for the London Observer newspaper. We talked about Jim Acord, whom he met last February when Jim did a presentation in London. Jim is apparently in Alaska right now, earning some money. But the word is that he is about to be offered a short-term position at one of the universities in Britain, teaching art and working on a project involving the creation of a few reliquaries (repositories for artifacts).
We also talked about B Reactor, and I gave the reporter some of the history of the reactor. We also talked about many other aspects of Hanford, but we spent substantial time on these two subjects. I asked for a copy of the article when, and if, it comes out, and he has my name and address, so we will see what happens.
As I write this, Gene Weisskopf and Del Ballard are preparing to attend a meeting at the Port of Benton, the subject of which is the Hanford Tour Train concept. Remember this from our Vision Statement? Well, it’s being resurrected…again.
I got a call a few weeks ago inviting me to the meeting, and I turned it over to Lyle Wilhelmi, who turned it over to Gene, who got Del involved, too. The representatives of the jet boats should be there, as well as Don Sandberg, Tom Marceau (if he can make it) and all the other players necessary to take some concrete steps in that direction. Again, expect further developments (you can read about the meeting farther down in this issue of the Moderator).
As if that weren’t enough, yours truly recently took a big step back into the land of nostalgia. Remember the B-17 and B-24 bombers that were out at the Pasco Airport a few weeks ago? Due to a combination of circumstances (and a significant donation to the non-profit foundation that owns the planes), I spent 20 minutes in full control of the B-17.
The real pilot asked me to do a couple of simple things, watched me, and asked if I was a pilot. When I told him I was, he sat with his arms folded as I flew down the Wallula gap 500 feet over the Columbia River, climbed over the farmlands to the west, made two 360-degree turns, then reentered the Columbia gorge in the opposite direction. Talk about a thrill! [Had we known, we would have taken appropriate action.-Ed]
Now I have some idea what the flight crews went through on those long nine, ten, twelve-hour missions during the war. It also made me think of all the guys who never made it back. The only thing between me and the outside world was some fairly thin aluminum. It sort of fits in with the history that all of us in BRMA are working to preserve.
If it’s July, then the HAER project must be heading towards its first draft. Funny, but it seems like it was just a few months ago that it was March and we were starting this project. But now the document is beginning to come together into distinct sentences, paragraphs, and pages. And hopefully some chapters and an appendix or two.
Collecting material for this project has been frustrating, but also truly exciting. Both stem from the fact that virtually all B Reactor-related documents were classified Secret. It’s only in recent years that the DOE has begun to declassify them. Whatever might be declassified in the future, for now we have a wonderful collection of reports, letters, diaries, data sheets, photographs, drawings, and more.
Of particular interest is the HEW Technical Manual, especially its second section on Piles. This is essentiallly the “owner’s manual” for the early Hanford reactors, and is the Mother Lode of B-related documents. It’s the book the salesman would give you along with the keys to your new reactor. It thoroughly explains every aspect of the reactor in clear language. Although you couldn’t build a pile from the level of information that’s in this book, you certainly learn what you would need to include.
The three diagrams shown here were taken from the manual, and give a taste of the kind of information you’ll find in it. We’ll have several copies at our July 13 BRMA meeting, which should make a good topic of conversation (“See, the process tubes didn’t go out to the corners of the pile!”).
The other great resource we’ve only begun to mine is our own members and others who worked at Hanford in years past. We now need to get the document together based on what we have so far. But we will continue to expand this material with your input, suggestions, patience and review. What a great experience!
The pile’s rear face, showing the 132 biological shield blocks (large squares), the 208 thermal shield cooling tubes (perimeter dots), and the 2004 process tubes (larger dots).
A hand-cranked charging machine connected to a process tube. Fuel and dummy slugs were fed into a magazine on top; turning the handle would push a slug into the tube.
The main control panel in the control room; every gauge is identified in this diagram.
EPA Speaks to BRMA
At our May 17 meeting at Atomic Ale, the BRMA enjoyed the company of Doug Sherwood, the Unit Manager for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Region 10, the Hanford Project Office (his office is on Swift Blvd). EPA oversees the superfund cleanup work at Hanford and the disposal of the waste being generated.
Doug began his talk by emphasizing that there is no doubt that the B Reactor is of great historical importance. The question is how to make it available to the public now, and for future generations?
He pointed out that, on the one hand, they’re making C Reactor and the others safe via “interim safe storage,”dismantling all but their piles and then sealing them up for the next 75 years. C Reactor is right next door to B, which they’d also like to make safe but without cocooning it. Doug pointed out that this creates a bit of a paradox that needs to be addressed- how to keep B intact, but safe.
Cocooning C Reactor will cost between $15 and $18 million, and will then require very low maintenance at very little cost for the next 75 years. The ongoing costs of maintaining the B Reactor need to be determined, too.
Doug reminded us that if B Reactor will be opened to other than strictly local (on-site) visitors, we need to convince the public that it is safe to enter.
The question was raised about the B-related milestones in the Tri-Party Agreement. Doug filled us in:
Milestone M-93-04, due by June, 1999, “Submit 105-B hazards assessment and characterization report to EPA.” This is something of an inventory that describes the hazards at B and specifies how they can be mitigated to allow public entrance.
Milestone M-93-05, due by June, 2000, “Issue B Reactor Phase II Feasibility Study Engineering Design Report for public comment.” This report will explore ways to resolve the hazards at B, and what it will take to maintain the reactor and make it publicly accessible. The document will go out for public comment, and will include the estimated costs for the modifications it recommends. After that, a schedule will be set to implement the modifications. Doug thought that the cost of these two studies would total about $250,000
M-93-06-T01, due by June, 2001, “Submit B Reactor Surveillance and Maintenance Plan for EPA approval in part. (This target will be modified to a specific interim milestone date on the completion of M-93-05)”.
The Tri-Party agreement is on the Internet at:
and the URL for these milestones is:
We were also reminded of the ongoing budget tightening at Hanford. Doug thought that the budget looks okay in 1999, but the future isn’t so rosy in 2000. Plus that’s an election year, which always makes budgets and the like more unpredictable.
Doug finished his talk by listing some of the areas of concern at B Reactor, such as the fuel transfer and storage basin. It has the most radioactivity outside the pile, and will require “intrusive action” to improve the situation. Doug also referred to the problem of “changing the silhouette of B” when necessary modifications are made (the silhouette of the 100-B area today is ample evidence of that problem).
The members and guests of the BRMA gave Doug a warm ovation, and thanked him for joining them at Atomic Ale.
Rivers, Rails, and Reactors
The B Reactor played a central role during a meeting that was held on June 30th at the Port of Benton building in north Richland. By the end of September, the DOE will make the final transfer to the Port of Benton of a portion of Hanford railroad line. Eventually, the Port will have railroad access all the way to the B Reactor.
The topic of the meeting was a “dinner train” concept that would take advantage of this track. The train could run all the way from Columbia Center, through Richland, past WPPSS and the town of Hanford, and follow the Columbia River (although never too close to it) all the way to the B Reactor. So what do you do with a trainful of well-fed passengers who have just drunk in the sites of our local desert, towns, and rivers? Obviously, you’d better let them into the B Reactor so they can finish off their tour with a memorable historical treasure.
The idea of running a train to B Reactor has floated in and out of the BRMA’s discussions about the museum and, in fact, such a concept is included in our Vision Statement:
An additional concept is…a rail tour of Hanford, terminating at B Reactor. This idea has been discussed with the Port of Benton and several other agencies in the Tri-Cities, including CREHST, and the responses have been positive. The idea becomes even more attractive when coupled with…jet boat tours of the river. The entire plan would be to bring people to B Reactor by train and boat. Those arriving by train would return by boat, while the train returns the passengers who arrived by boat. You can read more of the BRMA vision at: http://www.b-reactor.org/vision.htm
The train/boat round trip to B Reactor would be one heck of a journey, and most likely the highlight of any visitor’s stay in the Tri-Cities.
Ben Bennett, Executive Director of the Port of Benton, laid out some of the possibilities for using the track. He explained that the Port has estimates that it will cost about $250,000 a year to maintain the track (the portion that reaches to the WPPSS reactor), which they will most likely contract out to a railroad-related company. Before they jump in with this commitment, they want to formulate some plans for making use of the track. The ultimate destination of the B Reactor fits in with other plans that are brewing for an expanded park at the Vernita Bridge, where tour boats could also land.
Maynard Plahuta, of the DOE Office of External Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations, explained some of the opportunities and obstacles that lay in the path of this type of project. The big hurdle these days (and all days, when you think about it) is money. It is very difficult to put Hanford funds towards projects that don’t go directly into pumping out tanks or moving hazardous waste. Nonetheless, Maynard seemed to imply that he’s been in this business long enough to know that there are always methods for getting a task accomplished, as long as enough people are behind it working diligently.
Representing the Tri-Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau was Tana Bader Inglima, the Director of Tourism Development. She was quite interested (excited, really) in the DOE opening up Hanford’s historical treasure chest. When the pieces include boats, trains, the Columbia River, the Manhattan Project, Native Americans, the old town sites of Hanford and White Bluffs, well, her mind was going into high gear over the limitless possibilities. From her perspective, this would be a major addition to the resources of the Tri-Cities that can attract tourists, businesses, conventions, school kids on outings, and so on.
Representing the river end of things was Tim Arntzen, owner and operator of Columbia River Journeys. His is one of two companies offering jet-boat trips up the Columbia River. Currently his tours generally go as far as the D Reactor, where the Columbia makes a big bend to the west. He saw great promise in the idea of taking his tours one way, say to the Vernita Bridge. There he would exchange his passengers for another boatload of people who came up via the train, and ship them back to Richland.
Obviously, the B Reactor could play a major role at the hub of this river-and-rail tour, which BRMA members Gene Weisskopf and Del Ballard were more than happy to emphasize. From our perspective, if all these other players in the game can envision their interests intersecting with the B Reactor, the only thing missing would be the DOE’s helping to get the reactor open to the public on a recurring basis. That’s the kind of matter of fact planning we’d love to promote and assist.
Also at the meeting was Clyde Andrews, of Othello. He and his son are the owners of the “Abraham Lincoln,” a classic Pullman rail car from the early 1900s. It spent many of its years as a private luxury car for railroad executives; sort of the Lear Jet of its day. The Andrews have worked long and hard at refurbishing the car, and the photos he brought with him were testament to the fact that trains are still the best way to travel.
Clyde is interested in putting the car to work, and a dinner train would be a good start. It could also be used for meetings or corporate retreats, although it’s debatable how much work would get done as the Mid-Columbia landscape flows dreaming by the windows.
This meeting brought together another slice of the many parties who would like to see the B Reactor made a part of the Mid-Columbia cultural and recreational scene. It was heartening to see that people involved in a variety of pursuits were all excited about the idea of a B Reactor museum. We will be working together to gather our varied interests into a plan that will include B Reactor. All aboard!
The Dupus Boomer character and cartoon are © Dick Donnell; all rights reserved.
Dick Donnell’s cartoons appeared in the Richland Villager newspaper from 1945 to 1950. As a cartoonist in his spare time, he captured many of the cultural threads that drifted through Richland and Hanford, and wove them into endearing snippets of life on the atomic frontier. His topics included the confounding need for secrecy at the Hanford Site, the notable “breezes” that blew through the area, the government houses, streets, and furniture, and the countless minor hardships that didn’t seem all that hard when everyone else was faced with the same difficulties.
Only One of a Kind
Prices in Richland are no higher than they would be in any similar community–oddly enough, there isn’t any. [Dick Donnell]