THE MODERATOR – Sumer 1999

From the Control Room

[Scene 1: As the editor slowly opens the door, his expectant smile dissolves from his visage.]

Hey Lyle, it’s that time again. Lyle? Hello? Say, the control room seems awfully quiet when we’re this close to deadline. Eerie, almost as if, but wait, why, it can’t be, but it’s true—there’s no one here, it’s empty!

So, it finally happened. The Moderator is about to be published and the captain, our President, is not at the control panel. In fact, he’s not even on the premises, but has flown the coop to the Far East. As far east as upper New York state, that is, where he and his family are vacationing at what might as well be summer camp: trees, cabins, lakes, canoes, community dining, mosquitoes, the whole bit.

So we’ll just have to make do without his words of wisdom in this issue. But this might be a good opportunity to speak freely while he’s out of town.

Lyle has been a tireless evangelist for the BRMA, both during his reign as president for the past 18 months and for years before that. Actually, he’s darn tireless with all the projects he has going at any one time.

Like many of our members, he’s retired and working full time at it. He’s constantly moving his focus from family to airplanes to gardening to car repairs to BRMA to Audubon to cooking, and to the other 20 or 30 interests he maintains. In that light, though, the time he spends working on BRMA projects is all the more appreciated.

However, in no way does this release him from his duties as president. We’ll give him some time off for now, but we’ll get him back on track later on.

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

BRMA Speaks out for Keeping the B Reactor in the Hanford Budget

In early March, the BRMA mailed a special notice to its members regarding funding for B Reactor-related projects in the Hanford budget. Funds for 105-B were being bumped not only from the FY-2000 budget, but from the proposed 2001 budget, as well.

We asked you to write the DOE and express your thoughts on why the B Reactor should be funded instead of neglected. Our request generated a healthy sampling of letters that were sent to the DOE.

The DOE gave due consideration to all the public comments, including those relating to B Reactor. So far, the effect of the 105-B letters on the DOE has not been as impressive as we might hope for.

But our comments are now part of the public record, which is always more than half the battle. All the letters are excellent, each takes a somewhat different tack, and together they cover a lot of territory. That’s why we decided to include them as a special pull-out section of this [the print] edition of the Moderator. When you read them, you’ll get a glimpse of the strength that underlies the BRMA.

You can find these and the other HRA-EIS comments at the DOE’s site at:
http://www.hanford.gov/doe/budget01/response/response.html

Update: B Reactor Hazards Assessment Survey

The final draft of the “Hanford B Reactor Building Hazard Assessment Report” was released on June 28. We have a copy, and it’s also available at the DOE Public Reading Room as document BHI-01282. Bechtel performed this study for DOE-RL

To provide an assessment/characterization of the B Reactor building to determine and document the hazards that are present and could pose a threat to the environment and/or to individuals touring the building.

There’s good news in this report. First of all, it mentions such jewels as “museum” and “tours” and “expanded tour routes.” The rest is in the bottom line:

The assessment concluded that where some potential hazards were noted in the existing tour route, none was of a nature to cause harm to anyone touring the facility.

We received early word of this conclusion when assessment team members Paul Griffin and Joe Zoric attended our BRMA meeting on June 14th. They provided an overview of the survey process and did much to assuage our concerns by reporting that they had seen no “show-stopper” problems.

The survey took two primary directions. First, existing documents were reviewed for any problems that have already been reported. This included the Phase I Feasibility Study from 1995. Next, a walk-through of the building was performed by a team of professionals from a variety of related fields:

  • Structural engineering
  • Industrial safety
  • Environmental specialist
  • Electrical engineering
  • Radiation safety
  • Characterization specialist

Their survey concentrated on two areas of the reactor—the existing tour route that mainly covers the work area, front face, and the control room, and a proposed expanded route that includes the valve pit and a peek into the fuel storage basin, among others areas.

The team jotted down observations, filled out check lists, and took photographs. They looked for many different types of hazards that might face a visitor to the building, including falling, tripping, or slipping, being struck, drowning, electrical shock, or exposure to radiation, lead, mercury, asbestos, miscellaneous chemicals, and biological hazards (dead bats or birds, guano, etc).

The report contains long lists of real or suspected problems, as well as some recommendations for alleviating them. For example, peeling paint should be characterized for lead content. The Panellit gauges in the control room should be checked to see whether they contain any mercury in their switches. (Roger Rohrbacher remembers them being emptied, and confirmed this from Larry Denton—the mercury was removed form the Panellit gauges in 1985 or 86.)

Instruments and recorders should be checked for old batteries. Other materials that should be removed include all elemental lead items, biohazards, oils and liquids from deactivated equipment, and ozone-depleting substances. The report’s conclusion states:

…numerous corrective safety measures are needed prior to allowing public access to additional areas of the B Reactor building for museum-related activities. In general, the corrective measures appear to be minor; however, potential hazards are apparent outside and adjacent to the reactor building, along the existing tour route…Some potential hazards were observed in the existing tour route, but none was of a serious nature to cause harm to anyone touring the facility.

As Paul Griffin mentioned at the meeting, the report discusses some radiological issues. The highest reading was found at the inner wall of the inner-rod room (the shield wall of the reactor core). But even this rate was so small that a visitor would have to stand right at the wall for 24 hours to pick up the daily allowed dose for the general public.

In cases where the hazards are not readily fixable, the issue might be skipped altogether if, for example, visitors are allowed to look into a room without actually entering it.

Paul and Joe mentioned one issue in the report that is of particular interest to the BRMA. There are no “inventory tags” or other identifying marks on artifacts that we intend to keep. This could create quite a problem when further cleanup efforts are made in the reactor prior to allowing public access.

What is especially heartening about this report is that it was actually completed during the fiscal year for which it had been budgeted. We hope that future projects for the B Reactor, such as the Phase II Feasibility Study, will get attention that is equally timely.

Land Use Plan Shows B Reactor Museum

On May 20, DOE-RL held a public forum at the Shiloh Inn to receive public comments on the recently published “Revised Draft, Hanford Remedial Action Environmental Impact Statement and Comprehensive Land Use Plan,” otherwise known as the HRA-EIS.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this document, here’s a summary from its introduction:

The DOE prepared this HRA-EIS to evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated with implementing a comprehensive land-use plan for the Hanford Site for at least the next 50 years. With the exception of the required No-Action Alternative, each of the six alternatives presented represents a Tribal, Federal, state, or local agency’s Preferred Alternative. Each alternative is presented separately.

The DOE’s Preferred Alternative anticipates multiple uses of the Hanford Site, including: consolidating waste management operations in the Central Plateau, allowing industrial development in the eastern and southern portions of the site, increasing recreational access to the Columbia River, and expanding the Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge to include all of the Wahluke Slope (managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

The inspiring part of this document (yes, DOE reports can be “inspiring”) is the number of times that “B Reactor museum” is mentioned. Here’s an excerpt from the DOE’s Preferred Alternative (emphasis added):

Four sites away from existing contamination would be designated as High-Intensity Recreation for visitor-serving activities and facilities development. The B Reactor would be converted into a museum and the surrounding areas would be available for museum-support facilities. The area near the Vernita Bridge would be expanded to include a boat ramp and other visitor facilities. Two areas on the Wahluke Slope would be designated as High-Intensity Recreation for potential exclusive Tribal fishing sites.

The area west of the B Reactor would be designated Low-Intensity Recreation and used as a corridor between the High-Intensity Recreation areas associated with the B Reactor and Vernita Bridge. A White Bluffs boat launch would be a Low-Intensity Recreation area located between the H and F Reactors. Other areas would include visitor facilities near the old Hanford High School and a support site near Energy Northwest (formerly WPPSS) for hiking and biking trails from Richland to the Vernita rest stop.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And the “B Reactor museum” appears in most of the other proposed alternatives for future land use.

A number of people stepped up to the microphone to express their views at the public meeting. It was a bit surprising to hear that virtually all of them were very much in favor of preserving as much of Hanford’s land as possible, even if that meant curtailing or even eliminating agricultural and industrial development from the Site.

The public comments will be considered when this draft of the HRA-EIS is updated and used to develop a comprehensive land-use plan (CLUP) and a Final EIS for the Hanford Site, followed by DOE’s issuance of a Record of Decision (ROD). The DOE says that full implementation of the CLUP is expected to take at least 50 years to achieve all its land-use goals.

BRMA members Lyle Wilhelmi, Madeleine Brown, and Gene Weisskopf took a turn at the microphone. Along with speaking out for their other interests, they each emphasized the importance of a B Reactor museum.

Finally, the meeting proved to be a good opportunity for the BRMA to gain some public visibility. This was truly a public meeting, and the DOE allowed interested groups to set up information tables in the meeting room. At the last minute, Gene Weisskopf and Del Ballard rushed together enough materials to have a suitably informative display—the second of only two in the entire room! (The other being the local chapter of the Audubon Society). During the meeting, our guys managed to “exchange for donations” several BRMA hats and packages of note cards. This meeting was certainly well worth attending.

You can find the entire HRA-EIS and its somewhat smaller executive summary on the Internet at:
http://www.hanford.gov/eis/hraeis/hraeis.htm

B Reactor—Not yet an American Treasure

There has been much anticipation in the BRMA about the fate of the Save America’s Treasures grant. To make a long, exciting story short, we found out on May 19 that a grant had not been awarded to the B Reactor.

As discussed in the last issue of the Moderator, Dee Lloyd, manager of the cultural resources program for the DOE, had guided the grant application through the various hoops and hurdles, with assistance from the BRMA and others.

As good as the application was, there was some very stiff competition for the grant money that was to be given away. Many of the projects that did win were in dire need of restoration dollars, whereas B Reactor, with its concrete and steel construction, is not in such imminent danger.

Nonetheless, it’s very disheartening to think of the notoriety that did not come to B Reactor because the grant was not awarded. It would have provided a real kick to local efforts.

There will be another opportunity next year, and you can be sure we will do all we can to get the recognition that 105-B deserves.

All Ashore (Still): The B Reactor Boat Dock Saga

Del Ballard

[Del has been quite vigilant in pursuing the BRMA’s vision of having a boat dock at or near the B Reactor. Many thanks Del.]

As with all matters in dealing with DOE, we must be very patient. Our proposal to proceed with a project to install a boat dock near the B Reactor is still in limbo.

In January of this year, BRMA met with representatives from the Port of Benton, City of Richland, Regional Governmental Council, Columbia River Journeys, and others, to explore the interest in building a dock near B Reactor for use by the public and/or tour groups. All expressed interest and their willingness to support such a project.

Later this spring we were in hot pursuit of a grant form the Washington State Interagency Committee for money from the Outdoor Recreation Program. The dock project fit well into the Boating Facilities category, and the chances of receiving funds appeared quite promising. However, since we had not yet formally requested a hearing from the DOE, nor received any indication from them that we could obtain a right-of-way, we elected to defer such a grant request.

About that same time, we engaged Benton County in our planning and they happily included the dock project in their “Interim Action Plan.” This document describes their proposed land use for the Hanford Site. All of the previously contacted agencies and individuals, including our friend Dee Lloyd of DOE, continued to show their interest and support.

In April, BRMA submitted a letter to the DOE requesting a land use easement for riverbank access and the installation of a small floating dock in the cove at the 181-B pump house. We indicated that costs would be covered by sources other than DOE. We later met with DOE and heard numerous “reasons” why such an easement could not be granted. We were told that a refusal letter would be sent to us.

We again presented the project plan at a DOE Issues Exchange Workshop on May 25. At that time, it was indicated that the strongest objection was the cost of preparing an Environmental Assessment for the project. We suggested that BRMA might be able to assist in the preparation of such a document. So far, we have received no formal response to our request for an easement, and the project is currently at a standstill.

BRMA Helps Hanford History Reach National Competition

In the last edition of the Moderator, we reported on the visit by Caspian Kuschnereit, the high school senior from Whidbey Island. He was in the midst of working on a history paper about Hanford’s role in the Manhattan Project, which would be entered into the Washington State competition for National History Day.

Caspian spent several days in Richland visiting the DOE Reading Room, Battelle, and CREHST, getting a tour of the Hanford Site and FFTF, and having a face-to-face conversation with Bill McCue.

Not long after he returned home and finished his paper, he sent an e-mail announcing that his work had WON the state competition! Having seen all the work he had put into his paper made this prize seem all the better. His success meant that he and his paper would be heading to Washington, D.C. in mid-June for the national competition.

The trip to D.C. was evidently a blast for Caspian and a great, highly competitive experience. Although his paper did not take home a prize, this was most certainly a great way to finish off his high school career.

He has our congratulations and our best wishes. We hope to see more students like him in the years to come, as the dramatic story of Hanford continues to be discovered.

More Visitors Caught in the Web

The BRMA Web site is a great way to let anyone on the planet find out about our organization and get in touch with us. People might simply stumble upon our site, or find us by searching the Web for Hanford- or B Reactor-related topics. There’s also the chance someone may give them the address.

Most recently, we heard from Ed Burnet via e-mail from the Web site. He’s an ex-B Reactor operator who now lives in Idaho:

My name is Edward G. Burnet Sr. I used to work at the B Area on “D” Shift. My supervisors were Mr. Andy Olds and Mr. Hal Layborne. Some of the operators on my shift were M. Birdsong, Frank Fairweather, H.K. George, and several others.

I later went to the C Area for its startup, and later to KW and KE and helped with their startups.

Flying was in my blood, so in 1968 I quit and furthered my desires in the flying business for many years. In 1978, I quit and semi-retired to Idaho, where I have been since.

If you are interested in some tales about B, I still have some good memories there. As ever, from an old B Area operator,

Ed Burnet
Spirit Lake, Idaho

We sent a message back to Ed and will send him a copy of this issue of the Moderator (along with a membership form, just in case). It’s wonderful when people find us in this way.

Not long after hearing from Ed, we received a message from Norm Miller who lives right here in Richland.

I came to Hanford in 1950 and spent my career at the Hanford production reactors. It has seemed to me that the reactor history is very fascinating, reflects a lot of good work by a lot of people, and includes many challenges and problems that were quite interesting. Further, it seems to me that other [Manhattan Project era] “histories” generally skimp over Hanford, and what there is does not really do justice to the Hanford work.

I am slowly working away on a history of the Hanford production reactors. So far, my main source of information has been the DOE Public Reading Room, Met Lab documents at Oak Ridge, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., many books, and excerpts from some journals. While I have a lot of information at hand, the actual writing has progressed to the point where DuPont does the design.

Information on the actual design is easy to come by. What I want to do, though, is understand as best I can how the design evolved. In other words, why were interesting features designed the way they were.

Well, it didn’t take long to corral Norm for a conversation about B Reactor history, our HAER document, and the various resources we and he have found. Norm is very interested in his historical endeavors, too, and he’s retired enough to have time to pursue them.

He’s so interested in fact, that he just left for a week’s trip to the Hagley Library in Wilmington, Delaware. That’s the repository for DuPont’s historical records. We’ve browsed through their online card catalog, and Miles Patrick had a quick visit there on a trip to the east coast. But so far we’ve never made a sleeves-rolled-up journey to the Hagley. Now, thanks to Norm, we’ll have a good look at the reactor-related materials in the library, and who knows what else.

So Norm, where have you been keeping yourself?