THE MODERATOR – Summer 2002
From the control room
Hey, I can’t be the only one who didn’t know what K>1 meant but was embarrassed to ask. That’s why my first Presidential fiat is to readopt the old name for this, the message from the Prez.
Actually my first executive action was to go to Washington DC with Connie Estep and schmooze with decision-makers and fellow Manhattan Project followers. More on this elsewhere in this issue.
Nothing like a quiet or smooth transition. No sooner had I accepted the opportunity of leadership than DOE sent that lovely letter of April 19, in which Keith Klein informed us of yet another study on B Reactor, this one to consider cocooning the world’s first nuclear reactor.
DOE’s regulatory and planning path has pointed toward a museum at B since 1993, when the Record of Decision for the fate of the old reactors noted B Reactor’s historic importance could lead it to a different end point.
In the Hanford 2012 plan for accelerating cleanup and shrinking the site, DOE stated B Reactor will become a museum. DOE’s comprehensive land use plan’s preferred alternative for B Reactor is “high intensity recreation to allow tourism.”
DOE now states quite clearly it does not want to be in the museum business–besides in Oak Ridge, besides at INEL, besides at Alamagordo, Los Alamos (with its new and huge Bradbury Science Museum) and Albuquerque.
We in BRMA quite agree– we don’t want B Reactor Museum visitors to have to state their citizenship and their social security numbers to armed guards or harried civil servants.
No–B Reactor must be accessible to all, and without running DOE’s gauntlet of guards, gates, and fences.
DOE’s focus should be on cleaning up Hanford. But it must do so in a way that permits future citizens to understand why such a huge section of Eastern Washington was taken away from citizens, and why we had such a cleanup in the first place.
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended DOE foster partnerships with other Federal agencies, the private sector, and state and local governments to ensure preservation of historic sites like B Reactor.
It recommended DOE take administrative actions to help develop the museum. It recommended adjusting the boundaries of the Hanford Reach National Monument to include B Reactor.
Where is the Energy Secretary’s commitment to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation?
We encourage DOE to take a leadership role in finding a museum partner or be willing to provide financial assistance to another group to enable them to provide this critical advocacy role.
We also oppose DOE’s plans to rely solely on the limited Superfund process to evaluate several clean up options, select an alternative and involve the public only in a minimal way.
B Reactor’s fate is too important to be addressed so casually. B Reactor is a national treasure. Decisions on its fate must be deliberate and thorough.
BRMA Visits the Other Washington
On Saturday, April 27, Connie Estep and I attended a symposium called “The Manhattan Project: A Living Legacy.” ’ The symposium was sponsored by the Atomic Heritage Foundation, The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
Also attending were BRMA members Peter Edinburg and Bill Ryan from Wilmington Delaware.
Former Hanford RL Manager (and brand new BRMA member) John Wagoner attended. So did about 200 other people.
What a lineup! NM Senator Jeff Bingaman started the symposium with some opening remarks. Then author Richard Rhodes took the podium, after moderator Cindy Kelly got everyone there to raise a hand in response to the question “who here has read The Making of the Atomic Bomb?”
Closing remarks came from James Schlessinger, the very first Secretary of Energy, as well as chair of the AEC and Director of the CIA.
In between were a number of authors of books about the Manhattan Project, some Manhattan Project veterans, and others.
The first panel looked at the role of the U.S’s allies in the making of the bomb. Next was a panel on the roles and relationships of General Groves, Oppenheimer, Teller Lawrence, and Szilard. Another panel had Manhattan Project veterans, and the final panel reflected on the factors critical for the Manhattan Project’s success, and the lessons for meeting today’s national security challenges.
I found the symposium very stimulating–but alas, very focused on Oppenheimer and Los Alamos. By actual count I heard the word “Hanford” three times.
The symposium was in a theater-style auditorium. It was a poor setup for mingling and friend-finding. At least we brought several dozen brochures and every last one of them was picked up.
Connie and I had more luck after the symposium. We met with representatives of our Congressional delegation, US DOE-HQ, the president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, and the National Coordinator for the National Park Service Heritage Areas.
We had not expected an appointment at the National Park Service. But it turns out the official we met attended the same Quaker high school as my cousin and I, and my cousin had recognized her (by her hair style!) at a heritage workshop in the DC area the week before. Lucky for BRMA that my cousin is becoming a historic preservation expert!
It was while we were back East that we got our first look at the infamous April 19 letter.
I was surprised (and surprised to be surprised) to find Hanford’s story told so clearly in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. There I found the D Reactor’s control panel, a Richland Bombers sweatshirt, Hanford construction photos, and a lovely and simple film clip showing why and how B Reactor came to be.
The film’s creator is Helen Weiss, who is married to the nephew of Leo Szilard. We met them at the symposium.
The trip gave us dozens of ideas and leads to follow, which may yield dividends for months to come–even if the symposium did shortchange historic B Reactor.
Spring Tour Summary
BRMA has supported a smattering of tours despite the security limitations. Many visitors were employees, for whom badges were not an obstacle. Following are the tours BRMA led at the reactor:
4/2 Bechtel Radiological Control Technicians
4/4 Journalist from Chemical Engineering News
4/9 Bechtel Radiological Control Technicians
4/10 Hanford Advisory Board
4/11 Civil Engineering group
4/16 Bechtel Radiological Control Technicians
4/17 Bechtel Environmental Group (not just locals)
5/7 PNNL student interns
6/5 PNNL student interns
6/19 DOE staff
What’s new at the B Reactor?
A Project Update for Spring 2002
Bechtel Hanford, Inc.
As the third quarter comes to end, the B Reactor is ready to begin four significant upgrades, which will improve the tour route for workers and visitors. The electrical system will be upgraded. The valve pit walkway and railing will be enhanced to meet safety codes. A large net will be installed high above the front face work area to protect humans from an unlikely seismic event that could loosen the roof panels, and repairs to nine roof panels will be completed in place.
As the work begins in mid July, it will be necessary to suspend visits and public access for about a month. Scaffolding will be erected, and the electrical system will be taken out of service during this time.
Tours and Access
Tours during this quarter have been disappointingly few. The security situation at Hanford has made it difficult to provide badges to members of the public. However, site workers and interns have been given the opportunity to take a tour with the most excellent BRMA guides. (We very much appreciate your support!)
Final Configuration EE/CA to Be Prepared
As the April 19, 2002 letter from Keith Klein to BRMA explained, DOE-RL has directed Bechtel to prepare an Engineering Evaluation/ Cost Analysis (EE/CA) to determine a “final configuration” option for B Reactor if it remains in the cleanup mode. This EE/CA will be ready for public review in FY03 (probably in November 2002).
The options that are being considered are no action, surveillance and maintenance, and interim safe storage.
This document will not evaluate a preservation or museum use at B Reactor. This EE/CA is different than the “interim” EE/CA that was completed in 2001, in which “public access along a tour route” was the selected alternative that was supported by EPA, DOE-RL, Ecology and the public. The interim EE/CA enabled public access for up to ten years.
The “final configuration” EE/CA is being prepared this time is to support the new Tri Party Agreement commitment that requires DOE-RL to present a recommendation to EPA regarding the final use/configuration of the B Reactor by September 2005.
DOE-RL hopes that the preparation of the cleanup option for the B Reactor will stimulate a serious debate over the long-term use, financing and operation of B Reactor as part of a preservation mission. It is the hope of Keith Klein and others at DOE, that B Reactor will be converted into a museum, however, this will require a viable organization to step forward with funding and a long-term commitment to preservation. It appears that this debate has now begun in earnest; the flurry of recent newspaper articles, and a letter from Jim Watts, Chair of the Hanford Reach National Monument Federal Planning Advisory Committee sent to Keith Klein are encouraging indications. In the letter, Jim Watts explains that the Committee has taken a position to include B Reactor in the Monument in the future.
BRMA Board Members – 2002
President: Madeleine Brown
Vice President: [available] Secretary: Betty Gulley
Treasurer: Warren Sevier
Health, Safety, & Engineering: Del Ballard
History, Artifacts, & Exhibits: Lyle Wilhelmi
Membership: Joe Hedges
Public Relations: Jim Thornton
Editor: Madeleine Brown
I was a VIP on a VIP Tour
One of my other roles is to help represent the Washington League of Women Voters on the Hanford Advisory Board.
The Board had a VIP tour of Hanford on Wednesday, April 10. It was quite a full agenda. Besides B Reactor, we visited F and D/DR Reactors to look at cocooning, the K Basins, the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, the UO3 Plant, Waste Receiving and Processing Facility, and the AZ tank farm.
I was in august company. Richland’s city manager attended, as did Charlie Kilbury from the Pasco City Council, a few representatives from the Nez Perce Tribe, a reporter from La Grande, some Board facilitators, and Board members from Heart of America, the State of Oregon, TRIDEC, the Audubon Society, Oregon Hanford Waste Board, and the Hanford Communities.
Dru Butler greeted us at B Reactor–and served us cake in that office/storage room just inside the main entrance. BRMA Members Gene Weisskopf, Norm Miller, Hank Kosmata, and Dru Butler were our guides.
It pleased me that the tour included the offices behind the control room and the valve pit room. These areas were not available before last summer,
I noted with some pride, and continuing appreciation to Mike Hughes, how proud and lovely is the flag outside B Reactor.
The folks at the Waste Receiving and Processing Facility have a flag too, but theirs is anchored in a barrel full of rocks. B Reactor’s flag is so much more permanent and breathes such life into the facility!
It is great to see our membership continue to grow, and in places far from Richland! Welcome to the new members who have joined the BRMA in the past few months:
Norm Dyer Beaverton OR
Melvin & Eleanor Finkbeiner Richland
Tom Kelly Orange TX
William McCullough Richland
Burton Pierard Monroe WA
Maynard Plahuta Richland
John Wagoner Knoxville TN
BRMA member Ray Spilman passed away in March.
One Member’s Observations
The latest DOE-HQ Environmental Management Progress report tells exactly what Assistant Secretary Roberson has in mind. There are six major points in her program. One focal point is “Shedding scope and programs not aligned with or supporting accelerated risk reduction.” If you need a translation, that means that no funds will be available for cultural development or public education.
That squares with the lack of attention to cultural activities at Hanford. Recently DOE has:
- Stopped holding regular public meetings to report the progress of the cultural resources program on site
- Declared that no funds are available for the decontamination of Hanford railroad rolling stock that is so valuable in interpreting Hanford Site history. Implicit in this declaration is that funds are available for its burial
- Failed to earmark any budget for more than a token cultural resources program
- Made it harder for the public to access historic Hanford Site photographs
- Completely stonewalled restoration of the First Bank of White Bluffs by Tri-Cities volunteers
- Shown no progress toward establishing a Hanford/White Bluffs Memorial to those who sacrificed their property and way of life for the Manhattan Project
- Changed responsibility for the cultural resources program from an individual who did ‘too good a job’ to another unfamiliar with the program
- Put historic B Reactor on a track toward cocooning with a disturbing lack of leadership to find the partner for the long-term responsibility of a B Reactor museum.
- Local action must force USDOE to leave our community with a cultural heritage other than that of a contaminated disposal site. The development of a Hanford cultural program is of great economic importance to the region and for interpreting a special phase of our cultural history to future generations.
More impressions from the Manhattan Project Symposium
The United States of America was the first nation to build an atomic bomb. We were not the first to try, however. But we did it.
We undertook the atomic bomb effort because our enemy, Germany, was doing so, and we believed Germany to be two years ahead of us in the effort. In fact most nations involved in World War Two were working on the bomb.
But development of atomic weapons was expensive, so that limited efforts.
Development of atomic weapons required trust between scientists and the government. The U.S. had such trust.
Germany lacked the trust. In France the effort was stillborn, in Richard Rhodes’ words. In Russia the effort was put on hold because that nation was busy defending itself from invasion and siege. Japan scaled back its efforts to laboratory, assuming other nations were doing likewise.
Building the bomb was a huge industrial undertaking. It was not unlike the effort to put a man on the moon. The Manhattan Project was on the same scale as the nation’s entire automotive industry.
Russia had agreed to join the war in the Pacific and did in fact declare war on Japan two days after we dropped the first bomb.
But the bombs brought Japan’s unconditional surrender and a swift end to the war.
Had we not dropped the bomb, conventional warfare would have proceeded, with huge loss of life, and would have ultimately ended the war. But Russia would have been in the war, and perhaps Japan would today be partitioned as were China and Korea.
Living in the atomic age has some surprising benefits. One of them is that nukes deter mass destruction. The threat of nuclear warfare kept the Cold War cold. Without nukes, who can doubt we would have had a conventional war with the USSR?
Alfred Nobel was so horrified by the destructive uses made of his invention, dynamite, that he established the Nobel Prizes, the first of which was the Nobel Peace Prize. There is no greater honor for mere mortals on our planet than a Nobel Peace Prize.
Nukes have their horrible military consequences; no one can dispute it. But nukes may have saved many lives through the swift end to World War Two, and by preventing a large conventional not-so-Cold War. And nukes have given us phenomenal medical diagnostic tools and now medicines.
What’s been going on since April 1, 2002
4/1 Public outreach committee meets at home of Lyle and Madeleine. Many ideas resulted.
4/3 Moderator goes out with Gene Weisskopf’s farewell.
4/10 Hanford Advisory Board tours B Reactor. BRMA members host the tour. Madeleine attends as one of VIP guests. What a treat!
4/19 Keith Klein signs letter to BRMA, HAB, Congress, and many others on “B Reactor Final Configuration.” This is the letter that states in essence that unless a capable museum partner comes forward DOE will cocoon historic B Reactor. Letter reaches BRMA on May 1 through a helpful DOE-HQ contractor. The official copy followed a little later.
4/27 Manhattan Project Symposium held in Washington, DC. BRMA members Madeleine Brown, Connie Estep, Peter Edinburg, and William Ryan attend.
4/30 – 5/2 BRMA volunteers Hank Kosmata, Bob Smith, Bob Bowersock, Lyle Wilhelmi, Carl Higby, and Jim Thornton help staff the Bechtel booth at the Hanford health and safety expo at TRAC, attended by more than 33,000 visitors. Thanks to Bechtel for thnking to include BRMA!
5/1-2 Connie and Madeleine visit DC decision-makers about B Reactor.
6/1 DOE-HQ Chief Historian Skip Gosling sends to Madeleine the report from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. It’s entitled “Recommendations and Preservation Options for Manhattan Project Signature Facilities at Oak Ridge and Hanford Reservations.” It was prepared in February 2001 but has been kept under wraps.
6/2 Tri-City Herald Sunday editorial gives B Reactor museum a ringing endorsement and DOE’s apparent change of face a blast of criticism. The B-word “baloney” was even used.
6/4 Madeleine writes to Greg Hughes, US Fish and Wildlife Project Leader for the Hanford Reach National Monument, seeking to start a dialog with the monument’s advisory board about the relationship between the monument and historic B Reactor.
6/13 Jim Watts, the chair of the Hanford Reach National Monument Advisory Committee, writes to Keith Klein in response to that April 19 letter. Watts stated “it is important to include the B Reactor and other historic sites, either currently in the Monument or close enough to be included in the Monument sometime in the future, in the Monument’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan.”
6/16 BRMA member Connie Estep’s letter to the editor supporting B Reactor is in the Tri-City Herald.
6/17 Media star Connie Estep is featured on a short news piece about B Reactor from KEPR-TV.
6/19 Linda Ashton writes an article in Seattle Times about BRMA.
6/24 Madeleine, Del Ballard, and Lyle Wilhelmi attend the Port of Benton commissioners’ meeting to discuss Port of Benton’s possible partnering with B Reactor Museum Association. The commissioners stated they support BRMA and if we bring them a resolution they’ll likely endorse it.
6/27 Madeleine signs and sends BRMA’s reply to DOE’s April 19 letter.