THE MODERATOR – Winter 2000

K > 1

Gene Weisskopf
President, BRMA

If it’s January 2000, then I must be President. It was a great campaign, full of all the drama, intrigue, and human emotions that make up our BRMA elections. The beauty of a group like ours is that those who want to get involved can, and those who don’t, or aren’t able to, can simply lend their support by being members and stepping in when they see an appropriate job.

So who have you gotten as your new president? I first joined the BRMA in 1995, and have continued to feel like a newcomer ever since. How could I not, when plenty of members not only worked at B Reactor, but helped build it or start it up in the first place? Their technical expertise and experience far outweigh anything I can read about or see in a photograph.

After almost five years, though, I can see that no matter what I may feel like, I’m as ingrained in the group as just about anyone can be. So here I am, taking the reins (and the whip, so don’t get complacent), and ready to lead the BRMA into the new millennium (when it comes along at the end of this year). Unfortunately, I’ve got quite an act to follow, as so much has been accomplished in the past five years, and certainly in the last two years during the Wilhelmi era. By continuing our efforts, those accomplishments should lead to even more successes.

Every now and then, but not nearly often enough, someone asks me what the heck I do in this organization and why I spend time with it. There are a lot of answers, each of which would be enough in itself. Taken together, they’re hard to ignore and make up what I call the “slice-of-pie” school of historical significance—no matter how you decide to take a slice of the B Reactor story, someone will find it significant.

First, there’s the sheer weight of history that puts the discovery of atomic energy, and the ensuing atomic bomb, right near the top of the heap of 20th century events. When I was in elementary school, the prospects of atomic energy were infinite and sometimes heralded almost as much as the Internet is today. Although it still hasn’t blossomed forth as it might, the “unleashing of the atom” was as much of a milestone in human history as the discovery of fire.

The almost infinite power and promise that came with nuclear energy brought with it the ability to destroy a good portion of the planet and its inhabitants. The B Reactor serves as a reminder of that, too. I was 12 years old when I came home from school one day and saw that my mother was stashing a few days worth of food and water in the basement, scared as hell (but not showing it) that the missiles in Cuba were a man-made Gabriel’s trumpet.

The story of the technology that led to the discovery and utilization of atomic energy is a grand tale in itself. By trying to understand the B Reactor, one gets a glimpse of the universe and its underlying structures (just a glimpse, but it’s a glimpse through an open door).

Then there’s the story of the Manhattan Project and DuPont’s building of the Hanford Engineer Works. No one can really appreciate the speed, efficiency, and technical expertise that they brought to the job. Like looking at the pyramids in Egypt today, one wonders how the job was ever accomplished. But even a simple pyramid wasn’t built in a mere two years.

The construction of Hanford and its successful operation are ringing evidence of the inherent strengths in the United States at that time, which are said to have been vastly underestimated by the Germans and the Japanese. These included our natural resources, transportation and communication systems, power generation, industrial production, and our schools and universities that had prepared our population for just such a task. Because so many atomic scientists were European exiles, one might add that our country’s freedoms, as rustic as they are on occasion, also helped build Hanford.

Of course, one can’t leave out the contribution Hanford has made to the fields of environmental science, politics, and so on.

Finally, if one is going to live in Richland, one expects to learn about and have some interaction with the history that flowed through Hanford. There are few places in the country that are so historically rich yet so little known. The BRMA has been an absolutely direct pipeline to that history for me. Even more important, it has brought me to the people who actually helped make that history.

And now you’ve got me! Wish me luck for the coming year.

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

Millennium Almost Ends, and a New Slate of Officers Begins

Even though the year 2000 isn’t really the beginning of a new millennium (it’s the end of the 20th century), it’s still exciting to be around for the year 2000. The new year brings a new slate of officers to the BRMA, as shown in the box above.

We welcome long-time BRMA activist Madeleine Brown as our new Secretary. She replaces Gene Weisskopf, who has been bumped up the ladder (pushed, shoved?) to the office of President.

We thank Roger Carpenter for serving as the BRMA Treasurer for three years. That job is now being handled by the tireless Joe Hedges. Joe has done a great job dealing with membership issues, and we expect that combining the membership and finance bookkeeping will make things run even more efficiently. (Hopefully with just a little extra work; yell when you need us Joe!)

And the office of perpetual Vice President goes to Jim Stoffels, a capable, dedicated, and founding member of the BRMA.

We especially want to thank Lyle Wilhelmi for his two years of very busy service as BRMA President. Considering he’s supposed to be retired and this is a volunteer group, he put in a lot of hours, made a lot of headway, and made a real difference.

Remember to treat your officers and board members kindly, because that’s the only pay they get.

Past President Leaves Office Amid Storm of Unanswered Questions

The mantle of power has shifted during a rather active period regarding interaction with DOE. We have posed several questions to them, but find that answers are coming very slowly. We have many more questions, all of which we will ask at a meeting promised for the very near future. Some typical ones are:

  • What is necessary to get the water turned back on in the toilets at B Reactor?
  • What action is being taken to transfer several pallets of graphite to B Reactor?
  • When will excess property and historic artifacts (furniture) on the BRMA’s Exhibit Needs list be made available?
  • When will the tour route be expanded to those areas of 105-B determined safe in the Hazards Study?
  • Since DOE is leasing buildings and parts of buildings to outside organizations, why cannot BRMA lease the 105-B tour route?
  • Since part of the corridor from the Vernita rest stop to 105-B has been released to the State for use as access to a boat ramp, why cannot the remainder all the way to 105-B be released?
  • When will 105-B be available to BRMA to start exhibit development and installation?
  • Will the cost of removing the radiation source near the Storage Basin viewing window be part of the Phase II Engineering Study?
  • Dee Lloyd’s function has been moved in a DOE reorganization. What implications does that have for BRMA and 105-B museum development?
  • If someone can get $700,000 a year from the Federal Government to operate a museum in an ICBM missile silo in South Dakota, why can’t we get the same to operate a 105-B museum.

We hope to get answers to these questions and more at the upcoming meeting with DOE.

Your ex- but still active president, Lyle Wilhelmi

Letter to the Editor

[The following letter appeared in the Tri-City Herald last October 8. Ms Reeves is the chairperson of the Hanford Advisory Board. Many thanks to tour guides Bob Smith and Bill McCue of the BRMA.]

Hanford History, Preserve B Reactor

Recently, I was part of a group of people from across the nation who toured the B Reactor. This memorable tour impressed members of Site Specific Advisory Boards, who monitor and advise on cleanup at 12 nuclear weapon production locations.

We listened to firsthand accounts from former workers and saw the control room, reactor, and tools used in 1944 at this first full-scale plutonium production plant.

Cleanup along the river must proceed to seal off the other reactors and remove the adjoining contamination.

But the B Reactor is special, and more attention and funding is needed to ensure it is cleaned up and preserved. Photos and books are no substitute for seeing the size and scope of this plant. Preserve it so future generations can see the real thing.

Many thanks to the volunteer tour guides who shared their stories and memories. Bechtel Hanford also provided staff for this special tour. I have joined the B Reactor Museum Association to pay my dues and membership for this important endeavor and urge others to do the same.

Merilyn B. Reeves
Amity, Ore.

BRMA Hosts and Narrates Hanford Construction Movie

More than 100 people were on hand for the showing of the Hanford construction movie last October 23 at the Mid-Columbia Library in Kennewick. Behind the production was Darby Stapp, who arranged for the event and advertised it to the public.

The movie has no sound track, so Darby enlisted the BRMA to narrate the last third of the move, which dealt with the construction of the reactors and separations plants. Consulting historian Barb Kubik narrated the first two-thirds of the movie.

Our portion of the movie was narrated by Gene Weisskopf, not surprising since he is one of the few members of the BRMA who has never worked at Hanford, let alone at the reactors! But he kept up a running dialog through the fast-paced reactor scenes, and received some much appreciated assistance from Bill McCue, Dee McCullough, and Larry Denton, who provided bits of personal experience from the first days at Hanford during the Manhattan Project. An impromptu assist was also provided by Mac MacCready, one of the two DuPont construction checkers in the 200 Areas in 1944.

The show went quite well judging by the fact that none of the narrators passed out or was thrown out, and the audience offered enthusiastic applause and comments after the show.

The only thing absent in the audience was more kids, who missed the memorable experience of watching a film about the building of Hanford with an audience that included many contemporaries of those in the film. Many personal reminis/.cences came forth as the show went along.

Just to prove we weren’t a one-shot affair, Gene Weisskopf and Roger Rohrbacher went on to narrate the entire movie for three more showings at CREHST on November 12, 27, and December 11. There were plenty of questions, remembrances, and interaction from the audiences, making the events much more than just watching a movie.

Comprehensive Phase II Feasibility Study Still Not Assured

Del Ballard

A study was conducted in 1995 by Battelle and the Parsons companies relative to the preservation of the 105-B reactor as a public museum. As a BRMA representative, I had given the Parsons company engineers a considerable amount of information relative to physical and historical facts about B Reactor.

The resulting report was called the “Phase I Feasibility Study” (BHI-00076), which evaluated the opportunities and viability of

  • Maintaining the existing B Reactor museum with controlled access.
  • Preserving and converting the facility into a public access museum or visitor center.
  • Dismantling the reactor.
  • Six alternatives were evaluated, including five variations of facility improvements for museum use, and an alternative associated with dismantling the reactor.

The report concluded that there were no major reasons why a public museum conversion would not be a viable option. It further concluded that use as a museum would provide strong benefits, and that associated costs for preservation would be far less than the dismantling of the facility.

A “Phase II” study has been on the table since 1995 and is now included as a milestone in the Tri-Party Agreement. Bechtel is now in the process of issuing a request for bids (RFQ) for the engineering work involved in this study. BRMA was given only a short time to review and comment on that RFQ. From what we know, we are not satisfied with what will result from this requested work—will it be only a further “assessment” or will it provide the real engineering designs that are needed?

It has always been the BRMA’s understanding and intent that the next study would provide specific designs and cost estimates for the actual work necessary to make safe public access to B Reactor a reality. In the years ahead, the Phase II report will be the basis for obtaining funding and defining contract packages for the necessary fix-up work.

If a Hole can become a Museum, Why can’t a Pile?

The BRMA was recently handed what may be a road map to getting Congressional recognition and funding for a B Reactor museum. On November 29, Senate bill 382 became public law No. 106-115, creating the “Minuteman Missile National Historic Site” in South Dakota.

The site consists of a missile silo and control center, located near Wall, South Dakota. An October 1998 press release from the bill’s sponsor, Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), describes the site this way: “The missile sites are among the oldest in the nation and are the least altered from the original Minuteman configuration…the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site will preserve South Dakota’s role in the Cold War and serve as a new tourist attraction in the state.”

Congressman John Thune, the lone representative from South Dakota, described the site this way:

From a purely practical standpoint, the site is conveniently located along the major access highway to the Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore National Monument, and the Badlands National Park. The Minuteman Missile site would form a mutually beneficial relationship with the existing attractions.

An article in the September 1996 issue of the Air Force News offers some background on the project:

The Air Force has nominated the remaining site, Delta-9 silo and Delta-1 launch control facility…for National Historic Landmark status…The plan is to convert Delta-9 into a static display fitted with a glass enclosure for visitors. The silo would contain a dummy missile.

The joint venture between the Air Force and the National Park Service is still in the proposal stages and the terms of START will have to be considered during the planning…

According to a NPS study released last year, the site was selected for Historical Landmark consideration because it best represents the technology of the Cold War era. Other considerations were its proximity to other tourist attractions and easy access from Interstate 90.

Cost estimates for building a visitors center near the site ranged from $4.2 to $4.8 million.

Did someone say “millions” of dollars? If the facilities that were built in South Dakota to throw plutonium at our enemies can become a museum, why not the place that made that plutonium here in Washington?

The BRMA will be looking into the efforts that went towards getting this bill passed. The B Reactor certainly fits the type of parameters mentioned in support of the missile historic site, and B is not just one of the reactors used in defense production, it’s the first full-scale nuclear reactor ever built.

Keeping the Doors Open

In an effort to keep open channels of communication, BRMA representatives Lyle Wilhelmi and Gene Weisskopf met with Joyce DeFelice, the District Manager for Congressman Doc Hastings, at his office in Pasco on November 29.

The ultimate plans for B Reactor will undoubtedly involve Congressional action, and this informal meeting was intended to facilitate working with the Congressman in the future.

Ms DeFelice was already familiar with the BRMA, and in fact had recently become a member. Her perspective on our involvement was that, short of getting a bill before Congress, we should try to synchronize our efforts with the many other historic and tourist-related projects going on in the area. It’s much easier for a Congressional representative to take action when that action affects a large number of people and organizations.

Wilhelmi and Weisskopf left several B Reactor buttons and note cards as a reminder of their visit.

A Member Writes

[We recently mailed a copy of the Hanford construction video to BRMA member Bill Michael in Colorado. Bill has never seen the B Reactor, at least not in a finished state—he was an engineer who helped build the reactor in 1943–1944. He retains a fondness for his time spent here during the construction days, and for the historical significance that stemmed from his wartime efforts. We thank Bill for including a generous donation to the BRMA with his letter, and for kindly allowing us to print some excerpts.]

Thank you for sending me the film, it renewed many treasured memories. And, of course, some memories that include attempting to assemble a nuclear reactor (we knew it as “the process block”) in the middle of a desert, complete with 100-plus degrees of temperature, powdery dust, and tremendous winds.

Hardly a fitting or appropriate environment for a 0.010-tolerance, contamination-free project. But time and some feeling of accomplishment seem to have diluted and mellowed the unpleasant memories. Here’s just one incident for your memories:

Our office was right next to one of the elevated water tanks adjacent to the reactor. I think that Rushton Construction Co. had the contract to erect the tanks. I recall that Mr. Rushton died and his wife took over the supervision of work, and a did a good job of it.

We received a report of another blast of those huge Chinook winds were headed for our area, so I called the Rushton office to tell them to get their men down from the tower. Following the “DuPont Rule” for every order—Tell, Show, Test, Check—I then went over to the tower. Just to illustrate how horrendous those winds could be, by the time I got there, you could not see anything above the first level of the tower.


B Reactor Museum is on the Map

The last issue of The Moderator (Fall 1999) reported that a B reactor museum and related facilities were included in the final draft of the “Hanford Comprehensive Land-Use Plan Environmental Impact Statement” (HCP-EIS).

This was a major milestone for the BRMA, and one of the few times where the phrase “B reactor museum” actually appeared in official print.

Now this print is even more official, as the Record of Decision (ROD) was issued for the HCP-EIS last November. It reiterates that land-use planning will incorporate a B reactor museum. Of course, as always, it doesn’t say when a museum will be open. The ROD is on the Internet at:

Critical Mass

We’d like to welcome to the BRMA these new members who joined in the past few months:

La Vina Hagan
Richard Romenelli
Warren Seivier
Richard Shaff
Merilyn Reeves
Peter Edinburg

Peter is the fellow who brought the Hanford construction video to the attention of Darby Stapp. He flew out to the Tri-Cities for the showing in October, and ended up joining the BRMA.

Each new member brings one more voice to our efforts, and links us to even more people who may then hear of the B Reactor. Glad to have you all aboard, and thanks for your interest and participation.