Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hanford Tour

So, today, Cora and I went and toured the Hanford Site.  Hanford, as a few of you may know was a little town, which the US Government told to move so they could create the Hanford Engineering Works.  This was part of the Manhattan Project of WWII, to produce Plutonium for the atomic bomb.

So, I got us a tour of the site.  I expected it to be similar to the one I had three years ago.  It was not.  Today we began with a ton of smartass comments from my beloved wife.  She was not especially happy to be getting up.

We made it to McDonalds and ordered breakfast, which helped tone down the smartass comments, since her mouth was busy.  We eventually made it to the appropriate place and wandered in and offered our identifications.  We were herded into a room, where there were only chairs for about 2/3s of the people on the tour.  Cora, having digested breakfast, once again commenced being a smartass.  I don't mind, since she is an amusing smartass.

We drove past the 300 Area, where Uranium was made into fuel elements that would fit into the reactors.  Then we continued on.  We got to the Wye Barricade (entrance) and waited while the bottom of the bus was sniffed by a K-9 unit.  We then proceeded north.  We drove past the old Hanford townsite, noting various features along the way.

The Hanford townsite was the site of the tens of thousands of workers who built the wonders of the Hanford Engineering Works.  It was a tent city that lasted less than two years.  You can read more at the various sites listed below.

We were then driven past the F-Reactor.  Which was one of the three War-Time reactors that contributed Plutonium to the War Effort.  It is now cocooned.  A sad end to a brilliant piece of engineering.  (And let me just add here, my opinion on the way they are handling things out there.  They are striving to return the land to a state where nothing remains of the Historic Presence of the US Atomic Energy Commission or any other entity that occupied or ran part of the Hanford Reservation.  I disagree strongly with this.  These buildings should remain a part of our heritage!  Once they have been decontaminated, I believe they should remain for the generations that follow.  I believe there is no way to totally know an era unless you stand in their structures or within the areas they stood in.  That is why we have memorials and museums made from ships, airplanes, trains, and buildings.)

Then we passed H-Reactor (also cocooned). Then D-Reactor and DR-Reactor.  DR stands for D-Replacement.  These have all been cocooned.  Their size is remarkable, considering the lack of scale available in the desert.  See the photo below, which I have borrowed from the "Hanford Site." (forgive the pun)

Then we came to the N Reactor.  A dual purpose reactor.  It could produce electricity AND plutonium.  It was such a spiffy new design, President Kennedy stopped by to be part of the opening ceremonies!  An Aunt of mine was present at this occasion!  About six weeks later, that president was dead.  The N-Reactor, however, continued on unto the mid-1980s, when, sometime after the Chernobyl Accident in 1986, the US decided to shut the N-Reactor down for awhile because it shared some of its design with the Chernobyl Reactor.  They never did start it up again.  Three years ago, it was in decent condition.  Today they are in the midst of tearing it down and cocooning it.  Dammit.

We passed the K East and West Reactors.  both cocooned.  Their basins have been the subject of some local media focus, since some unprocessed fuel rods were sitting underwater for many years and made clean-up a difficult job.

Finally, we got to the B-reactor!  It is awesome!  That stack that rises above it?  That is a ventilation stack.  It takes the filtered air OUT of the reactor building, which was kept in a negative pressure environment.  We had an hour and fifteen mionutes to spend, but it went WAY too fast!  We saw the air fans and the water coolant valves.  Up to 70,000 gallons of water per MINUTE was passed through the reactor!  It was designed to be a 250 megawatt reactor, but the guide said that toward the end they had it up to 2100 megawatts!  I wanted to know what it felt like at the face and he started to show me up to the face when our bus-guide said it was time to go...dammit!  We stood where Enrique Fermi stood 67 years ago!  We did not get to see the back of the reactor like I did three years ago, but it was a small price.

After we left the B-Reactor, we drove to the 200 West Area.  This is one of the two processing areas.  The spent fuel rods would be placed into the "Canyons" and then subjected to chemicals that would break down the rods one thing at a time, till finally a slurry of plutonium nitrate was left.  It was then further purified until it became a Plutonium hockey puck.  then it was shipped off to Los Alamos to be made into a bomb.

We saw the T-Plant, U-Plant and the Redox.  All three different buildings used to process fuel rods.  We then got to see ERDF, which they were SOOOOO proud of the guy they had explain it to us did it several times.  I stopped listening once I understood that they have dug a huge hole in which to bury dirt. 

All in all, it was great to see the magnitude of the size of the reactors and buildings, but it was sad to see so many reduced to nothing.  And worst of all, was the focus on how they are working to protect the environment.  I must state, I am all for protecting the environment, but I was REALLY interested in the HISTORIC importance of the area AND scientific problems that had been overcome!  Three years ago there were many more anecdotes shared by the tour guide, today, we got the PC version of everything and I was left wanting!

Cora and I then departed the drop-off area and went shopping.  We got her some clothes for a coming wedding and then went to dinner at P.F. Changs for her Birthday, which is tomorrow.  It was a great day!


Here are the links:

http://manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov/

http://www.b-reactor.org/hist1-2.htm

also, my post on my airplane blog:  http://washingtonwreckchasing.blogspot.com

3 comments:

Geoffrey said...

I enjoyed your post. Hanford is an historic marvel and an engineer's dream. It's too bad more people don't recognize it for what is was and how it benefited every American citizen's life. And by the way. I have one of those smartass wives as well. She shops too. I'm not sure what's more expensive...Hanford cleanup or a Saturday afternoon with my wife armed with a credit car.

Cora said...

I still think it would make an awesome dinosaur park, but for now there were no dinosaurs on that dinosaur tour :0). You also know my feeling on the chairs but that is a topic to blog about another day.

Diana - FreeStyleMama said...

I read a paragraph or 2 then scrolled down to leave a comment...

I was sitting here wide awake and wondering WHEN I would go to bed...but you've put me in sleepy mode....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz