527 - The Hanford Site
Friday, May 29, 2009

During the production of the first nuclear bombs, in the now famous Manhattan Project, several bomb designs were considered, and two were used. In addition to this, two different types of fissile nuclear "fuel" were used as well. Even today, the production and purification of the fissile material is one of the greatest challenges in making a working fission bomb. The two materials, very rare isotopes of Uranium and Plutonium, must be distilled, centrifuged, made with a particle accelerator, separated with powerful electro-magnets, or created with powerful nuclear reactors.

Plutonium 239 was made with the last option. The Hanford Site produced most of the plutonium used in American nuclear bombs. To do this, some of the first nuclear reactors ever (created after the first generation of research "pile" reactors) built, and particularly large reactors were used. Rods of Uranium were pushed through long bricks of ultra-pure graphite which was the moderator for most early research reactors. As they made their way through the powerful reactors, small amounts of plutonium would be formed within. These rods (often described as a roll of quarters) would be pushed through the system, into "cooling" pools to decay out the worst of the radioactivity (more than enough to give a lethal dose to workers). After a resting period, the plutonium would be chemically removed and collected.

For more information about this, please read The Making of the Atomic Bomb. This is not only a good history of the bomb, for those of us like me who are fascinated by nuclear power, but also a good history of science read. Any history of science class should include portions of this book in the curriculum.

In any event, there is much to say about the Hanford Site but I will leave that for others. Here are some cool facts from the Wiki:

"The Hanford Engineer Works (HEW) broke ground in March 1943 and immediately launched a massive and technically challenging construction project.[24] Nearly 50,000 workers lived in a construction camp near the old Hanford townsite, while administrators and engineers lived in the government town established at Richland Village.[25] Construction of the nuclear facilities proceeded rapidly. Before the end of the war in August 1945, the HEW built 554 buildings at Hanford, including three nuclear reactors (105-B, 105-D, and 105-F) and three plutonium processing canyons (221-T, 221-B, and 221-U), each 250 meters (820 ft) long.

To receive the radioactive wastes from the chemical separations process, the HEW built "tank farms" consisting of 64 single-shell underground waste tanks (241-B, 241-C, 241-T, and 241-U).[26] The project required 386 miles (621 km) of roads, 158 miles (254 km) of railway, and four electrical substations. The HEW used 780,000 cubic yards (600,000 m³) of concrete and 40,000 short tons (36,000 t) of structural steel and consumed $230 million between 1943 and 1946.[27]"

"The B-Reactor (105-B) at Hanford was the first large-scale plutonium production reactor in the world. It was designed and built by DuPont based on an experimental design by Enrico Fermi, and originally operated at 250 megawatts. The reactor was graphite moderated and water cooled. It consisted of a 28-by-36-foot (8.5 m × 11 m), 1,200-short-ton (1,100 t) graphite cylinder lying on its side, penetrated through its entire length horizontally by 2,004 aluminum tubes.[28] Two hundred short tons (180 t) of uranium slugs the size of rolls of quarters and sealed in aluminum cans went into the tubes. Cooling water was pumped through the aluminum tubes around the uranium slugs at the rate of 30,000 US gallons per minute (130 L/s).[28]"

The ideal site was described by these criteria:[21]

* A large and remote tract of land
* A "hazardous manufacturing area" of at least 12 by 16 miles (19 km × 26 km)
* Space for laboratory facilities at least 8 miles (13 km) from the nearest reactor or separations plant
* No towns of more than 1,000 people closer than 20 miles (32 km) from the hazardous rectangle
* No main highway, railway, or employee village closer than 10 miles (16 km) from the hazardous rectangle
* A clean and abundant water supply
* A large electric power supply
* Ground that could bear heavy loads.

The operation of this site has caused, by all accounts, some of the most severe radiation contamination in history, and huge amounts of radioactive waste materials remain. Cleanup is currently underway, and will continue for several decades at the least. Seen above are the containment tanks for some of the waste products. The scale of this site is hard to imagine.

DOE site
Hanford watch

* General R2K blog update*

I will be slowly switching each post over to a better font, the old one is driving me crazy. Feedback would be nice on any template issues that bother you, because I do not have a normal computer like you noobs so I cant tell when things look odd.
posted by High Power Rocketry @ Friday, May 29, 2009  
  • At 5/29/09, 8:47 PM, Blogger thimscool said…

    Excellent post. What a behemoth.

    As for the template, my only complaint is with the google ads, because they choke my phone when I use that to browse the site.

    Do you actually get any revenue from them? Should I start clicking them madly from the several dozen IP addresses that I frequent?

  • At 5/29/09, 9:40 PM, Blogger R2K said…

    Yes frankly they do earn me money... to the tune of 300 - $500 a year. If you guys were willing to donate that much, I could remove the adds :)

    I wonder why they dont fit on your phone properly, perhaps there is a new size that I could consider.

    It isnt that much money, but for a person as poor as I am it matters.

  • At 5/30/09, 1:09 AM, Blogger thimscool said…

    You are not poor in spirit, R2K. If money is what you want, you can have it... at a price.

    The google ads probably lock up my phone because M$ sucks balls and PocketIE can't handle the javascript.

    I don't really have a way to confirm that it is the ads, except that yours is the only site that consistently crashes the browser and it does not if I stop the page load before it gets to the ad content.

    I want to know what you think of cold fusion.

  • At 5/30/09, 9:47 AM, Blogger R2K said…

    I will do a cold fusion post soon maybe...

    Sorry about the adds, it may just be the size of the page that crashes you.

    I have reduced the number of posts on the page to 30, which is still rather large when you factor in all the videos and images I post. It may very well be the number of videos that is messing with you... each one has to buffer preload I think.

  • At 5/30/09, 10:04 AM, Blogger thimscool said…

    No worries... I only use the phone to browse when I'm dropping a deuce anyway.

    I always tell people that when they want to borrow my phone.

  • At 5/31/09, 4:10 PM, Blogger R2K said…

    TMI my friend, TMI. That is why I stopped posting for two days, to recover from your phone story...

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