Corvallis to Richland and back

After an informative tour of the NuScale facilities in Corvallis, OR on October 20, I continued my quick visit to the Pacific Northwest.

I had originally arranged my travel plans to fly into Portland, OR instead Richland, WA — which was my ultimate destination — for a variety of reasons. It enabled the visit to NuScale; it was cheaper to fly into Portland and rent a car for three days than to fly into Richland; and it provided a good opportunity to for a scenic drive in a place I’d never before visited. For an energy-obsessive like me, the drive provided some fascinating scenery — both long-established hydro-electric dams and numerous ridges recently populated by massive wind turbines.

With a recommendation for an interim stop from my NuScale hosts, I left Corvallis aiming for Hood River, an outdoorsy, historic town with good restaurants, affordable lodging (at least during slow seasons like mid October) and a number of stores catering to hikers, bikers, kayakers, and windsurfers. In other words, my kind of place, even if I was only going to spend a night.

After a pleasant evening and decent night’s sleep, I drove east on what must be one of the most beautiful interstate highways in America, I-84. It runs through the Columbia River Gorge and in the early to mid morning, offers amazing vistas with the sun glinting off of the massive river. On the morning I drove the Gorge, there were low-lying black clouds with patches of bright sunlight. At least three rainbows were visible during the two and half hours I was on the road. I never bothered to count the wind turbines, which were spinning gently on the morning of my trip east.

At 10:30, I pulled into the parking lot of the campus of the Columbia Basin College where I was scheduled to participate in the ribbon cutting for the ATOM (Advanced Technology Orientation Model). Carl Holder was not only my point of contact, but also one of the key players in recognizing the value of the ATOM as an historical artifact, a valuable public information opportunity and a training tool for new nuclear professionals.

ATOM was originally constructed to support the construction of a 1250 MWe B&W pressurized water reactor with a Westinghouse steam turbine that was one of a pair of power plants that was eventually cancelled after partial completion. That project was partially responsible for the WPPS default; one of the reasons that its cost and schedule ran out of control was the virtual moratorium from the NRC on B&W plant construction that lasted for several years after the TMI accident.


Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, I provided some thoughts about the importance of nuclear energy, the value of practical, hands-on, training/education, and the great future in store for the graduates of nuclear technology programs like the one at Columbia Basin College. I got a few laughs as I described my own “trade school” education and pointed out my decision to wear a trade school tie for the talk.

CBC is particularly well-situated for people that want to become nuclear professionals; its instructors are mostly part-time teachers with full time jobs in a number of different nuclear-related fields either at Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station or at the Hanford Site. There are also new opportunities being developed at NuScale and at Terrapower. Successes at those start-up companies will bring suppliers, spinoffs and exciting opportunities for young, energetic and ambitious people and provide them with a deepening understanding of what nuclear energy development can mean to a more prosperous and environmentally friendly future.

One of the best things about being invited to speak at a university, college or training facility is the opportunity to talk with students, either young and straight out of high school or more experienced but working to enhance their skills and marketability. After my talk at CBC, I had some great conversations that kept going as the caterers and facility people cleaned up after lunch and broke down the tables and chairs. More than an hour after the event officially ended, we were still chatting but decided to snap a few photos for posterity.




After putting the final touches onto a presentation that remains a bit of a work in progress, I walked from my hotel to the site of the Eastern Washington ANS meeting. There is a scenic and well-used trail along the Columbia River in Richland; the local economy must be doing okay since I passed what seemed to be a very nice yacht club along with some impressive looking boats in the associated basin. That facility was surprising and felt out of place compared to the desert scenery I’d passed since leaving Hood River.

It was great to see some old friends and some people that introduced themselves as frequent Atomic Insights readers or Atomic Show listeners.

As usual, the ANS audience was supportive, attentive and provided good body language feedback. That is always appreciated from a speaker’s point of view. You can see the talk and hear the questions and answers at Purposely imposed fear prevents properly using radiation benefits.

The next day, I had plenty of time available for sightseeing since I had scheduled a red-eye flight back to Lynchburg. This time, few of the wind turbines were spinning and the river looked like a mirror.

Sample ridge line along Columbia Gorge

Sample ridge line along Columbia Gorge

Though it was a sunny day when I left Richland, by the time I got to Hood River it was raining hard with no sign of letting up. My rain gear and hiking boots hadn’t made the cut for my carry-on luggage, so the sight-seeing was more limited than initially planned.

Plans that depend on cooperative weather often provide disappointing results. A similar statement holds true for energy production facilities.

Red line represents Oct 22 travel time through the Columbia River Gorge. Notice value of generation from 4,500 MWe of capacity

Red line represents Oct 22 travel time through the Columbia River Gorge. Notice value of generation from 4,500 MWe of capacity

I need to plan another trip to the area, this time with more time available to tour its unique sites. My dear friend Wanda Munn told me I really need to see the reactor compartment unloading facility. Others suggested visits to tanks, the “VIT” facility, or even the currently inactive, but often sorely missed Fast Flux Test Facility.

During one of my many conversations while in Richland, I learned that the FFTF is not quite as dead as I thought it was. In light of our current testy relationship with Russia, the home to one of the few facilities in the world that can perform the kinds of tests done at FFTF, perhaps it is time to reconsider the long term plans for FFTF. The folks at TerraPower might worry a little less about their ability to succeed if they had an alternative site for their current testing program.

Atomic Show #221 – Acting Locally

On August 25, 2014, a group of atomic energy advocates gathered to share experiences and advice about how nuclear energy advocates can more effectively act locally. We discussed ways to find people who are interested in atomic energy, ways to develop social interaction, ways to show our humanity, and ways to make it fun to […]

Read more »

Discussing nuclear energy in Australia

On August 5, 2014, Professor Barry Brook, Ian Hore-Lacy and Professor Ken Balwin chatted with ABC [Australian Broadcast Corporation] 666 morning host Genevieve Jacobs about nuclear energy. Each member of the panel provided a brief statement and then there was a lengthy question and answer period lasting nearly an hour. You really should watch the […]

Read more »

Atomic Show #215 – Armond Cohen, CATF, describes need for nuclear

Armond Cohen is the Executive Director of the Clean Air Task Force. We spoke in January 2008 on episode #78 of the Atomic Show. At that time, Armond and his organization did not take a position on nuclear energy. On March 28 of this year, I heard Armond give a talk at the commemoration of […]

Read more »

Some lessons were learned from TMI. Others were not.

Three Mile Island from the air

On March 28, 1979, a little more than thirty-five years ago, a nuclear reactor located on an island in the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, suffered a partial core melt. On some levels, the accident that became known as TMI (Three Mile Island) was a wake-up call and an expensive learning opportunity for both the […]

Read more »

Vogtle Construction Update Video

This video provides an encouraging view of the positive impact that the Vogtle expansion project is having on the local community. It’s 4,000 – 5,000 construction jobs is just one part of the economic impact; that $23 million dollar property tax check shown during the video is another part that apparently brings smiles to the […]

Read more »

Event at WIPP is newsworthy but not dangerous

It has been almost two weeks since a continuous air monitor alarmed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). Though no one was hurt and no one is likely to be harmed in the future, an irregular drip of information interrupted by periods of silence has gradually painted a picture of a serious event worthy […]

Read more »

WIPP and Carlsbad residents will talk

On Monday, February 24, representatives of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC), and local officials will meet with the public. The planned purpose of the meeting is to provide a status report and answer questions about the airborne contamination detected in the facility and the trace contaminants […]

Read more »

Response to contamination: WIPP and New Mexico should practice communication skills

Recent events at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) provide an opportunity to reinforce the need to practice good communication skills in order to improve the future response to a contamination event. Though there is no public hazard associated with airborne contamination levels of 0.64 Bq of Am-241 and 0.046 Bq of Pu-239/240, the New […]

Read more »

Taking the bloom off of the nuclear rose

Yesterday I came across a New York Times front page article from July 7, 1971 titled Nation’s Energy Crisis: Nuclear Future Looms. It is the second article in a three part article on the energy crisis that was capturing America’s attention in 1971 – two years before the Arab Oil Embargo. The discovery knocked me […]

Read more »

No Agenda Show recommends Hiroshima Syndrome for Fukushima info

One of my favorite pastimes is listening to Adam Curry and John C. Dvorak, who bill themselves as “media assassins”, on the No Agenda Show. On yesterday’s episode, number 580, John and Adam spent about 15 minutes (starting at about 1:44:00) discussing the absurd tales that are propagating around the web regarding USS Ronald Reagan […]

Read more »