Our time in Yakima came to an end, as it was time to start making our way towards Boise. First, however, we toured the Hanford B Reaactor, then spent the night in Pendleton.
I had forgotten to include maps of our day for the first couple trip entries, so I went back and added them. They include all the driving, riding, and walking we did during the day.
We had procured tickets back in April to go on a tour of the B Reactor at Hanford (they were snapped up pretty quickly last year, so we made our reservations the day they became available) so our morning was pretty quiet. After breakfast and saying our goodbyes to Jean and Ron, we were back on the road.
Knowing that the tour started at 11:30, we knew we would want to take something to have for lunch on the bus ride to the reactor, so we found a Safeway not too far from where the tour started. We were originally going to check the Starbucks, but it was one that was inside the Safeway, and they didn't have any lunch food. We found something at the deli counter, though, so after buying that, we headed to the tour headquarters.
We were the first of the tour group to show up (not surprising, since we were about an hour early). There were several items on the wall all over the building, and it was almost like a treasure hunt; will there be something on the wall around the corner?
People started showing up in earnest about 10 minutes before the tour was to begin, about the time that we went to find seats for the orientation part of the tour.
The docent began her presentation, showing us a quick video and then describing what we would see, some of the history of Hanford, and what would happen during the tour. After that, it was onto the bus for the first 40-minute ride out to Reactor B.
In between pointing out different sights on the way, the docent talked about some of the geography (such as Rattlesnake Hills and the Columbia) as well as more history of Hanford and the B Reactor. We got a pretty good view of the 200 West campus, and as we got closer, the B and C reactors, as well as the pump station for the B Reactor.
The B Reactor at Hanford was the world's first production nuclear plant. Its was designed to just refine uranium into plutonium, but not generate electricity. Since nuclear power plants generate electricity using steam from water heated up by nuclear fission, that meant there was a lot of excess heat generated by B Reactor. They realized that dumping the hot water back into the Columbia River wouldn't be great for the ecosystem, so they eventually built basins to let the water cool down for a while. One of the docents at the reactor said that it was enough time for the short-lived isotopes to not be a problem, leaving unsaid that there were probably other longer-lived isotopes which were still there.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. After we got off the bus, we went directly inside to see a presentation given just in front of the front face of the reactor. There are over 2,000 tubes going from front to back into which uranium cylinders were placed, and as the reactor, uh, reacted, the uranium was converted into plutonium. Once the conversion was complete, the cylinders were pushed out the back into a pool where they cooled for a bit, then were placed into boxes. After that, they were moved to another area of Hanford where the plutonium would be separated out and prepared for shipment to where they would be made into munitions.
The more than 2,000 tubes are arranged into an array, which meant that the conversion was faster in the center of the reactor. Each tube had a lot of water going front to back under high pressure, and the pressure and temperature for each was monitored. They knew that the uranium in a particular tube was ready to be removed by the temperature.
Each of the docents emphasized the various safety features to eliminate the chance of a runaway reaction. Explanations of control rods, emergency containment rods, containment pellets, and various backup systems were on display. There was even a set of huge hydraulic tanks which had tons of rock sitting above them. If the power went out, electromagnets would release the rocks onto a pressure plate at the top of the tanks, forcing the liquid down, which in turn would fully insert the control rods to slow the reaction. They even had a mirror set up so you could see the rocks in the tank.
When Melody was young, she remembers being on a Hanford tour and receiving a marble. She parted ways with it when she was in college, questioning the prudence of carrying around an irradiated marble. Ends up they had one on display.
We saw a couple more presentations, one in the control room, and another in the valve pit. Inspection covers were removed in the valve pit, and the docent explained that they were left removed so when the nuclear weapon non-proliferation inspections were done, the removed covers prove the site is not in use (since cooling water couldn't be flowing). He said that the Russians were at the site a few weeks before our tour, and even though at this point inspecting Hanford is more of a formality (since it's a tourist site), they still do the inspection. In fact, he said the inspectors seem to enjoy the task, since it gives them a chance to play tourist in the area, too.
We were done touring the reactor, so we piled back into the bus and took the trip back. The whole tour was about four hours, but we felt it was a good amount of time at the reactor; we didn't feel rushed, but at the same time we didn't feel like we were standing around forever.
We knew we wouldn't feel like driving all the way to Boise after our tour (which ended at about 3:30pm) so we made reservations for a place to stay in Pendleton, OR. It didn't take us long to drive there, or to find where we were staying. After checking in and dropping off our bags, we headed out to find some dinner. We also walked over to the Safeway to get some dessert and things to supplement the breakfast which was included with our room. The store was a couple miles away from where we were staying, so it ended up being a good walk over and back.
After we got back, we caught up a bit with things online (we didn't have wireless in Yakima), but noticed that the network at the motel was quite slow. But it was enough for us to get done what we needed to.