Monday, November 12, 2007

Flying over eastern Washington

This weekend we visited my parents. My father took me up for a couple of hours in his little yellow Super Cub, which is always fun. We toured the Hanford site, the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, Palouse Falls, Lower Monumental Dam, the Kahlotus Cemetery, and we did touch and gos at a couple of farm landing strips. There are always a lot of deer on the wheat fields, and we scared up a coyote yesterday as well.

I'd never been over Hanford before. It's a very interesting place. During World War 2 the US Department of Energy took over a vast swath of land next to the Columbia River in order to produce the plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons. The river provided cooling water, and the barren land provided isolation.

There was a town named Hanford on the site, which was dismantled. You can still see the streets and the trees; the only walls still standing are the high school building.

The “B” reactor was the “world's first industrial-scale nuclear reactor.” Here's a picture:

Hanford B Reactor

About a dozen more reactors were built. In the early 1990s (I believe; I'm writing from memory) the government decided to shut it all down. Most of the reactors have been encased in concrete and steel sarcophagi; the B reactor has been left standing free due to sentimental reasons, but as you can see in the picture, all the ancillary buildings have been torn down.

I don't know the details off-hand, but I think the reactors were shut down fairly suddenly, and their fuel rods were dumped into the nearby processing ponds and tanks. They were left alone for a while and made a mess, which the Hanford site is now cleaning up at great expense.

The nuclear reactors from our nation's decommissioned subs are shipped up the river and placed in neat rows in a pit on the Hanford site:

Sub Reactor Bone Pile

I'm convinced that nuclear energy will be needed to help solve the coming energy shortages. Nuclear physics is pretty far removed from daily experience in most people's lives, and I think this, combined with its use in weapons, has given it an almost religious aura in many minds, occupying space next to Satan. What people don't realize is that there isn't necessarily a reason why nuclear power generation has to produce lots of radioactive waste. We just haven't been trying to make nuclear reactors any better. In particular, thorium-based reactors look promising. See this blog for details.

The prison in Connell was depressing. They have a medium-security facility already, but are building a huge expansion that looks (from the air) like it will have considerably more security, with a double fence enclosing a no-man's-land.

Forcing people who have done something wrong to only associate with other people like themselves seems like just about the stupidest idea possible, if “correction” is at all a goal. It's a hard problem, I'm sure; it just seems like there must be a better way.

The Kahlotus Cemetery is a small plot in a small town. It apparently contains quite a few graves of anonymous Chinese laborers who were killed in accidents while building the railroad.

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