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#1 User is offline   Liz 

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  Posted 04 February 2019 - 02:54 AM

Army To Dismantle Historic Nuclear Reactor In Virginia

The Washington Post
Published: February 4, 2019


Behind the locked gates of Building 372 at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, past the door to the huge containment vessel where a sign warns of radiation, a large button on the control panel is covered in red plastic and reads: "manual scram."

This is the emergency shutdown button, which nuclear legend says was pushed when it was time to scram.

But these days, the dark interior of the Army's historic nuclear reactor, once called an "atomic-age miracle machine," is a maze of rusted pipes, peeling paint and pressure gauges reading zero.

Keys in the control panel haven't been turned in years, and switches are set to "off."

The world's first nuclear plant to supply energy to a power grid has been defunct for years. But the Army is preparing to break it up, check it for lingering radiation and haul it away piece by piece.

Dedicated in 1957, as the government was promoting "Atoms for Peace," the facility was a training site and a prototype for small reactors that could produce power for bases in remote places around the world, the Army said. Built on the Potomac River's Gunston Cove, it was called the SM-1, for stationary medium power plant No. 1.

"First nuclear power plant ever to put power on a grid, ever in the world," said Hans Honerlah, a senior health physicist with the Army Corps of Engineers' hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste branch.

Hundreds of nuclear plant specialists trained at the SM-1 before it was shut down in 1973. By then, the military's need for such expensive plants had dwindled, said Charles Harmon, a former shift supervisor at the facility and an unofficial historian of the site. "The cost of the Vietnam War was making funds scarce," Harmon said.

The plant's uranium-235 fuel and reactor waste were removed in 1973 and '74 and taken to a storage site in South Carolina. The 64-foot-high concrete-and-steel containment vessel that housed the smaller reactor vessel and other equipment was sealed.

But all these years later, there is probably still residual nuclear contamination of some of the internal structures, Army experts said.

Before the site is torn down, experts will check everything for radiation and look for any impacts to the environment and historical record.

Honerlah said at Fort Belvoir last month: "It'd be great to make it a museum, but it's always going to be radioactive.

"It has to go away," he said. "It's never going to not be radioactive. The goal . . . is to take the remaining radioactive components, remove them from the . . . facility here and take them" to a nuclear waste site, probably in western Texas.


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#2 User is offline   Taggart Transcontinental 

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Posted 04 February 2019 - 09:17 AM

That's soo neat! I was stationed there and never knew there was a nuke site on post.

#3 User is offline   Dean Adam Smithee 

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Posted 04 February 2019 - 01:41 PM

View PostTaggart Transcontinental, on 04 February 2019 - 09:17 AM, said:

That's soo neat! I was stationed there and never knew there was a nuke site on post.

There a number of these still around the country, mostly in the hands of universities and businesses for research. Indiana University had one, at least back in the '70s. University of Maryland still has one: University of Maryland 250 kW TRIGA Reactor.

And I recall reading sometime recently, within the past year, about a company or university (can't remember which) that "found" a reactor in a storage room in their basement. It had been sitting there unused for so many years that after enough changes of staff and faculty it had been completely forgotten about.

IEEE Spectrum (2015) The Forgotten History of Small Nuclear Reactors.

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