Olde Camp NRTS and Beyond

by Don Curet

I arrived from college at camp NRTS in 1963 employed by Phillips Petroleum of Bartlesville, OK and its president “Boots” Adams at a time when gun racks in trucks, with rifles and shotguns, were prevalent everywhere. I sat in a waiting room at TAN with Vic Berta for a couple of weeks waiting for security clearance. Once inside the TAN offices I was assigned to the SNAPTRAN program doing odds and ends jobs for T.R. Wilson, Skeet Bentzen, and, my favorite and immediate supervisor, George Brockett. Don’t remember the odds and ends jobs but do remember my “Surveillance Physicist” (SP) assignments. A few of the new hires had their turn as SPs. Two SP assignments stand out in memory:

  • When the SNAP reactor was on a pedestal in the center of a cylindrical concrete dry pool, waiting to be exploded when the pool was flooded with water to simulate a failed rocket launch where the reactor ended up in a neighborhood; I as a SP would, as others before and after me, sit at the top of the pool wall freezing in the tin shed that housed the experimental package and listen to the ticking of an amplified neutron monitor to ensure that workers in the pool did not provide critical neutron moderation around the reactor.

    On one of these boring, freezing occasions Art McClure was touring a professor from the University of Idaho through the facility. The professor asked me what the vertical string of black and white balls were (These were alternating black and white ping pong balls centered on a vertical wire to be used by EG&G during high speed photography for visual contrast and dimensional definition.). I replied that they were the eggs for the breeder reactor on the pedestal. The professor said “Oh” and before McClure came out of his catatonic state I corrected myself and explained to the professor that they were ping pong balls to be used by EG&G in its photographing of the destruction of the reactor.

  • Again as a SP was dressed in anti-c clothing and picked up radioactive debris from the destructed SNAP reactor that had been scattered in the sage brush. I am sure my dosimeter shielded me from radiation as my neighbor in Idaho Falls thought. (It would be interesting to try to perform that same task today under current standards of operation.)

After the SNAP reactors were destroyed there was a lull in activities and job assignments so Dave Tillitt and I decided to try swing shift work hours and play golf during the daylight hours. After a couple of weeks of this nonsense, a memo was circulated to remind the professional staff of the “normal” work hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Shortly thereafter, Dave, others, and I were found work to do.

Dave, Vic, and I and others, reporting to Bill Kessler, were involved in the planning and engineering of the Semiscale Blowdown Program that was intended to provide PWR and BWR LOCA data for assessing the predictive capability of thermal-hydraulic codes such as the FLASH code (precursor to RELAP, RELAPSE, RETRAN, etc.). As I recall, the pressure vessel used for the blowdown experiments was a surplus pressure vessel obtained from Bettis. The program was, I believe, challenging, and enjoyed by all participants. The camaraderie was excellent and the quick turnaround of the experiments kept everyone engaged. Additionally, the blowdown and ancillary data was extremely important to the development of licensing and safety analysis computer codes. Thankfully, the program was well funded and George Brockett’s ingenuity and management of the program were not hampered by a lot of regulations and red tape that could have hampered the production of experimental data.

After the Semiscale program I was employed by the government contractors AeroJet Nuclear, Idaho Nuclear, and EG&G. This period of my career included planning of the LOFT program and verification of licensing codes to be used by the NRC and reactor/fuel vendors. During that time period George Brockett left with Stan Johnson to start up ITI. My managers were then Dr. Peter Lang followed by Dr. Larry Ybarrondo. Larry and I spent some overtime hours together at the Computer Science Center that were often interrupted by persons who pushed the building doorbell to gain entrance to the building. Bells were mounted throughout the building so as to get someone’s attention that a visitor needed access to the building. One of these bells was located directly over the door of Larry’s office. I wonder if that bell is still silent.

Kris Dietz, technical editor, edited our reports and documents. And as are most technical editors, Kris was reviled especially by Pete Davis when a heavily edited report of his was misplaced and Kris had to take the time to redo the editing of his report. Lo and behold, Pete found the original edited document and was on a mission to compare the original with Kris’s most recent edited version of Pete’s epistle to show that editors weren’t worth a grain of salt. Surprise, surprise, Kris’s original and redo edits were almost duplicates. Kris our “pistol packin’ mama” won the challenge. Tech editors were still not that loved by engineers.

From EG&G I went to work for Energy Incorporated (EI) and enjoyed all the time I was there until we had a palace revolt that Chuck Rice, president, graciously accepted a management consulting firm’s recommendation that he be replaced with a new president. Until that time and a little beyond, EI provided technology, hardware, and consultation efficacious to the nuclear industry worldwide. Additionally, EI engineered and constructed an ethanol production facility that is now producing some great gluten free, potato vodka. Steve Winston and I were responsible for the EI spinoff, Agrodyne, that marketed farm scale ethanol production designs.

From EI/Agrodyne I consulted for about a year and accepted a position with EG&G Services to manage their nuclear safety software development and miscellaneous software like MORT. I was also responsible for moving the Raft River Geothermal plant to Nevada. EG&G Services moved to near Salt Lake City and I moved back to Idaho Falls.

Back in IF I was employed by Dr. Larry Ybarrondo at his new business venture – Scientech. My time there was short lived, though enjoyable working with very a capable staff excited about growing the new company, as I was offered a position Advanced Nuclear Fuels in Richland, WA. I had worked for the personnel at Advanced Nuclear Fuels, formerly Exxon Nuclear, when I was with EI. They offered me the job of managing their safety analysis codes; most of which had come from EI byway of the NRTS/INEL and LANL.

Advanced Nuclear Fuels had changes in ownership from U.S. to German to German and French as well as name changes Siemens Power Corporation and, presently, AREVA. Most of my time in Richland was spent interfacing with the NRC to have them approve changes to safety analysis codes and then having our domestic and international fuel customers accept the approved codes for the analyses of the their fuel reloads. A number of folks from camp NRTS worked in Richland – to name a few: Gene Jensen, Kent Richert, Bob Narum, Jack Krajcik, Bert Tolman, Bill Suitt.

I retired from AREVA and watch the Columbia river flow by from my back yard and get to visit quite often with my five sons, their wives and twelve grandchildren – Life is Good.

One thought on “Olde Camp NRTS and Beyond”

  1. Tech editors are always an interesting subject. As is getting a report finally out the door.

    I remember Kris Dietz. I suspect everyone who wrote anything for external distribution remembers Kris. I fondly recall those Quarterly Reports for which we all sent up our parts and Kris rolled them up into the final. I finally decided that George Brockett had given Kris the assignment to homogenize all the contributions so that only The Phillips Petroleum Company voice spoke. The only way out when dealing with Kris was to submit.

    Later at EI first Florence ____??____, we knew as Flo, was our Tech Editor. Then Jackie Loop was the Tech Editor, and later the librarian, or maybe both at the same time. EI had an actual library that was a joy to have available. I’m not sure who followed Jackie as tech editor. Maybe Sue _____??_____, who moved to California, or maybe Susan Foster up in word processing did the editors job?

    Flo and Jackie were easy to work with as tech editors. They did not try to destroy our individual voice. In fact, I think they let dangling infinitives and split participles slide by.

    We never heard much, tech editing wise, after the final drafts were sent to Lance at EPRI. His main objective was to ensure that the technical content was correct. And we would have major, deep technical discussions over some matters. I also think Lance had the final say at EPRI so that the reports did not have to go up a long management structure, iterating at each management-level interface, only to be kicked back all the way down to us to start the process all over again. That does indeed occur at some National Laboratories.

    Word processing at EI was also a joy to work with. They could easily, and correctly, handle the most complex equations. And that was back in the day when technical word processors basically did not exist on personal, or any, computers. Mathematical symbols had to be added into the documents by use of those rub-on transfer sheets. And there are hundreds of those in the EPRI NP-143 reports published early in 1976. I have not yet found an electric version of these reports on the InterWebs.


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