Pete Davis: Camp NRTS and Beyond

by Pete Davis
I arrived at camp NRTS in July of 1961 as a freshly minted employee of the Atomic Energy Commission, having accepted a position with them upon graduation from the University of Wyoming with a degree in physics. I accepted their offer primarily because they would pay me full salary and send me to graduate school at their expense. My arrival in Idaho Falls was not auspicious; I got a ride to Jackson with a friend and then took a bus to Idaho Falls. I did not have a car, did not know anyone, had no place to stay and was nearly destitute. I found a spartan apartment (E-street Apartments) which was within walking distance to my place of employment (which I found on a map in the phone book), the AEC Idaho Operations Office on 2nd St. I spent the summer in IF, getting indoctrinated into the workings of the AEC and the site. In September I started graduate school in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (Oak Ridge School of Reactor Technology) and graduated the following June. I returned then to Idaho Falls and was assigned to the Reactor Safety Branch at the Operations Office. This branch was responsible for monitoring all the reeactor safety related work at INEL, including PBF, SPERT, LOFT, Semiscale, SNAPTRAN and the associated analytical efforts.

After a few years at the Operations Office, it became obvious to me that this was not a career that I would be happy with. All the interesting technical work was being done at the site by Phillips Petroleum Company and the programmatic decisions (and the money) were controlled by AEC headquarters in Germantown, Maryland. The Operations Office responsibility was to see that headquarters’ program decisions were carried out, and this amounted to doing as much or as little work as one desired. Accordingly, I started looking elsewhere for employment and ended up with Phillips at Test Area North where I eventually ended up working in Larry Ybarrondo’s group.

I bounced around on various projects, inclulding devising an experiment to assess the effect of fuel pin cladding ballooning on emergency core cooling effectiveness, preparing program and measurement requirements documents for the LOFT program, and others. I ended up as manager of the Licensing Support Project Office which was responsible for all the site work supporting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In 1974, Stan Johnson and George Brockett asked me to join their staff at Intermountain Technologies, a company they had recently formed. I accepted and remained there until 1985. The work there entailed preparing a comprehensive assessment for EPRI of the state of knowledge regarding nuclear power reactor safety. Following that, I managed an effort to review the Reactor Safety Study (WASH-1400) for the Environmental Protection Agency. This effort changed the course of my career towards Probabilistic Safety Assessment. PSA was just getting off the ground then but it became a major factor and influence on reactor safety for many years thereafter and I rode that bandwagon for 20 years.

In 1985 I decided to start my own one-man consulting business and worked at it for another 20 years, mostly in the area of PSA but more recently as a consultant with companies involved with the Yucca Mountain High Level Waste Repository, doing accident assessment work for both the DOE and the project contractors.

It has been quite a ride for me; I went from a government employee to a large operating contractor to a small consulting firm to an individual consultant. I was fortunate enough to do consulting work for many entities, including states worried about nuclear safety matters, the Department of Energy, the International Atomic Energy Agency, various government lab contractors, the US congress’ Office of Technology Assessment, foreign government agencies, etc. Along the way, I was appointed to the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safety and was a member of the first American Nuclear Society delegation on reactor safety to the Peoples Republic of China. I worked with many people, some impressive and some not so much. I had a lot of fun along the way, with a few stressful episodes. My work with and friendships gained during INEL days are among my fondest memories.

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