Pony Express ride

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by wobbly one, Jan 19, 2020.

  1. wobbly one

    wobbly one Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    113
    Location:
    Billings, MT
    A bit of a delay moving forward with this report - had to take some time out to earn the dog food money.

    I was pretty bushed, so after I got over my initial Airbnb misgivings and after a quick call to hot wife I fell into a deep old-dude-with-a-sore-back-on-a-big-bike sleep. The next morning dawned perfect and I was ready fight again. After a not so quick ride around the old haunts I que up a nice Kings of Leon mix and head off towards Challis Idaho, about 350 miles or so.

    A quick pic of Deseret Peak, 11031'.
    P1000929-1.jpg

    My first objective along this leg of the journey was to peel off I-15 and head over to Golden Spike National Historical Park at Promontory to check out the meeting of the tracks. Well, either by dozing off, singing, solving world problems, or a combination thereof, I blow past the strategic exit and I don’t realize it for 10 miles or so. I am now left with no quick or efficient alternate route over there. So I'm in a quandary – I sure wanted to take this in but I dilly dallied too long getting going this morning and want to get into Challis before the animals start to move about. Being a man of prudence, I reluctantly decide to press on and move Promontory back to the to-do list.

    Rolling along just minding my own business again, I pass a few of these signs that say something something Atomic blah, blah, blah. So I stop to read one. Holy cats - it's an atomic museum, and furthermore it is a National Historical Landmark. Well heck yeah, I better swing in and check things out. I have time.
    P1000936-1.jpg

    Doesn't look like much.
    P1000945-1.jpg

    P1000957-1.jpg

    Well, pulling in, the first eye magnets are these two fine gents. America's first, and only hopefully, attempt at producing a nuclear propulsion system for an aircraft. ...who knew? I think the one on the right has a turbo.
    P1000962-1.jpg

    Another interesting factoid I went on to discover about the larger area I am riding through – Idaho National Laboratory (www.inl.gov) is that the world's first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, was built here (according to my tour guide). Yup, built here in Idaho, a million miles from nowhere, then disassembled and reconstructed in Connecticut. The INL is also is home to the largest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. I will encounter lots of "first, biggest, smallest, and most" on this trip.

    Well I walk up to the facility only to discover that this is the EBR-1 (Experimental Breeder Reactor numero ono). The world's first nuclear power plant.
    P1000959-1.jpg

    Dang, I don't know what I ever did to deserve this treat being placed in my path today, but I'll take it.

    So now for the tour. But first we need to go back to school and hit the chalk boards...
    IMG_0243-1.jpg

    IMG_0223-1.jpg

    Some sobering facts are presented in this photo about the NaK coolant- “a completely unknown technical solution” Let's see, never been used before, burns upon exposure to air or water, extremely corrosive, had to invent new techniques & equipment - so lets just give it a go in an experimental nuclear reactor. What could possibly go wrong? Were our forefathers kick ass, or what?
    IMG_0222-1.jpg

    IMG_0310-1.jpg

    More to follow.
    #21
    squidchief, Kampfire, bomose and 2 others like this.
  2. 2 SPOT

    2 SPOT bring the rape whistle

    Joined:
    Dec 14, 2005
    Oddometer:
    6,569
    Location:
    Payson AZ
    thats awesome it was open for your visit,,, when i was there the building was closed so i didnt get the inside tour,,, but those engines sure are cool to walk around.

    did you cruise through Atomic city? place is interesting.
    #22
    wobbly one likes this.
  3. bomose

    bomose Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2007
    Oddometer:
    3,687
    Location:
    Dixie
    Both times I've been by there, I didn't have time to stop. Maybe next time.
    #23
    wobbly one likes this.
  4. Ol Man

    Ol Man Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,191
    Location:
    Apple Valley, Calif
    I have been to the EBR twice. It is quite the museum. A good friend grew up in Arco, the first nuclear powered community in the US.
    #24
    wobbly one likes this.
  5. wobbly one

    wobbly one Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    113
    Location:
    Billings, MT
    Hey 2 SPOT thanks for reminding me of that - I did not get over there on this trip but I do need to get over there again and wander around Atomic City. What a great name. The facility "season" is a bit limited - Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Well worth getting through that area between those weekends.
    #25
    2 SPOT likes this.
  6. wobbly one

    wobbly one Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    113
    Location:
    Billings, MT
    Pretty easy to blow right past this place since it sits off the road a piece. Sure recommend stopping if your time allows bomose.
    #26
    bomose likes this.
  7. wobbly one

    wobbly one Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    113
    Location:
    Billings, MT
    Hey Ol Man (great name!). Growed up in Arco, dang. I grew up in a super small town also so I sure mean no disrespect at all to those from Arco. But dang.
    #27
  8. wobbly one

    wobbly one Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    113
    Location:
    Billings, MT
    Ok, back.

    Well here is a quick working man's gist of what this reactor is and why it's important. Nuclear power ,and nuclear weapons for that matter, requires a special type of fuel that is fissionable. Back in 1951 that fuel was primarily Uranium 235, a rare isotope of natural Uranium that requires tremendous effort to concentrate and make ready for fission (think Iranian centrifuges...). The military at that time had dibs on all U235 for their nefarious purposes. So, the good folk who were trying hard way back in the day to reduce our carbon footprint (some sarcasm) said “Hey, we need to figure out a way of producing more fissile material than we start out with. You know, an awesome perpetual fuel source that will allow us to be energy independent, will stop putting CO2 in the air, and make us lots of money” (more sarcasm). So somebody said “Hey, why don't we take some of this common ol' Uranium 238 we got kicking around and stick it up next to the core of the reactor and let the spare neutrons do our bidding” So a great plan was hatched whereby the neutrons would indeed bombard the U238 and it would eventually change into a completely new substance – Plutonium. And boy oh boy could Plutonium fission – kinda like nuclear race fuel. Thus allow us to produce more nuclear fuel than we started with. And there you have it, a cool new perpetual energy machine of sorts. A bit like turning lead into gold – the alchemists would be proud. So enough of the Plutonium prattle – on to the guts of the EBR-1.
    IMG_0292-1.jpg

    A lot of “firsts” going on.
    IMG_0289-1.jpg

    Not many people here at all. You can do a self-guided walk through the facility or you can wait for a guided tour to start – I highly recommend the guided tour – you will learn lots. There were only three of us on my tour – me and a young couple from England who flew to the US specifically to go to this facility and another in Hanford Washington. Nuclear tourists they said. Huh, didn't know that was a thing.

    While I'm thinking of it here's a good resource if you are considering going there: https://inl.gov/experimental-breeder-reactor-i/

    So the first stop is the control room and it is surprisingly small, and cool cool cool. Dials, knobs, buttons, levers and switches – all things that get me excited and all left basically in-state as it was back in the day.
    IMG_0269-1.jpg

    IMG_0278-1.jpg

    All you needed was some engineering paper and a #2 pencil. Oh, and probably an eraser in case you got a calculation wrong.
    IMG_0287-1.jpg

    I don't know, but if it were me were back in the day preparing this graph for the worlds first nuclear power plant, with a bunch of never been used before processes and equipment, I would set my alarm level lower. A lot lower. That's a pretty small panic zone.
    IMG_0288-1.jpg

    But not to fear. Like any good facility of it's kind, it has a SCRAM button...
    IMG_0276-1.jpg

    Probably had to draw straws to fill that position.

    And I don't know why it is, but anytime I see “Hand Off, Don't Touch, or Do Not Enter” all I see are double-dog-dares. Why must I be this way? Just bad gray matter I suppose.
    IMG_0282-1.jpg


    Now on to the reactor. Smaller than I would have thought actually. Heck, I can put one of these in my garage.
    IMG_0291-1.jpg

    Ever wonder what it looks like to stare into the face of a nuclear reactor? Well wonder no more.
    IMG_0290-1.jpg
    #28
    Kampfire, rjnutt and bomose like this.
  9. wobbly one

    wobbly one Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    113
    Location:
    Billings, MT
    I thought this display was interesting – Director's log book. I guess when you make the first itsy bit of usable power from the first experimental nuclear reactor of it's kind, it's just no big deal. “Dec 20th 1951... At 1:23 p.m. blah, blah, blah, Electricity flows from atomic energy.” C'mon my good man – give a whoop or a hot damn, or something. Not even an exclamation point - just a ho-hum and a yawn. That Dr Walter Zinn was one cool customer.
    IMG_0272-1.jpg

    IMG_0273-1.jpg


    When you leave the control room you see this fella – if it was lit the reactor was getting down to business.
    IMG_0297-1.jpg

    After the tour you can roam around at will. Not many people here at all so I kinda feel like I have the place to myself. Looking down from the top of the reactor you get a good look at the hot cell where all spent fuel and irradiated material could be packaged up or worked on. On the left side of the box are the world's first two “mechanical hand” manipulators. Huh, another first...
    IMG_0296-1.jpg

    IMG_0225-1.jpg

    IMG_0227-1.jpg

    ...more double-dog-dares
    IMG_0226-1.jpg

    If I recall correctly this glass port is 36” thick - 1” thick plates separated by thin gaps and filled with mineral oil.

    Here is what you saw back in the day when you were working on all that 'tomic stuff. I'm left wondering – who changes out the light bulbs in this thing?
    IMG_0260-1.jpg

    The nuclear fuel is contained in pellets that are stacked up in long “fuel rods”. When they are done doing their thing they are HIGHLY radioactive and must be removed from the core and stored somewhere safe and shielded, so as to keep those in the facility from ...dying. So you dust off this bad boy – a solid lead Keepusafe nuclear fuel rod puller-outer and then you have to put the rods in the shielded rod farm and let them simmer down a bit. These spent assemblies give off a tremendous amount of radiation and I would imagine that gamma is blasting out the top of this rod farm at a pretty good clip. Good things these workers have lead disks to stand on when doing stuff. I would want a bigger disk.
    IMG_0229-1.jpg

    So, when you are done moving these super toasty rods and have put them safely to rest, you for sure would want to make absolutely certain you knew which ones were where. Right? Well that's where this fail-safe device comes into play. Hopefully you didn't have a mischievous co-worker amongst you. More on that to follow.
    IMG_0228-1.jpg
    #29
    bomose, Kampfire and rjnutt like this.
  10. wobbly one

    wobbly one Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    113
    Location:
    Billings, MT
    Ok, back again. Sorry, in looking things over I can see where all this nuclear stuff may be getting a little bit boring. Almost done.

    Talking about fuel rods, what on earth do you do when you have fresh uranium fuel rods that are waaay more precious than gold? Well, you have got to find some way to secure them from the ruskies. So you go and find a bank in the area that is distressed and going out of business and then you buy their vault door and you make yourself a bonafide vault. Hard to see here but the fuel rods are silver and hanging vertically behind the secondary vault door.
    IMG_0235-1.jpg

    Hey, here is something that catches my eye – a zero power reactor – the nuclear physicist’s ultimate play toy. This was a mechanism that brought fissile material together to create critical mass and irradiate stuff to see what happens to it. Like a cricket, a stick of chewing gum, or your buddies pack of Camels.
    IMG_0240-1.jpg

    IMG_0241-1.jpg

    I went around back to get a photo in case you guys wanted to build one yourself. I think this is a semi-hydraulic phase modified torque multiplier. But I could be entirely wrong.
    IMG_0244-1.jpg

    As I mentioned before, there is really no one around to speak of. There is a very narrow set of stairs that is not cordoned off so I head down below.
    IMG_0245-1.jpg

    Apparently this is directly beneath the reactor and is where they would send the brand new recruits to work on the fission cup that controlled the reactor, and also dabble with the highly radioactive Uranium bricks that were on their way to becoming Plutonium.

    Ol' Tony
    IMG_0246-1.jpg



    IMG_0248-1.jpg

    IMG_0257-1.jpg

    More nuclear bric-a-brac. Feels like a ghost town down here.
    IMG_0250-1.jpg



    And to prevent the most stupidest of people from wandering into the room beneath the reactor core, there were these huge lead(?) blocks on rails that would take Hercules, Zeus, and Titan, all working together to move.
    IMG_0251-1.jpg
    #30
    bomose likes this.