Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


Decaying in Storage: The Closures of Three Nuclear Reactors in the Pacific Northwest Public Deposited

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  • People involved in a nuclear activity, whether they are developing it, benefiting from it, or opposing it, see inherent connections between various aspects of nuclear science and technology. This thesis investigates three nuclear sites: a university research reactor, a dual-purpose reactor that produced plutonium for the U.S. military and electricity for civilian use, and a commercial power reactor, all located in the Pacific Northwest. It examines the decisions that led to the closure and disposal of these reactors and the ways these decisions were influenced by factors that were more directly related to other forms of nuclear science and technology. Each site had both obvious nuclearity as an example of nuclear reactor technology and hidden nuclearity that came from the ways people connected these reactors with other kinds of nuclear activities. Oregon State University attempted to give its AGN-201 research reactor to several other institutions, but each arrangement was complicated by one of the factors that made it desirable: the AEC’s involvement in both promoting and regulating nuclear reactors, the possible ties between research reactors and nuclear weapons development, and the reactor’s utility as a training tool for future nuclear power industry workers. The N Reactor at the Hanford site closed down due to the nearly simultaneous occurrence of several factors: new public knowledge of the radioactive contamination that Hanford had released over several decades, increased scrutiny following the Chernobyl disaster, and a senator with moral objections to nuclear weapons in a position that gave him influence over Hanford’s budget. Activists who opposed the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant tended to oppose nuclear technology more broadly, including both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. While their strategies targeted the Trojan plant directly, their communications demonstrated a clear desire for a non-nuclear future. Thus, the eventual closure of the plant was not a complete victory, due to the spent nuclear fuel left behind at the reactor site. This thesis makes use of newspaper articles and publicly available interviews from several oral history projects. For the chapter on OSU’s AGN-201 reactor, extensive research was done from the reactor’s operating records and related correspondence, all of which remains in storage at the OSU Radiation Center.
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