Saturday, December 27, 2008

Nuclear Reactor Operator

That's a picture of the Navy Nuclear Reactor Training Facility outside of Idaho Falls, ID in 2006. It looks like a bunch of buildings, but some of those buildings used to house operating nuclear reactors. When I was in the Navy from 1973 until 1975, I was stationed for 6 months in Idaho training on the S1W nuclear reactor prototype at this site. It's the building in the right center of the picture. Here's a closeup on the right.

Idaho Falls in the mid-70s was a weird place. I remember it as a combination of Native Americans, Sheep herders, Mormon women, cowboys and sailors. Kind of like the back lot at Universal Studios while they were filming It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Life for the sailors training on the reactors was tough.

If you were doing well in school, you worked one of three shifts -- that rotated -- for 8 hours per day. You took a bus to work that took about an hour and a half to make it to the reactor site. It was through the desert, so your lips would chap by the time you got to the lab.

At the lab, you went to class and worked on the reactors and continually went through testing. Written tests, practical tests (you had to actually do something) and boards. The boards ran the gamut from tough to bizarre. I remember one question being "Where is the purple valve and what is it for?" Turns out, the purple valve was a remnant of some early fire protection system that had no use currently, but some goofy instructor had painted it purple and they used it as a way to see if you were paying attention.

Other board questions could be "How many bolts are there on the Condenser cover?" or even "Who was FDR's vice president?" No kidding.

If you fell behind on your studies, you'd get stuck pulling 12s instead of 8 hour shifts. That meant you stayed out at the site, since by the time you got home, you wouldn't have enough time to sleep. For the single guys, that sucked because it deprived you of the chance to hang out at the clubs in town, or go dirt bike riding, or rafting. For the married guys, it could doom a marriage. The Navy wives could get very lonely out there in the middle of nowhere.

A few notes about where I lived. I lived on 1st St. if I remember correctly, next to one of the irrigation canals. You can see it in the center of this map (you'll see "100" right by it):

View Larger Map

In the summer time, people used to float down the canal in inner tubes with 6 packs of beer. Great fun! Of course, in other times of the year, people would fall into the canals and drown due to the amount of water running through them. Not so much fun. be continued.

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