Monday, April 7, 2014

Time Again

A Shaggy Mouse Nudibranch found in
tide pools at Discovery Park in Seattle.
We recently picked up two more pinhole cameras that had been sitting around Seattle all winter long.  One spent about 9 months on the roof of an apartment building in Wallingford, and another spent about 3 months behind a sealed-up military housing unit at Discovery Park.  Both pieces of photo paper came out remarkably wet and sticky, but with intact photos. It was interesting that these cameras which used a much smaller aperture than the previous ones were burned red with the exposure instead of the violet or black of the previous cameras, and it's unclear whether this is due to the lower level of exposure to the sun or the extreme dampness of the photo paper due to the elements.  Curiously, these negatives also required much less correction using color curves than previous exposures.  One lesson that has proved useful in selecting sites for the pinhole cameras is that the subject should be as strongly backlit as possible.  In the case of the abandoned military housing, we selected a site where the pinhole camera would frequently fall directly in the shadow of the subject, which made for a beautiful shot.

Pinhole exposure lasting roughly 9 months on the roof of an apartment building in Wallingford.  Exposed July 2013-April 2014.
Pinhole exposure from Jan 25, 2014 until April 5, 2014.  Boarded-up military housing at Discovery Park.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


What's left of the old Hanford high school.
Ever since I moved to Seattle, I had always wanted to go tour the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.  Even as the military used the Hanford site to transmute Uranium into Plutonium, they transmuted a gorgeous desert landscape into a terribly contaminated mess.  It's hard to imagine anyone having such disrespect for the landscape today, but back then contaminated water was actually piped directly into the Columbia river and sometimes outright dumped into the desert.  Waste that would be toxic for 10,000 years was pumped into tanks designed to last 50.  The American and Washington state taxpayer is paying the price for this cleanup today, but the tour guides will tell you that it is likely that parts of the reservation may have to be controlled and monitored for the foreseeable future.  That said, the B reactor is a marvel of engineering that is very much worth your time to come out and see and perhaps the best historical site tour I've been on since the Titan Missile Museum.  You can make reservations online at their website,

These cylinders were loaded with Uranium slugs while the reactor was in operation.  Every month, the reactor was shut down and the slugs were removed and sent for processing at a nearby facility where Plutonium could be extracted.  The B reactor did not produce any electricity, only plutonium.  The waste hot water was piped to cooling ponds and ultimately back to the river.

The B reactor staff was well prepared for the event of a radioactive zombie attack.

Systems in the reactor were either remarkably high-tech or remarkably low-tech.  In the case that power to the horizontal control rods was lost, giant buckets of stones would be dropped onto a cylinder of hydraulic fluid, pushing the control rods into the safe shut-down position.
A final backup plan was stored in the control room office space.  No, the backup plan was not keys to a rocket car or the phone number to the President.  It was the one thing they were sure to need in case of a meltdown.
"SCRAM" is a term originating from the early days of nuclear reactors, when the safety back-up plan was "Single Control Rod Axe Man."  In these early reactors, a single control rod was positioned above the reactor suspended by a rope.  In the event that the reactor went out of control, Single Control Rod Axe Man would cut the rope and drop the control rod into the reactor and stop the reactor.  In the B reactor, there were vertical control rods suspended above the reactor that could be dropped into place in case the horizontal control rods be rendered inoperable and for historical reasons this was known as SCRAMming the reactor.  So, yeah: Simiao and Theo should just go ahead and mash those buttons.