July 15, 1955 memorandum from Dr. Clifford Beck to Dean J.H. Lampe
Re: Recent correspondence on reactor
I noted with keen interest, some encouragement, and some concern the letter
observations made by
visits I had not had onportunity to comment on this letter before receiving a
copy of your reply of
vations reported in the letter to you as well as one or two other items of
clarification on one or two matters mentioned in your letter of reply.
I take it that the letter from
record of some of
pletely unofficial capacity to offer assistance in dismantling our reactor.
He was reluctant to discuss other matters, except on an informal basis, and
I'm sure would not want to have a fragmentary record of his luncheon conver-
sation take on the status of seasoned recommendations. The content of the
written statements, however, and your prompt approval of these with the state-
ment of intent to transmit them to the Chancellor for adoption, without
their having been discussed by or even mentioned to other members of the Safety
and Health Committee or the Reactor Staff leaves me somewhat astonished.
My concern with the statements recorded by
per se the grave implication that these items are not now being done, which in
several instances would indicate a highly negligent reactor staff, or worse,
that the reactor staff opposes them. Some of these items constitute standard
practices at any reactor installation, though the members of the H S committee
probably do not know whether or not they are followed here, since, they have
never before expressed the slightest interest in them. My encouragement, on
the other hand, is that at least some interest is here expressed in some areas
of the Committee responsibility in which real contributions to the program at
State College could be made... even though I must admit I would have been more
encouraged had this interest led
in the Health and Safety Committee.
Closer examination of this whole matter a fragmentary post-facto recording
of offhand, informal observations by a visiting scientist, by a segment of a
supposedly responsible and deliberative committee, being forwarded to the
Chancellor noted "and so recommend them to the Chancellor for action" marks a
grave indictment against the committee and the implication of the framework
within which it operates. In the past, there has been an unfortunate tendency
for the committee to operate in
decisions without discussion by the committee. Its overall effectiveness has
been weakened thereby, and I should think this practice should be discouraged
rather than otherwise.
As to Mr.
one to the reactor staff and to the students in the Special Nuclear Power Course,
to whom he gave three most interesting lectures. We found his viewpoint in
rather surprisingly close coincidence with our own with respect to the general.
philosophy of reactor operation. I would hardly want to accept all his off-
hand opinions as guiding principles for our operations, for his experiences, the
nature and type of their project at
our own, and we unfortunately cannot operate on the scale to which he is
So much so,
we exerted particular efforts to have him pass on to members of the H & S
Committee some of his ideas. I am interested in the ones of
comments which they recorded, but offer some further post scripts so that
some of the statements may not be misinterpreted.
1. The suggestion that there be a single full-time supervisor of the
reactor: We all seem to be in unanimous agreement on this point, but our
interpretation does not seem to coincide. As you will recall,
more then two years we have urged most strongly, in memoranda, budget requests
and in other ways, that persons to assist with the operation of the reactor be
provided. You and I have agreed on more than one occasion, that at least (1)
an Operating Supervisor, or mature status, in a permanent staff position, and
(2) a Reactor Operator, with semi-technical training (plus on-the-job experience)
are clearly needed, (In fact, as I have informed you, the latter person will
be required by the new law, beginning in September, unless a licensed Senior
Staff member is to operate the reactor.) Funds for these positions, however,
have not been available, and we have continued to do the best we could with the
resources available. We have felt that teaching commitments and obligations
have had priority over reactor operations and, as a consequence, the reactor
has not been used with maximurn effectiveness, as I have informed you. I would
emphatically disagree with the implication, however, that it has been operated
unsafely in any way durirg the time it has been used.
Department toward the establishment of a Reactor Staff", as implying a fulfill-
ment of the need for the ful-time Reactor Supervisor referred to by
which had been diverted by the Physics Department to "graduate study and teaching"
does not present a correct view.
College as graduate students, in research associate positions created by funds
allocated from the
They have been continuously in such positions since their arrival. In providing
students, and require us to submit an account of their (the students) progress
each year. Neither
and less satisfactory butand on the whole he has made many significant contri-
butions. The term Reactor Supervisor for
bulletins describe very clearly what is intended. He has complete respon-
sibility for coordinating all activities, supervising maintenance, and main-
taining records, when the reactor is not operating. During reactor operations
the person in charge must be either
during operation cannot be delegated to a student, or to anyone other than a
mature and experienced person and such a person we do not have. Our most urgent
need, is for a mature staff member, experienced in reactor operation, who can
be made responsible for all the duties of an Operating Supervisor and who can
carry with judgement and discretion the responsibility delegated from the
Director, despite pressures from staff members and visiting scientists who might
be in position to exert undue influence on a student. In fact there has been
considerable difficulty on this very point with
No such person, in fact, no person at all, has been provided from college
budgets to assist in operating the reactor. We have had occasional persons in
temporary position whom we have been able to obtain with miscellaneous funds
2. Some of
were good. Our records have been adequate for our use, but for quick inspection,
etc., some improvements can be made.
3. The comment on
Director is quite sound. On this point, however, repeated requests by the
Director to the H & S Committee for the type, nature, and frequency of reports
which would be most useful and helpful to the committee have gone completely
unheeded, except for one instruction from the chairman that "every thing which
might be of interest to the Committee be reported." This is an absurd request and
simply reflects the fact that the Committee has not devoted any effort to this
reactor, have given clear and orderly outlines of reports which are to be sub-
mitted; monthly, quarterly, and annually, have indicated under what conditions
special reports should be submitted, and have indicated when regular and special
inspections might be expected and what things are of key importance in those
4 & 5. The authority and scope of Safety Committee: I think no one
would question the general philosophy expressed in these statements. I reserve
for discussion elsewhere certain observations with respect
6. Written descriptions and approval of non-routine operations are
control measures were entirely satisfactory for our present level of operation
but pointed out that they would not be adequate at considerably higher levels.
7. a. & b.
of catastrophe to the reactor were misunderstood, I believe, by
which require such studies in great detail before a reactor is approved and
had in fact compared some of our studies of this nature with some of their
of safety must be. The report of these studies for the Raleigh Research Reactor
is contained in the reports to the Reactor Safeguard Committee, copies of which
are in the hands of the Committee Members.
7c. The advisability and value of quarterly urine analyses for radioactivity
is a highly debatable matter, and has many complicating factors.
7d. Records of film badges have been kept regularly and consistently since
before the reactor operation began. Full reports are obtained each two weeks
from Brookhaven National Laboratory, are carefully studies by the reactor staff
and the Safety officer and are permanently filed with the other reactor operation
8. Redesign of the reactor not only must satisfy the local 'safety experts'
but must go as well to the
It is encouraging to note the interest of the members of the H & S Committee
in some of the broader and more important aspects of safety responsibility
larger exertion of effort and a much higher level of conception than is demanded
by treatment of the never-ending incidents and trivial details of day to day
operations. Unless the H & S Committee can rise above these latter, at least
for a portion of its time and unless it can develop cohesiveness of action and
purpose, its contribution to the progress of programs at
tinue to be, as it has been, little more than book-keeping record of activities
of those who are struggling to evolve a framework of safe procedures and policies