Saturday, February 28, 2015

Humboldt Bay Power Plant, Unit 3

Both the Times- Standard and Lost Coast Outpost have stories on the guy who was fired from Humboldt Bay Power Plant decades ago and went on to write a book about it. I used to work there but never knew the guy. He was there some time before I was. One of the guys I worked with told me of the guy leaving the plant one day and saying he'd been fired.

The pic to the left is a radiation warning sign I still have today. I didn't steal it. They'd fall down from the fence on occasion and workers would just put up new signs. I was standing by them one time as they were reattaching signs, picked up the fallen one and asked if I could have it. They just shrugged their shoulders so I took the sign home with me. About the only souvenir I have of HBPP.

The picture below is from Wikipedia. Not the best as the Unit 3 barber pole stack had been taken down. The two stacks on the left are of Units 1&2. Those were crude oil units, but I believe they could also be run on natural gas. Unit 3 was to the right of them. It was the nuclear unit. Folks who have lived here a while will remember the tall smokestack with the "barber pole" design on it.

I actually got to see and stand right next to a nuclear fuel rod once. I'd thought I'd touched one but thinking about it some more, it was Ron Chance that touched it. Sounds hairy, doesn't it, except it really wasn't.

Gate 13 was on the east side of Unit 3. Whenever any gates were opened, we had to have security folks guarding it, so I was sent to stand there. One of the workers was there just inside the gate- the radiation area, except not much, if any, radiation was right there. He had white booties over his shoes to protect against contamination and a open crate on the ground. 

He'd reach down, pull a rod out of the crate and wipe it down carefully with a white rag. Then he'd test the rag with a dosimeter to see if there was any contamination. He explained they were fuel rods that hadn't been used. Kinda freaky, as even us guards were susceptible to all the hype about how dangerous nuke fuel rods were. 

Another  guard, Ron Chance, asked if he could touch one. The worker said it would be ok so Ron ran his finger down a short section of the rod. Wow! We were kinda stoked. Standing there right next to nuclear fuel rods. There were maybe 10 or 12 of them in the crate. The worker explained they were worth 1 or 2 million dollars each and were being sent back the General Electric since the nuclear unit was being closed.

What did they look like? About six feet long and maybe an inch in diameter. They were made out of clear, hard plastic, as best I could tell. You could see through them. About every six to eight inches down the length of them, there was a cylindrical gray pellet about 3/4 to an inch log. The ends had pointed metal tips on them meant to clip into the actual reactor assembly. Pretty neat.

Why weren't they super radioactive? One of the nuke engineer guys said they need to react with each other to get the nuclear thing going. After they do that for a while they do get real hot, both literally and figuratively. I'm still not sure I get that. After all, they were sitting next to each other in the crate. Weren't they reacting then, but the guy cleaning up the rods didn't seem concerned. Aside from wearing booties over his shoes and gloves on his hands, he was only wearing street clothes the whole time.

I worked there as a security guard from something like '79 to '88. Around '88 was when they laid most of us off because of the nuclear unit being decommissioned. I was fifth in seniority and could have stayed on as the relief guy- covering for other guards when the were off- but opted not to. I passed that torch on to Bob "bobdog" Shaw, the guy below me in seniority. Some of the folks I worked with are still working there to this day.


At 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a very embarrassing story about security at HBNPP if you would like to hear it. Hope you weren't one of the clowns that followed me around the place. Security in the mid 70s was conducted by a bunch of sleepy heads.

At 6:07 AM, Blogger Fred Mangels said...

Sure, love to hear it. I didn't start there until the late 70s.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was involved with the project to determine seismic stability of the power plant. Part of it involved drilling thousands of shot holes all over the county and detonating explosives in the bottoms of the holes, to create a computer model of the soil liquifaction process that would take place in the event of a large earthquake.
Many of the holes were drilled inside the power plant grounds. I was in and out four or more times a day with a truck that hauled drilling fluids in a 6' x 30' tank trailer.
Some of the guards at the gate were very stern and egotistical and delighted in going over my rig with a fine toothed comb when I would complain about my time schedule. X-raying any chemical packages I might have, using mirrors to examine the undercarriage, checking all compartments on the truck, and body searches every trip. They would intensify their efforts to uncover something nefarious with every complaint from me. This went on for months.
I began to pull pranks that they just knew I was responsible for, but couldn't prove it. It got extremely heated at times, and they finally pulled me into a secure area and threatened to harm me. Couldn't really blame them, as I was really keeping them on their toes.
On my last trip out at the completion of the project, I pulled over and walked into the guard shack to say goodbye, and thank them for the fun we had.
You should have seen the look on their faces when I informed them that for all their efforts to be so very, very thorough in preventing me from bringing something unwanted onto the premisis, they had not once opened a hatch on that huge tank to see what was in it.
All in all a good bunch of guys, and this all took place before most of the terrorism stuff came into play. I'm sure things are better now.

At 6:10 PM, Blogger Fred Mangels said...

Damn, 2:45. Sounds like something that might have happened when I worked there, although you said mid- 70s. That was before I started.

Hey, vehicle searches are tough, even if the guard really cares about what he or she is doing. We had to go through PG&E trucks, which I thought rather silly, although I understood why it was required.

The PG&E guys could do more damage to the plant without the things we were trying to find, all with their hands. But, that's the way it was, and probably always will be.

And, btw, the Plant Superintendent and other higher ups also had to go through the search process. It was the higher ups policy that everyone be treated the same.


Post a Comment

<< Home