Tag Archives: Nuclear Legacy

The Apocalypse Factory

Steve Olson at the Graham Pierce County Library

Steve Olson presented a talk and question & answer session about his newest book, The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age, at the Graham Pierce County Library on Saturday, February 11, 2023.

The Apocalypse Factory tells the story of plutonium from it’s discovery by Glenn Seaborg at the birth of nuclear fission, the technology of using and testing plutonium as a weapon, the development of Hanford and the reactor complexes, and the Cold War aftermath and reliance on the manufacturing of plutonium.

Much has been written about uranium, the Manhattan Project, and the development of the first atomic bomb used on the citizens of Hiroshima. Mr. Olson’s book looks at the second atomic bomb, using implosion and plutonium, which was used on the citizens of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. More importantly, plutonium pits became the standard for the U.S. stockpile of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, creating the Cold War and the arms race.

As Glenn Seaborg noted on his discovery of plutonium:

I was a 28-year old kid and didn’t stop to ruminate about it… I didn’t think, “My God, we’ve changed the history of the world.”

(as cited in Olson, 2020, The Apocalypse Factory, p. 31)

Steve Olson is the author of Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens (winner of a Washington State Book Award), Mapping Human History: Discovering the Past Through Our Genes (a finalist for the National Book Award), and other books. He has written for the Atlantic, Science, Smithsonian, and more. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Arco, Idaho

Arco, Idaho. First city in the world to be lit by atomic power. Elevation 5320.

As you drive through Arco on US 26, before the junction of West Grand Avenue and South Front Street, you’ll find a grand building faced with lava rock from the area with the lighted sign claiming to be the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power (elevation 5320).

On July 17, 1955, electricity generated by Boiling Water Reactor No. 3 (BORAX-III) was fed over the lines serving Arco, producing approximately 2,000 kilowatts of electrical power for about two hours.

Charles Pieper, along with Zeke Stewart (directing from his hospital bed after suffering a heart attack), and John Yeates (Philips Electrical Engineer), devised the method for putting the atomic power generated by BORAX-III into the lines which Utah Power used to serve Arco.

The building has served many purposes in the past from visitor center to civic offices, and is currently a community center. The anniversary of the event is celebrated each year with Atomic Days, the weekend closest to July 17.

For more information:
Arco — First Atomic City. (2022). Butte County IDGenWeb.
Troyer, D. (2004, July 4). Arco’s nuclear claim to fame. American Profile.

Atomic Snapshots: TRUPACT-II

On display at a roadside park in Arco, ID, at the Idaho Science Center, is a TRUPACT-II (Transuranic Package Transporter Model 2) container.

Each stainless steel TRUPACT-II is approximately eight feet in diameter, 10 feet high, and constructed with leaktight inner and outer containment vessels. The TRUPACT-II can hold up to 14 fifty-five gallon waste drums, two standard waste boxes (63 cubic feet capacity each), or one 10-drum overpack (a container designed to provide additional protection for older, deteriorating drums).

On August 23, 2002, a shipment of contact-handled transuranic waste consisting of two TRUPACT-II containers, each containing 14 waste drums, was assembled at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex (RWMC) on the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEEL), and transported to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico for long-term storage.

On August 25, 2002, just prior to arriving at WIPP, the shipment was involved in a vehicle accident. During the shipment receipt process at WIPP, sampling of the radiological assessment filter (RAF) on shipping container TRUPACT-II 157 (one of the two containers) indicated airborne alpha-contamination of the inner containment vessel (ICV). Consequently, on August 29, 2002, TRUPACT-II 157 was returned to the INEEL to perform recovery and examination of the payload. No external radiation was detected, as the container worked as designed.

The park also displays the sail of the USS Hawkbill (SSN-666) or Devil Boat (otherwise called the “Submarine in the Desert”).

These outdoor displays are part of a tribute to Arco, Idaho’s long association with Idaho National Laboratory, the Navy, and the nuclear fleet in particular.