b'C H A P T E R 20A Q U E S T I O N O F M I SS I O NCalifornia. The NRTS was not a During the height of the MTR cam-weapons production center, nor was it paign, another plutonium fire rippedassociated with a major science univer- through Rocky Flats. The fire occurredsity. One participant at the time, C. on May 11, 1969, and resulted in moreWayne Bills, reflected later that the damage than from any previous RockyNRTS had an image as merely a service Flats fire. In June, the New York Timesoutfit for the Navy or Argonne. Its ran a story on the fire and mentionedunique pool of brilliant scientists and that the debriston after ton of con-engineers was easily fended off. I crete blocks, metal shielding material,learned how much energy could be rubber, piping, coverallswould go towasted by not knowing the problem, the NRTS to be buried. A customer ofhe said of the great charge to save the Robert Erkinstrout farm clipped theMTR. 19 story and sent it to Erkins, wondering ifthe plutonium might somehow contami-New reactor projects had become very nate the fish. Erkins was alarmed. Thescarce at the NRTS. By 1972, most of pure spring water supplying his busi-the reactors that were going to be built ness came from the aquifer systemat the NRTS had been built or were underlying the NRTS. He visualized INEEL2522under construction (a reactor called plutonium seeping from the burial Above. Part of the sea of barrels from Rocky Flats.NRAD went critical at Argonne-West in trenches into the soil, finding a path Below. An illustration depicts the subsurfaceOctober 1977, but it was a commercial through six hundred feet of the fissured beneath the NTRS Burial Ground.Triga reactor, not a new reactor type). rock below, and leaching into the flow-After PBF and LOFT (and the Triga),the only reactors that would attain firstcriticality after 1970, there were nomore. The NRTS mission to test reac-tors had been accomplished. In all, theNRTS had been home to fifty two reac-tors. All but two of them went critical.(See Appendix B.) The NRTS fledg-lingsthe Nuclear Navy and thenuclear power industryhad becomegiants making their own way in theworld. Both of the major commercialreactor concepts, pressurized water andboiling water, had been proven inIdaho. After 1970, the thrust of NRTSnuclear research increasingly was con-servative: to enhance proven concepts.The ETR and the ATR were at the ser-vice of the Navy; and the safety testingprogram at LOFT and PBF supportedthe Nuclear Regulatory Commissionand the nuclear power industry. 20National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration1 9 7'