My Trips

Atomic Tourism

------------------------------August 6th - Page heavily over hauled---------------------------------

Shutdown Reactors:

The SEFOR Reactor 

The Southwest Experimental Fast Oxide Reactor (SEFOR) was an experimental breeder reactor located a few miles south of the University of Arkansas campus at Fayetteville, AR. It was managed by a consortium of nuclear technology and power companies including GE and several foreign entities. It ran for 3 years from to and proved many new principles of reactor theory needed to run the reactor of the future, which was, at the time, the breeder. It ran off Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) containing a blend of UO2 and PuO2 which was manufactured at the facility owned by Kerr-McGee where Karen Silkwood worked.

Me at the controls, SCRAM!:

Some pretty nasty stuff in there, eh?

 A little worse for ware


Many thanks to AR Senator Blanche Lincoln and Dr. Collis Geren for arranging and giving me a tour respectively. The reactor is costing the university a lot to keep up and they are currently trying to receive money for D&D work. While most of the radioactive material is gone, some remains not to mention volitile sodium and other hazards such as asbestos, mercury, PCBs, and hydrocarbons. 

National Laboratory Sites:

 Acid Canyon, Los Alamos, NM

Former acid waste line outflow location, now a public park, elevated background from mainly Pu-239, but also Cs-137, Sr-90 and a bunch of other isotopes




Bayo Canyon, Los Alamos, NM

Former radioactive La-140 laced implosion test area and radiochemistry lab 

Seen here are some very peculiar radwaste markers, 2142 A.D 


Oak Ridge, TN

Here are a few pictures from Oak Ridge from multiple trips '05-07', not in order


In Hot pursuit!

One of my favorite pictures of all time, those pesky radioactive trees again, always uptaking Sr-90!



Heavy Element Chemistry Dept., LBNL, Berkeley, Ca

A glove box containing various aqueous solutions of Actinides. The green solution below is a Neptunium compound. 

Wonder how you can discover and do chemistry with elements that if you are lucky, have half-lives that are fractions of a second? You use a tool like the Berkeley Gas Filled Separator off the 88 inch cyclotron at LBNL. 

Uranium Fuel Cycle Sites:

Sequoyah Fuels Corp.

Sequoyah Fuel Corporation was a subsidiary of Kerr-McGee Nuclear. The facility shown below was the UF6 conversion facility opened in Gore, OK in the 1970's that closed in the early '90's, by then owned by General Atomics, after a series of accidents that resulted in the contamination of dozens of workers and the death of one. The Sequoyah Fuels Corporation devision of Kerr-McGee Nuclear was the fuel manufacturing side of their nuclear investment. Their other facility, located in Crescent, OK was the Cimmeron Fuel Fabrication Facility, which fabricated Enriched Uranium and Plutonium Fuel assemblies, was most famous because of the nationally known story of Karen Silkwood. 

Made into a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep, it told the story of a plant metallurgist who became contaminated on multiple occasions with large quantities of Pu-239. After approaching the union with her story, she made contact with the AEC, and after securing several documents drove to meet the investigator. She never made it, running off the road into a culvert, killing her instantly. By the time the Oklahoma State Trooper arrived on the scene, the documents were gone, and further investigation revealed suspicious marks on her rear bumper, and extremely large quantities of a sleeping drug in her blood. 

The romantic tale of the story would lead you to believe she was murdered by her supervisors at Kerr-McGee, but most likely that was not what happened. Her incidents of contamination mystified the Health Physicists at the plant, as there was no route to her getting contaminated from inside the gloveboxes. Upon survey of her house they found contamination in places that pointed to her purposefully contaminating herself and samples for urinalysis. At court hearings about the case a it was testified that the SNM was under lax security and that one man brought home a Plutonium Fuel Pellet to give to his son for show-and-tell at his school. The story begins to rematerialize, Silkwood, a disgruntled employee contaminated herself to earn leverage over her supervisors. She took too many sleeping pills to calm down before meeting the investigator before the crash, and because it was late at night, fell asleep at the wheel. The rear bumper? The wrecker company testified they cause the dents. The only unexplained mystery left are the missing documents.



Military Sites:


 Little Rock AFB Titan II Missile Silo

To see pictures you can visit 

not entirely nuclear related but they were poised to throw a nuclear bomb anywhere on Earth throughout the Cold War. 

Mather AFB WSA

The Weapon Storage Area at Mather AFB is easily accessible to anyone in the Sacramento area. While it has been significantly vandalized since its closure, it is one of the only Weapon Storage Areas that is accessible to the public. If I am in the area again I need to explore the site better looking for specific areas where nuclear weapons and SNM were stored. 

Kirtland AFB Broken Arrow

A "Broken Arrow" is described by the DOD as an accident involving nuclear weapons resulting in the loss, destruction, or unintentional detonation of a nuclear device not leading to any significant increase in the threat of war. There have been many of such events occurring in the US and in Europe, including some HE detonations resulting in radioactive contamination and even some complete losses of nuclear devices. One such event happened not far south of the Albuquerque International Airport on public land in 1957. 

The bomb, a Mark-17 Thermonuclear device was the largest in both yield and size ever fielded by the United Sates. Although the Plutonium-239 pit was not inserted at the time of the accident, there was a significant quantity of Uranium used in the tamper of the primary as well as a secondary containing a uranium tamper, Lithium Deuteride salt, and some fissile material consisting of Enriched U-235, Pu-239 or a combination thereof. Because of these materials, many of the fragments of the bomb laying in the New Mexican desert today are still radioactive along with pieces of the interstage filler plastic, cork material, steel, lead reflector, aluminium casing, and possibly even pieces of the Beryllium reflector. Some of these materials are shown below, collected not far from the Sandia National Lab fence line, while military helicopters monitored our movements from above. 

Nuclear Weapon Testing Sites:

 Salmon and Sterling nuclear test site, Mississippi


Shoal Test Area, Goat Flat, NV

 A plaque at surface ground zero

A pile of granite removed from the emplacement tunnel.

A brace presumably from the emplacement tower.

Nevada Test Site

I got the opportunity to take an in depth tour of the Nevada Test Site. While it is prohibited to take photography at the site, it was an amazing place and definitely worth mentioning. Things at the site are on such a large scale and places on the site such as the Sedan Crater are awe-inspiring. It may surprise you to find out that we struggled to find much radioactive at the site. During the atmospheric days, the fission products were spread all over the United States in the form of fallout diluting them, and what was left near ground zero has since decayed. After the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1962, the tests went underground and other than those with containment failures such as Sedan and Baneberry, the fission products remained contained in the melt glass deep beneath the chimney. The most radioactive thing I fell in love with was "trinitite" from the Apple II test ground zero. Today, because of this residual activity, it is used by the DHS and DOE for training first responders in responding and detecting nuclear and radiological threats.

If you want to visit the site, the DOE offers public tours and the Atomic Testing Museum, not far from the Las Vegas strip, is a must if you are in Las Vegas. They have many artifacts from the testing days including an actual nuclear rocket engine test at the site, racks used to hold instrumentation during tests, and my personal favorite, a large collection of radiation detectors and film badges from the site.

Bayo Canyon, Los Alamos, NM

Former radioactive Lanthanum explosion area and radiochemistry lab. This area, also known back in the day as TA-10, was one of the original Manhattan Project facilities in Los Alamos. It is interesting from a radiological stand point because of a significant quantity of Sr-90 contamination resulting from impure La-140 used in the implosion tests at the site. Shipped from the Graphite Reactor at X-10 in Oak Ridge, it contained many impurities, including the Sr-90 that was removed at the on site Radiochemical facilities. The La-140 was used as a tracer in implosion tests trying to refine the gadget device, some of which were almost a complete device, but with a surrogate metal in place of Plutonium. 

Seen here are some very peculiar radwaste markers, 2142 A.D :-) 

Bayo Canyon - Part II

On a recent trip to New Mexico I had the opportunity to revisit the site. Much has changed including a remediation effort underway cleaning up the different areas of contamination noted on the previous visit. A LLRW dumpster was on site filled with Sr-90 contaminated soil. 

This time I was also able to  venture to the actual detonation grounds. A large sign, such as those found around the Chernobyl accident site, warn not to cut or collect any wood from the area. This is because there are many pieces of the original devices test there still embedded in tress including some fragments of Depleted Uranium. 

 Research Reactors:

 Texas A&M Research Reactor

No allowed pictures inside


UNM Research Reactor

Once again no inside pictures of the reactor room. Very small output reactor, but very interesting  

Uranium Prospecting  

Not that most of the items in my radioactive collection weren't "prospected" in some sort, but something intrigues me about searching for radioactive materials from raw earth, it's like a treasure hunt!



I am quickly becoming an expert on uranium geology in the state of Nevada, if you need any information, I probably have it or can get it, and if your ever in the state, look me up and we can go prospecting.

My first successful prospect in Nevada is an Autunite deposit, but don't let the beauty of this mineral fool you, this stuff is hot! The deposit has about 500 ft. of undergroud workings, but only a small amount of ore has been trucked out of the area. Prospecting requires a ton of research and thank goodness I have access to one of the largest mining related libraries in the U.S. This deposit was from a Thesis from 1956.

The prospect in 1955 and today.


Here are some pictures of specimens from the site, the large one and the pure flakes are extremely radioactive!

Pictures from a second trip to the site with a friend (also a professional photographer) my dad, and my chemistry teacher:

A photo of a flouresent radioactive deposit under blacklight and under regular light. What is glowing is yellow, but the underlying mineral is black, presumably uraninite, and is very radioactive. Notice the drip pattern under UV, to me it suggests some sort of hydrological action.


 The Buckhorn Mine

A mine containing a variety of Uranium minerals (Pitchblende, Autinite, Gummite). It isn't quite as concentrated as the mine above, but much more extensive. A wonderful site and less than an hour from my place of residence. 

Here is a photo of what I have recovered from the mine, a box full of radioactive, chalky, dust. While there are a few good samples, it more of a homogenous dust, not so great for the collection, but great for processing. 

New Mexico:

Ore from a locale near Grants, NM

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