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How do you dismantle a nuclear power plant? Very, very carefully via Washington Post

February 1 at 7:00 AM

Behind the locked gates of Building 372 at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, past the door to the huge containment vessel where a sign warns of radiation, a large button on the control panel is covered in red plastic and reads: “manual scram.”

This is the emergency shutdown button, which nuclear legend says was pushed when it was time to scram.

But these days, the dark interior of the Army’s historic nuclear reactor, once called an “atomic-age miracle machine,” is a maze of rusted pipes, peeling paint and pressure gauges reading zero.

Keys in the control panel haven’t been turned in years, and switches are set to “off.”

The world’s first nuclear plant to supply energy to a power grid has been defunct for years. But the Army is preparing to break it up, check it for lingering radiation and haul it away piece by piece.

Dedicated in 1957, as the government was promoting “Atoms for Peace,” the facility was a training site and a prototype for small reactors that could produce power for bases in remote places around the world, the Army said. Built on the Potomac River’s Gunston Cove, it was called the SM-1, for stationary medium power plant No. 1.

“First nuclear power plant ever to put power on a grid, ever in the world,” said Hans B. Honerlah, a senior health physicist with the Army Corps of Engineers’ hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste branch.

[…]

Honerlah said at Fort Belvoir earlier this month: “It’d be great to make it a museum, but it’s always going to be radioactive.

“It has to go away. It’s never going to not be radioactive. The goal . . . is to take the remaining radioactive components, remove them from the . . . facility here and take them” to a nuclear waste site, probably in western Texas.

[…]

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