Power plant design

Meet the hoarder

9 March 2010

Former University of New Mexico professor Ron Knief explains his career-long relationship with NEI’s reactor wallcharts, and how he was able to pull them all together (and post scans on the internet) for the benefit of the entire industry.

"To go all the way back to the beginning, I taught at the University of New Mexico in the mid-to-late 1970s, and any time I went to an American Nuclear Society meeting there was usually an opportunity to pick up another [wallchart], because NEI was there, and usually distributed a couple of old ones. I used them in my classes, particularly on reactor design, because they are one of the best ways to understand in a straightforward manner how various reactor types differed from one another.

I left UNM to go to Three Mile Island, where I spent the 1980s, and I didn’t use them, but I retained the interest. The librarian there noticed that I was the only one remotely interested in the charts, and used to just send them to me. That was how I was able to build up the collection that I have now.

When I did the second edition to my book, book [Nuclear Engineering: Theory and Technology of Commercial Nuclear Power, now available from the ANS] which came out in 1992, I obtained permission to reprint the Guangdong reactor [#93] in it, but it was a 6x9 black and white print. I relabelled it for my own purposes, coupling it with a chart I was able to obtain from a booklet that the Swedes had put together. I had the cutaway drawing and the fluid systems diagram. The two were labelled consistently, so the reader could make the connection between the two.

It turns out that as a professor, one thing that you are always on the lookout for is somebody who has a great graphic. I picked the Guangdong reactor because it has an international flavour. It was a French reactor built in China, but a Westinghouse derivative. And then the brochure I got was probably at an ANS meeting that the Swedes had put together for the Ringhals site.

At the back of my book, I put a lot of effort in developing an appendix that I had identified reference reactor characteristics [appendix IV]. They include a BWR, PWR, PTGR (the same type as Chernobyl), PHWR, LMFBR, HTGR and extensive tables on their characteristics, so that it is easy to put them side-by-side for a student or professor to make comparisons. I then included a couple different versions of a PWR: a Westinghouse, Babcock & Wilcox and a Combustion Engineering. And I thought, how about getting the charts for the reference reactors?

It was then that I found out that the publishers of NEI didn’t have them, but they did say, “Anything you can find you are welcome to copy.” Then I was just interested in making copies of some things I had. I can’t remember when my idea was to find all of them. At that point, [former NEI editor Stephen Tarlton] was on his way out, but he helped out in the best way of all at that stage; he said, ‘This is something we are interested in too.’

I started by asking the librarian at [current employer] Sandia National Laboratories, but they did not have any. Then an inquiry to the University of New Mexico elicited the same response. UNM encouraged me in my search and expressed interest first in developing an archive of my hardcopy charts and subsequently the web-based collection of the entire set.”

I had a long-time friend who was the librarian at Brookhaven, who was one of the first people I called, and she said, “No, we don’t have any either.” She said that it was ironic in a way, because every time NEI arrived, they always checked to see whether there was a wallchart, and if there was, they carefully took it out and locked it away, because the charts were so popular, they didn’t want them to disappear.

I talked to librarians at the Argonne National Lab, and the Department of Energy itself, and the story was the same.

The DOE librarian said that the Library of Congress might have some, but they would be terribly reluctant to let them out. Fortunately we didn’t need to ask, because a contact at the Pacific Northwest National Lab had a couple of dozen that I didn’t have, which was nice, and then I called a friend at the Idaho National Laboratory, and he in turn got me in touch with the librarian. Finally we had hit the mother lode–she had all but half a dozen of the ones that I was missing.

For most people in the industry, there may be half a dozen reactors that we have a real connection to. I worked on Calvert Cliffs [#62] as my first job out of school for Combustion Engineering; I visited Fermi 1 [#33] having grown up in the area. You don’t have a Three Mile Island chart, but Oconee [#50] is a sister plant. I have visited Dresden [# 29] Fort St. Vrain [#48] and Superphénix [#73]. I like to smell the roses, and from time to time I’ll actually spend an hour or so just looking at one."

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