Billy "BJ" Foreman was interviewed on September 29, 2021 by Patience Stuart and Kevin Taylor of AECOM for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' SM-1A Nuclear Reactor decommissioning project. The interview was conducted over the telephone with BJ at his home in Barboursville, Virginia, Patience in Portland, Oregon, and Kevin in Greensville, South Carolina. In this interview, BJ talks about his experience working at the SM-1A nuclear power plant at Fort Greely, Alaska. He discusses the training he recieved at the Army's nuclear power training program at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the technical aspects of operating and maintaining the SM-1A plant, the effects of the 1964 Alaska Earthquake, and what it was like for him and his family to live and work at the remote site. He also compares the SM-1A with the private nuclear power industry, and talks about how he was able to transfer his military experience to civilian nuclear and energy production work.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Cold War in Alaska
Date of Interview: Sep 29, 2021
Narrator(s): Billy "BJ" Foreman
Interviewer(s): Patience Stuart, Kevin Taylor
Transcriber: Rev Transcription Services, Kelsey Tranel
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Introduction and starting to work at SM-1A nuclear plant at Fort Greely
Army's nuclear power training program
Instrumentation and controls (I&C) technician training
Coming to Alaska and working at SM-1A after the 1964 Alaska Earthquake
Shutting down the plant to change the steam generator
Contamination outside of the plant
Operational activities at the plant
Operating safely and keeping up on repairs and maintenance
Job skills, high turnover of crewmembers, and supervising the change of generator brushes
Design of new testing instrumentation for nuclear power plants
Processing of liquid waste
Learning to stay on top of things and ahead of maintenance needs
Handling of the fuel during refueling and safety
Radiation and the volume control tank
Life at Fort Greely: housing, people, school, winter conditions, social activities
Keeping busy with other jobs at TV station on post and at TV repair shop
Traveling to Fairbanks, Anchorage and Valdez with the family, and having a run-in with a bear while fishing
Buffalo at Fort Greely
Effect of harsh winter conditions on wildlife and humans
His wife keeping busy with church, boy scouts, and babysitting, and his rock collecting hobby
Supporting Nike Missile Radar sites, and running over snowshoe hares crossing the road
Personal memories, and challenges of living at a remote site and the cold winter
Life satisfaction, and enjoying the experience of having lived and worked at Fort Greely
The importance of being courteous and respectful and understanding people of different cultures and backgrounds
Importance of SM-1A as a prototype and knowing the technical history, and photographs of the plant
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Patience Stuart: Okay, we're recording. Alright. Today is September 29th, 2021. This is an oral history interview with BJ Foreman. We are conducting this interview virtually over the phone, and we have two interviewers and one narrator. I am one of the interviewers. I'm Patience Stuart. I'm a historian and I am calling from Portland, Oregon. We'll go to Kevin next.
Kevin Taylor: This is Kevin Taylor. I'm a nuclear engineer and health physicist calling from Greenville, South Carolina.
Patience Stuart: And BJ, why don't you introduce yourself and let us know where you're calling from.
BJ Foreman: My name is BJ Foreman. That stands for Billy Foreman. I'm a retired -- semi-retired I&C engineer. I was stationed at Fort Greely, Alaska at the SM-1A nuclear power plant from August of 1969 to July of 1971. And I can relate my experiences there and my impressions.
Patience Stuart: Well, we are looking forward to hearing it. Now for the interview, as it's documented, would you like your name to be recorded as Billy or BJ?
BJ Foreman: You might list them as both with BJ in parentheses, 'cause I might be difficult to find otherwise. There were so many William's and Billy's and Bill's where I worked that the moniker on me was placed as BJ and it kind of stuck for many years. And so, I'm used to BJ, but after I've left that career, other people call me Bill or Billy. And so, I kind of go by both. I'm very flexible in that area.
Patience Stuart: Okay, will do. And what was your rank while you were at SM-1A?
BJ Foreman: I was a Specialist E6. The Army nuclear power program had originally planned for shift supervisors who were in charge of an operating shift to be warrant officers. Similar to the Navy. However, that didn't happen. And it turned out to be Sergeant E7 slots. Sergeant First Class E7 slots.
And so, one of my positions there, at one time, was the shift supervisor of an operating shift as an E6. And so, it turned out that often in my Army career, I was working slots that were higher than what was on my sleeve. To give you an idea, it's a heavily trained slot. A little bit of background. I went to school for 2 years at Fort Belvoir for -- to train for my job at SM-1A as both an operator and an I&C maintenance person.
Patience Stuart: And how did you end up in the training program or -- or let to become part of this group?
BJ Foreman: Well, actually getting off from the plant a little bit, but back up a little bit. I was at Kansas State University and majoring in nuclear engineering in 1965 and 1966. And we had a -- a group that formed together for the nuclear engineers, and one of the fellows had been to the nuclear power plant program in Fort Belvoir, and so I put in for it. I submitted the paperwork to go to Fort Belvoir after I got out of Kansas State.
Patience Stuart: Great. Do you want to tell us about your training time there or do you want to move into some of the technical information that you've prepared to share with us?
BJ Foreman: Well, you want to talk about technical information -- technical training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia?
Patience Stuart: Sure. Yeah. If you want to tell us about your -- your training program and your impressions of it.
BJ Foreman: Oh my, okay. That was, you know, covered on a previous interview, but -- to some extent. But, you know, the training program there -- I -- I -- I started in August of 1967 and I finished up in July of 1969. And, the first phase -- I'm trying to recall, I think it was about 6 months was an academic phase where you went through -- you started out with math, simple arithmetic, and worked your way up and into being able to handle the computations and calculations that you have in later classes.
And then you went through different classes, taught by different people. Most of them were officers, and they had -- were well educated in nuclear engineering or their specific fields. And they taught different subjects.
I was a very interested in nuclear engineering part, how to build a nuclear reactor. And we were tasked one time for homework to actually design and build a nuclear reactor. And so that's the end game that we did in the academic phase.
The second phase was the operator training phase, which I really got into rigorous training over there in the SM-1. It was in the same area, but it was in a different loc -- different building, of course. It was in the more secured area for the nuclear power plant, the prototype SM-1.
Which was actually the first nuclear power plant in the United States that put electricity on the grid. I'll try to get that history correct. You can see this on the Internet, it'll pull up exact dates. They beat all the other plants. They were actually the first one that put out electricity on the grid to VEPCO, Virginia Electric and Power Company.
But anyway, got some very extensive training there. And we trained on the floor as an operator that took hourly readings and identified different equipment and looked for different situations to maintain operations.
And we were constantly starting up and shutting down and lining up systems, warming up main steam lines, and how to do it and how to stay safe. And not have any -- To my knowledge, we never had an accident during my period. I don't know if they ever did have an accident there, where somebody would get hurt or break a leg or something. It was very safe.
And we had -- you took turns and you -- you -- it was in the control room for a shift and you had different situations given to you. And I enjoyed bringing the reactor critical, enjoyed putting the plant online and paralleling in and putting electricity up on the grid.
And one time I was -- though it was probably -- The most tedious time was putting the backup diesel generator online with the nuclear power plant because it was -- the controls were very touchy. I remember Mr. Smith was my shift supervisor training me and he was very good. I really had some good instructors.
And I wasn’t prepared to -- to elaborate on the SM-1, but there's some information there that people could use.
And then everybody was required to initially qualify as an operator. And that qualified you as an operator. If you passed the test at the end of the operating training phase.
And then the third phase was you had to be selected and -- and obtain a expertise and qualification in some sort of maintenance. It was either -- you could either be an electrician or you could be a mechanic, or you could be a -- an I&C person, which I was. I became -- I went into the I&C tech training program.
And -- or the fourth one you could be was a chemist combination health physicist, which is now call -- today its called a radiation protection technician. And you learned both chemistry and health physics.
I kind of skipped over a little bit. Before I even started -- I got there in August. I don't think we started ‘til later in the fall, September, but -- they put everybody into a room to --
Many were deficit in academics, and they put everybody in a room and had 'em start doing math 'cause that was the first class you had. And so, eight hours a day, everybody was doing math, but they -- they -- because I came from Kansas State University, I think, I'm not quite sure, they didn't put me in that room. They put me down in the mechanic shop.
And so, before I even started the -- the program. And I really enjoyed that, as well. 'Cause I didn't know anything about machine shop and I -- I was -- and the fellows taught me how to turn things down on a lathe. They taught me how to weld. They taught me to anneal different metals. I enjoyed that, because I'd taken material science at Kansas State and got to have -- To me, it was just a nice -- a big lab following my academics at the university. And so I enjoyed that very well.
But I never spent any time at all in the -- in the room where they put people who came in early and got 'em doing arithmetic problems in a room to get them ready for the math -- first math class. So, but anyway, it worked out. Academics was a breeze for me.
The operations was very interesting and very rigorous. And so, I can remember some times in the control room where 8 hours went by like 8 minutes. I did not take a break. We were so busy and they gave me so many problems that I really enjoyed it. I never complained and never said I liked it or never said, I didn't like it. I just -- I was too busy. I learned a tremendous amount at the control room, which later served me well at the SM-1A.
And then the I&C program was started after about 12 months of academic and operation training. Then you started the I&C program, which was the longest program and it was approximately another 12 months.
And so, we learned a lot in class. The particulars to nuclear I&C instrumentation. And we also had labs available or we -- we were tasked with problems in the lab and had to do things in the lab. So it was 2 years of excellent -- excellent training.
But anyway, that was pretty much my SM-1 experience. Then at the end of the SM-1 experience, I got orders to go to SM-1A.
Patience Stuart: Before we move to SM-1A, could you just define for the recording what I&C stands for?
BJ Foreman: Oh, I'm sorry. I meant to do that. That's an acronym for instrumentation and controls. It's a common term in our industry and not so common once you get out of the Patience Stuart: Sure. BJ Foreman: -- nuclear power industry.
Patience Stuart: Great. Thanks for doing that. Okay. Well, why don't you tell us about your -- your job once you got to SM-1A.
BJ Foreman: Well, the first thing I did that was -- put into operations, and we trained -- You had to train. You had to go out on the floor and draw every system, and you got tested for each system and quizzed. And then, once you got all the systems done, then you trained control operator controls and got familiar with them. And then, you got qualified all the way up through control room operator.
And then I went to the I&C shop to do maintenance. And later, we did a engineering design change with Fort Belvoir engineering, and participated in that, in depth. And then, came back to operations and qualified as shift supervisor and ran a shift before I left. That's pretty much our training phase.
Patience Stuart: It sounds extensive.
BJ Foreman: Yeah, I -- I could bore you to death or for somebody that'd be interested, we could go into it more in depth. I don't have all those documentat -- I didn't pull out all the documentation and details exactly what we went into, but it should be available.
Patience Stuart: Sure. BJ Foreman: Between people that's been there, I know one fellow -- one fellow put it out for a while. He worked for a international group (IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency) up in -- near Washington, DC for a while. And he had a lot of documentation for the SM-1 and put it out for a while. And I don't know if he's still around. Patience Stuart: Sure.
BJ Foreman: Like I corr -- That was about 20 years ago and I corresponded with him and we didn't -- There wasn't any -- any central group. We were all hoping that the SM-1 would become a museum and we could funnel all of our information to one central location where it would be kept forever. But apparently that didn't happen.
Patience Stuart: We do have a copy of the -- the training manual, too. So, that is something we have, but why don't we -- why don't we shift to Alaska and hear about your technical experiences at SM-1A.
BJ Foreman: Okay, well, that's what I'd like to start with first. 'Cause to me that's probably more what people in Alaska would like to hear. They already know what it's like to live in Alaska, and I can cover my personal experiences and impressions last, but the technical information is probably what they're more interested in.
So, we -- my whole family traveled to Alaska by car from Virginia. That's about -- approximately a 2-week trip. And with a wife and two kids and two dogs, that was an experience. The Alcan is 1,200 miles dirt road, except for some paved road around Whitehorse, Yukon.
But anyway, we -- we got there in August -- first of August in 1969. And we got some briefing -- some technical briefing as to where we were at. The plant was online, running smoothly.
And they had a 1964 earthquake in Anchorage that did affect some degree of Fort Belvoir -- or Fort Greely. I'm sorry, Fort Greely, Alaska, which was 350 miles approximately from Anchorage. But it did have some effect on the plant.
There was some concern about if it bothered -- if it affected the spent fuel pit. So, that was monitored and kept an eye on.
And I found this to be true that the 9-foot base in the containment building that housed the reactor components had actually unleveled itself. It was actually at a angle, a slight angle, where a ball would roll across the floor. And it wasn't steep and it wasn't really noticeable, but, yes, it was not a level floor. And so that apparently was the result of the 1964 Earthquake.
There was two retirees that worked at the plant and they retired, I believe from the Army, and came back as civilian workers in the plant. And they provided a lot of expertise. I think both of them were ex-mechanics. And one fellow gave us some stories of what happened in 1964. He was --
It was -- Actually, the plant was shut down during the earthquake and he was the turbine guy that was in charge of the turbine overhaul during an outage. They would take the turbine apart and do maintenance on the turbine for shutdown -- for the annual shutdowns.
And he said there was a crane that they used that was not connected to anything. It was hanging loose, and the crane started swinging and he thought that somebody was playing a joke on him. And so, he started yelling at his workers that, “Hey, knock it off. This isn't funny.” And the crane was swinging back and forth, and he was -- he didn't realize there was an earthquake, at first.
He was quite a fellow and he's no longer with us anymore. I like to go ahead and mention his name. He was a pioneer, I think, in his own right. Jack Henderson. And he lived for a period of time in Alaska. And I think he later moved to the Lower 48s for his final retirement.
But -- but anyway, that was turned over to us that, you know, we survived the earthquake and we were under the AEC guidelines then, and we got the okay to continue operation. And that's where we were at.
During the -- In 1968, the year before we got there, there was another shutdown and it was time to change the steam generators, one steam generator. And that was the first steam generator that was changed in a nuclear power plant, which is another historical event in nuclear power.
And so, the second, I believe, was in the Enterprise in '73 and then Surry Power Station in '78. But anyway, I just throw those numbers out there if somebody wanted to research it further.
But, there's a lot of claims in the nuclear power industry, but these are the first plants in -- in nuclear power plant history who actually should have the credit.
The SM-1A was the first steam generator change in a nuclear power plant that put electricity on the civilian grid. It was later -- the steam generator was later taken in, I think 1970, '71. It was later hauled down to -- to the Department of Energy Facility in Washington State.
Patience Stuart: Hanford?
BJ Foreman: Yeah. The -- the steam generator was a -- was a -- it's not expected, of course, and so the -- I remember that an Inconel sample was placed in line with the steam generator blowdown and we monitored that, as well. Now, to look at this piece of coupon, I guess they called it, and they -- it was -- it never affected it, but we had changed the chemistry of our -- of our feed water. And we went to an EDTA chemistry, which I understood utilized and -- to chelate the chlorides and scavenge the chlorides and oxygen.
Again, I'm not a chemist, I'm an I&C engineer. So, it's a little out of my line, but I did take a lot of chemistry as a -- in nuclear engineering curriculum. So, I can relate some to chemistry, but I don't claim to be the subject matter expert. So that's about as far as I want to go with explaining what was done with the chemistry, if somebody wanted to research that further.
But we never had any concerns at all with the chemistry or -- or damage to the steam generator. Of course, it was a brand new steam generator.
And then, during 1968, during that period, they also, at that plant, we were told, annealed the pressure vessel in place with nuclear heat, and it doubled the lifetime of the pressure vessel. It has recognized and approved by the Atomic Energy Commission.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not come into play until 1972. So we were under the inspection and surveillance of the Atomic Energy Commission, who'd come out ocass -- Periodically, they would come to our plant to inspect. We --
As an I&C person, we would also monitor our -- our neutron instrumentation wells on the outer part of the reactor for any leaks or water. And I remember there was some concern about that during an outage, when I was there. And we did not find any water. I think we had to change a detector that was getting weak. But, there was no water to my knowledge. Apart from -- there was condensation all throughout the inside of the containment. It was quite humid, but not -- not a leak. So anyway --
Patience Stuart: Could -- ?
BJ Foreman: One other thing that we were briefed at when we received -- when we came on site in 1969, was that there was some contamination outside of the plant in the dry creek bed. And it was marked off and signs were put up and a steel cable was -- was around it to prevent people from going in. And I never found that area. I looked for it one time. Other people did, they knew exactly where it was at.
And but, the decision was made that we couldn't do anything about it at the time. Apparently, we were not funded to clean up or have a company come in and do it, or have the Corps of Engineers do it. But it was well known, and to my knowledge was well published.
And then later on, when I -- when I left the military, I saw it on the Internet as if a big surprise. Well, it really wasn't a big surprise. It was well known and -- and plenty of people knew about the contamination, but it wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't migrating. And we were to keep an eye on it and somebody was going to monitor it. But there wasn't any funds to clean it up, which later I think they did clean it up. And that part should be on the Internet.
But, what I did not find on the Internet, that that was well known prior to whoever wanted to say that they found it. Well, it's -- it was well reported and well known before that, back in the '60s.
But anyway, but -- you know, that's out of my line. Again, I'm not a radiation technician. We just knew about it as an operations type information that, yeah, there was a contaminated creek bed and -- and the decision was let it sit for now until the funds became available or whatever was decided later.
But, that was about our -- about all the briefing that we got when we first got there. Aside from the weather conditions. We got there the first of August and we had snow flurries and we had Christmas songs on the radio. My wife didn't really want to go. She never really complained, she never complained once at all, but I don't think she really wanted to go to Alaska.
And so, that was quite an introduction to come into a state where in the middle of summertime, you got snow flurries and Christmas songs. And so, but anyway, I'll get into that on the second part. When I get into more personal impressions.
But we -- we -- we immediately commenced to learn the -- Just like the SM-1, we immediately commenced to start learning the plant as equipment operators. And were tasked to go system by system and draw for ourselves, every component, every valve, every piece of pipe of each and every system one by one.
And so, when we did that, we were tested and -- and qualified for each system and then eventually became qualified as a floor equipment operator.
And then the second qualification was control room operator. And we had to qualify as control operator. Learn all the controls and all the procedures involved with operating the plant. And that was within a 6-month period as I recall. And then, I was sent to the instrument shop for about a year.
But, during the operations phase, there was some uniqueness probably to that plant that I -- I haven't seen in other plants. Like, we actually took calorimetric readings at the turbine. At the turbine throttle valve location, we could actually measure the -- the -- the steam and we could -- we could calculate and figure out, you know, what the quality of the steam was.
And the steam was very good quality. In fact, it went off scale and it became super heat, and we were operating with two to three degrees super heat at the turbine.
And we also provided, not just electricity for the post and electricity for the surrounding community, civilian community, up to our maximum output. We also provided heating steam for the post, for all the buildings, for the military operations, and all the residences. It was approximately 500 people to my knowledge that lived there on post.
And the -- the heating steam to each one of the buildings came from our plant. We also provided steam to a laundry that I was involved in. And there was some concern about trying to monitor how much steam they -- how much they were using so they could be charged for it apparently. I'm not quite sure. I'm not in that accounting business, but as an I&C technician, I remember going out to the laundry and calibrating, the flow meter.
And the flow meter was a very classic ledoux bell meter. These are classic instruments that are many years old in their design. The tried and true pieces of equipment that probably never see again. You'll never see that again.
I was kind of amazed by -- by something that was -- that was invented many years ago. But it was used for calculating and recording how much flow that the laundry actually used.
We -- There was some uniqueness in the plant. I never worked operations again after that, but I can remember one of the systems was a water treatment system where we had to --
First step, we had to gather up all the water that the tanks would contain, because once we started regenerating the water treatment system, we were not making water. And so, the water is being used and started draining down.
And we not only provided water for our plant, we provided water for the plant adjacent to us, which was the backup plant for both the electricity provided by diesel generators and boilers that stayed hot all the time, 24/7, that were ran by civil service people. They were actually civilians who worked for the federal government.
And so, we provided their water, as well, in case they -- they needed to pick up the load, or we had to transfer the load to them, or --
I can never remember a time when it was ever overloaded. You always was able to provide our primary customer, which was Fort Greely, and then any excess we were able to provide for the civilians, which they really appreciated and paid us well.
Any -- any kind of expertise in Alaska back in the '60s was much in demand. If you were a welder, or a mechanic, or you made electricity, you -- you were very welcome, because it was very much needed.
And so, we -- we accommodated and we -- we made electricity, and we made steam. But uh -- And so -- I'm reading my notes here. I've wiped out one -- did one page, switched over to another one here. Patience Stuart: Sure.
BJ Foreman: What impressed me, I guess, during a outage, and I was in the control room then. And we had nuclear engineers come up from Fort Belvoir to help us on a refueling. The nuclear engineer -- They were qualified nuclear engineers. But we had to pull the control rods and -- and follow their directions what we needed to do.
And we did -- During an outage and you put new fuel in, you want to drop one rod at a time and calculate its rod worth. It's a common thing of all nuclear reactors, before you go critical is you want to find out how much rod worth each rod has.
And we did hot rod drops where the temperature, the reactor coolant, was near operating temperature. And then we did cold rod drops, which were much colder.
And it really impressed on me how much more reactivity was in the rod, was presented at the colder temperatures. It was just -- It was much higher rod worth when the water was colder. And that led me to my theory that, that was the main problem that the SL-1, back in the 1960s, which we talked about earlier with Kevin, that that water was -- If you dig into those records, at that time, that accident, the water was near freezing. 32 degrees is where its flash point. And that was the maximum that that rod worth would be at. So any slight movement had a tremendous amount more effect than it would at a higher temperatures.
But anyway, I'm going to get back to SM-1A. I just wanted to point that out. But, this is some of the things, these lessons learned, that served me well later. You know, I was able to pick up on later in my line of work.
The steam was, as I said, was used throughout the post. And they had a flow meter that you’ll probably never see again, unless it's in the Smithsonian.
The -- But what impressed me -- I want to impress how safe we operated. Is -- they don't really do this today to my knowledge. I really haven't seen it in the commercial plants. But, we had a main steam line that was tapped off to be used for -- for the post. For one of them I think we had a separate line that was used for -- used for the post or for the laundry.
But it had a pressure reducing valve to drop the pressure down to where it wasn't a high pressure steam. And just before that valve was a small pinhole leak, and a small amount of steam was coming out of -- out of the pipe.
And the plant superintendent was a NCO, noncommissioned officer. But he immediately had us shut down the plant. And so -- to repair that leak. And it was just a small leak. But he was -- he was very cautious.
And we never had any accident in the plant when I was there. There was nobody got hurt. Nobody got -- fell down. Nobody broke a leg while they were in the plant.
And so, that really impressed me how safe we operated. That any -- any kind of challenge that was unusual, it led to immediate shut down, where we -- Because we had a plant right next to us run by the civilians. They could take our electrical load and could take our steam load, if need be.
Plants -- Later -- I ran into plants later that they were not necessarily using super heat, but there was not -- wasn't as much concern about a steam leak. A steam leak is, just avoid it. And avoid the area until we can get to the shutdown, period. It wasn't a cause for immediate shutdown.
We did have one fellow break his leg that volunteered for sking lessons. There was a Arctic test center. It was located at Fort Greely, so he volunteered to go with the infantry people to -- to go out in the middle of wintertime and sleep outside and learn how to ski. He was pretty much an outdoorsman.
I think he ended up breaking his leg because of the skiing accident. 'Cause they -- they not only learned how to ski on the bunny slopes, they actually could get out into more challenging areas. And a little bit too much too fast, especially if you're not an infantryman.
We were very technical people, but we were not your combat type orientated people. And so -- But he was. He wanted to get that adventure, get that experience.
And so, I don't know all the particulars, but that was the only one that I could think of that ever happened, which was not in the plant.
We had a General Electric turbine that sync speed, ran at 5,700 rpm. We had a Westinghouse generator, and towards the end of my tour, following operations phase, instrument I&C shop maintenance phase, and refueling outages, rod drops, and we had an engineering change design that we did.
At the end of that, and I was -- gave notice that I would like to leave the military. They gave me the Army Commendation Medal out of the clear blue sky for my work in -- with the I&C design change that we did. And I'll talk about that in a minute. Didn't mean to skip over it, but I just follow my notes here in order and this was July of 1971.
I was getting ready to leave, and we were -- we were shut down, getting ready to come back online and we found out that the brushes in the main generator needed to be fixed.
And people were turning over. People came there just before I did, their 2 years was up and they went back to the United States, the Continental United States. And so we didn't have the leaders that we had before. We didn't have the electrical supervisor, we didn't have the maintenance supervisor, mechanical supervisor, and we didn't even have -- A lot of the leaders had already cycled -- recycled back and a lot of new people came in.
And the -- the -- the sarg -- the NCO at the time had changed over, and -- and he -- it was in the evening and there wasn't a whole lot of people there, but we -- we needed to get back online. And we found that the generator brushes needed to be changed.
And so, he grabbed me and he says, "You're in charge of the maintenance department?" And I say, "No, I'm just -- I'm just a fellow that's getting out of the Army.” "No, you're in charge of the maintenance department. You're the leading person here. You're the leading ranking person right now on shift. And we got people here, and we need this generator exciter brushes changed." Well, I'm an I&C control person, control technician, that's my expertise. I never trained for high powered electrical equipment, like high voltage motors and high voltage breakers and main generators. "And so I don't have the training, and I don't feel qualified, but you're in charge.”
And so, I -- this young fellow that came in, had just recently came in, his name was John Sklaney. He's not with us anymore. He impressed me as an electrician and knew his stuff. And unbeknown to me at the time, he had previously, in his civilian life, been a machinist.
I said, "John, I really need some help, and this is out of my expertise. Is to -- We got to get these main generator excitor brushes changed." He says, "You know -- " He says, "I can do it." He says, "Get the operators to run the turbine at 1,000 rpm and constant, and we got to polish the -- polish down the existing shaft."
He said, "I got to check with one of the mechanics how to uncouple something on it." And so he ran and did that. Came back, and we -- we -- we got the shaft polished up and John got the new exciter brushes on there very satisfactorily.
And so, that was -- You know, throughout life you got somebody that is available in your life to -- to save your bacon. And I often thought about that. And I ran in to John before he passed away, and he became a -- he stayed in the military and made it a career. And he became a warrant officer and ended up in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
And we had a convention down there and I ran into him accidentally and he filled me in. But John -- I didn't want to get away from technical, but John -- John was an outdoorsman and he did a lot of hunting, and he shot a lot of wild game while he was in Alaska. And he had these different heads of different animals in his house mounted on the walls.
But he was exactly what the doctor needed, he was at the right time and the right place to provide -- And somehow these people, like John Sklaney, appeared at the right time and had the right expertise, and it was the right answer to get the jobs done on time.
Didn't mean to jump ahead. But I wanted to also talk about the project that I worked on. And that was on or about June 1970 with the NUS company, I think they're called, that's an acronym for Nuclear Utility Service. I think they're still around. They were 20 years ago.
But they came out with a design and the number on it was 504. And that design was to create the capability for nuclear power plants to test the instrumentation that tripped the reactor online. You could test it every month online to ensure reliability that this equipment will work whenever it's supposed to, and prove it every month.
And you could -- you could -- We was able to create two trains of instrumentation that had reactor trips. And we could take one train out at a time and periodically test it, then put it back in service, switch over -- switch that train over to operate, continue operating, and take the other train out of service and test it. And then switch it back to have a one out of two coincidences. You only needed one train to trip.
Later on, in the commercial plants that evolved to two out of three coincidences, and three out of four coincidences. And so it evolved into more design changes. But that was the first nuclear power plant that had -- that allowed for periodic testing at power of reactor instrumentation.
I remem -- let me queue my notes here. It -- it was even more extensive than what we got today. Today, due to regulatory commission, it was actually just a few years later, the 1970's when we built a lot of the commercials. Allow for periodic testing for downstream of the sensors. You don't have to test at the sensor level. And you -- you can -- And you're allowed to calibrate, test your sensors during refueling outages.
Well, this design at the SM-1A actually tested at the sensor level when the sensors were located outside the containment, and the tubing and piping penetrated through the container wall and through the pressure transmitters. To protect the -- for any accidental leakage, they had excess flow check valves. It was kind of new on the market, I believe.
And they worked very well. They were just a ball valve that only moved when there was a flow. So if there was any flow in the tubing or piping, then it would check itself and not flow anymore. And was able to apply pressure to the sensor that provided reactor trip protection.
In -- in -- in order to do that, we had to bring in bottles of air. And bottles of air got depleted because -- quickly, because the pressure trips were upwards close to the value of the -- of the tanks. You could get a 3,000 psi bottle, or you could get a 6,000 psi bottle. And -- But the local fire department out there on base, they only had the capability to fill my tanks to 3,000 psi, and that's what I did. And we had to purchase and change out 6,000 pound bottles whenever we needed that pressure.
But I noticed, technical side, that in the middle of wintertime I would take my tanks down to the fire department and they would charge up to 3,000 or 3,100 psi, and the temperatures were -- dropped down to 65 below zero, even in the room where we tested was -- was very cold. And -- and the pressure, without even using the tank, the pressure would drop.
So, if you fill up the tank at 3,000 psi at 70 degrees you could expect it to drop down to 2,700 psi in sub -- below zero weather. And that was kind of a impression on me that you had to account for that.
But, I -- during these design changes, we did a lot of tubing work, a lot of piping work, valving work. And that served me well later on in the commercial field, the maintenance field of how to design properly and apply the right specifications to the right system.
Another thing that impressed me in operations was we had to -- eventually we had to process our liquid waste. We didn't really have -- We had large tanks in the basement that we used to -- to send our liquid waste and accumulate, but we didn't have a processor to process liquid waste and reduce it down in volume.
And so we got in a -- a skid while I was there and mounted the skid. I think Kevin, you asked about this skid. It was kind of a neat skid. It was self-contained -- almost a completely self-contained system where all we had to add was the steam line to it, and the discharge line for the water that got demineralized.
And this skid boiled the liquid waste, and evaporated it, and it condensed in an overhead condenser into fairly clean water, within limits to discharge. And any solids got precipitated out in a 55-gallon drum, which once it got close to its maximum discharge shipping radiation level, then we bottled it up, and canned it up, and shipped it out. And it worked very well. I was kind of impressed with that small system. It -- it -- it was -- was able to reduce our liquid waste inventory nicely.
See, I've got something -- something else here. A couple more technical things then I'll switch to more personal. But when I was on shift and I had a shift supervisor that was in charge of me, he taught me to stay busy. He taught me -- it was maybe four or five crews, depending on how many people we had rotating shifts 24/7.
But he taught me how to stay on top of everything that you looked at. When the tank levels started getting depleted, go ahead and top them off and fill them up, back up to their normal levels. Don't let them go all the way down to their alarm limit.
And -- and -- and take care of things before they're required to. That was kind of a new philosophy in that time. And later on, in the commercial field, it got adopted. And the philosophy later on became, you really need to stay on top of all of your -- all of your equipment on an operating shift, and keep them at optimum operating levels and temperatures and flows. And don't let them degrade.
Bring them back to operating levels, and -- because if you have something happen that needed your attention, then your attention -- you could put all of your efforts into that, and -- and you would not be pulled away from a tank that required you to stop everything you're doing and fill it.
And so if you kept a tank at an operating level, instead of letting it drift downwards into its low level alarm, then that's one less concern you would have when things needed your attention that were more important. And -- and that served me well. I thought that was very commendable.
And that was his philosophy, and he passed it on to me. His name was Lester McNeil, he's no longer with us either, but he stayed -- he stayed the rest of his life in Alaska. Had a family there.
The other thing I want to talk ab -- The last thing I want to talk about on the technical field is, during refueling, what -- how it impressed me -- I wasn't directly involved with -- with fuel movement. I was more of a support area.
The -- the NCO in charge put me into the maintenance mode where I would support them. Anything they needed for communications and for anything else that came up. And I was able to get around and see more rather than have to stay in one spot, like many had to.
I've served the inspector. One fellow was charged with inspecting the new fuel, and the new fuel was in a locked room. And he -- he would take out one fuel assembly at a time and put it under ultraviolet light, and -- and -- and do a last minute inspection before it went into the reactor with cotton gloves.
But he could handle the new fuel with his hands. It was not radiated yet, and even though it had -- it was highly enriched Uranium 235 for -- for the military reactors.
He was a -- You were able to safely handle it as long as it wasn’t radiated yet.
Later on, that served me well when I had to work in commercial plants with plants before they -- while they were being built and before they were radiated. And I knew where the safety concerns were and where they were not to be a concern. Not everybody knew that, and that kind of surprised me.
But the experience paid off -- the military experience paid off well in the commercial area. We built some -- some very good plants in -- in the commercial area because of that.
The last thing I want to talk about I guess, was the volume control tank. While we were operating, it did increase its -- it's radiation level, and so we could -- we could accommodate that with our rules and regulations inside the plant.
But outside the plant we're limited to 100 mr per year at the fence, the security fence where the public starts.
And so, the levels kept increasing where they would challenge that -- that reading. So we took 55-gallon drums and stacked them up on the outside along the wall and filled them with water to moderate the gamma rays coming from the volume control tank. And still radiation levels kept going up.
And so, in the middle of wintertime it was necessary to move the fence. Fortunately, we had Corps of Engineers from Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks come down and help us with their equipment.
And they could bore holes into the solid ground at 60 below zero weather and put in new posts and move the fence out for us. So we really didn't have that work on our hands to do first-hand.
But that's how we solved the problem with -- with keeping the limits, the public limits down within its range.
Well, that -- that about wraps up all the technical things that I had. I've got some more personal things that I could talk about if that's desired. How -- What my impressions were of -- of Alaska.
Patience Stuart: Sure. Kevin, do you have any technical questions for BJ?
Kevin Taylor: No, no, I don't. I think that was a very good run down of -- of your experience, BJ. I really appreciate it and I think it's a very valuable to the -- to keep that and to record that.
Patience Stuart: It's a very technical expertise that you brought to the plant, too, and, yeah, thank you for sharing. Please, we have some time, go ahead and tell us about some of your personal experiences at Fort Greely in Alaska.
BJ Foreman: Yeah, this is preaching to the choir, if Alaskan people are listening, 'cause they know what Alaska's about more so than I do. But we -- we had -- Fort Greely is a -- was actually built during World War II, I understand, when they put the Alcan Highway through and it was for the Arctic test center to train combat soldiers to provide defense for the United States in Arctic conditions.
And Fort Greely definitely had 'em. Even though it was in the southern part of Alaska, we got the Siberian winds from Siberia. And so, it was, in the 60's, not so much now, 'cause I do check the temperatures occasionally.
But the temperatures, the 2 years I was there during the wintertime, got down to 65 below zero dry bulb. And even more so with the windchill, 'cause the wind could go as high as 50 miles an hour. And so that could bring the windchill down even further.
I had two children, two small children. One was ready to start kindergarten. And I'm trying to remember. The school was about three blocks away, as I recall. You could walk -- During the good weather you could walk to the school and it'd be about three blocks from our townhouse.
There was six townhouses, as I recall, for each building. And then there was three buildings in a U-shape, and then across -- immediately across the road was another three buildings. Then there was four rows of that. So that was approximately 144 townhouses, at least.
So, approxim -- we had approximately a community of 500 people to give you an idea of our residency there at Fort Greely. It was quite comfortable once you got in the townhouse. But when we got there in August, everybody in the world seems to come in at the same time. Which --
The best time to move around in the military, if you've got children, is the summertime so they don't have to be interrupted in their school in the winter months. And so there was a lot of movement in the summer time.
And there was no housing. So, we -- fortunately we -- I reported into the -- to the plant and the NCO had assigned people who were already there were your mentors. You had -- Everyone who was assigned a mentor to help you, anything you needed. And so immediately all the housing was taken up on the post, and all the housing was taken up in Delta Junction, which was the small town outside of the post.
So what do you do? Well, I was given -- once again, I think God gives these people in front of you at certain times of your life. And we were introduced to our mentor. It was a couple about the same age we were. It was --
I'd like to mention their names. He's no longer with us, again is Forest Balding and his wife was Rose Balding. And they were ex-teachers before they came into the Army. He was a chemist, I believe, or a health physicist. They worked in the same lab.
I don't think he ever went on shift -- operating shift there at SM-1A. But they were ex-teachers from Arkansas. Just down home folks, and they took us in like missionaries.
And we got to sleep on couches and foams, or whatever for the first night or so to get by until something opened up for us. And so, they got to know our children and our children got to know their children. So, that was kind of nice.
It was -- it was kind of like, hey, we're out here in the remote area of Alaska and we all got to survive and help each other. I really appreciated those folks. I lost track of 'em, other than I found out that Forest is no longer with us.
And six months later, when my daughter was going to school -- In the winter months, it gets very dark there. You get practically no sunlight at all through the winter months. You're north of the Arctic Circle, it's 6 months of daylight and 6 months of darkness.
But anyway, the bus will come up right to your doorstep and when you have ice fog you can't really see. And -- and so it's dark and you might be able to see a faint light of the bus lights. And you can hear very well. It's deadly quiet, but you can't hardly see your hand in front of your face.
And so, my wife would walk the kindergartner daughter to the bus, into the bus, make sure she got on. And then later in the afternoon it might have lightened up a little bit, depending on the time of year.
But anyway, 6 months later my daughter got off at the wrong house. And even though it's only two or three blocks, if you can't see the hand in front of your face and you're just a little kid in kindergarten, you don't even know your way around, and all the houses looked the same, you're in trouble. And it’s -- we're talking, as cold as 25 degrees below zero before they shut the school down.
So, if it's 20 degrees below zero and you're off -- you got off the bus at the wrong house, and all the houses look the same, you're confused. You don't know where to go. It's just a very dangerous situation.
And Rose Balding happened to recognize my daughter. So she took my daughter into her house and called my wife. And that's -- those are things you never forget. That was very personal to me. To help my family out like that.
And those are the type of people that we ran into in Alaska. Those were the type people that we worked with in Alaska. Everybody helped each other and gave each other advice of what they knew, whatever they could provide -- provided for others.
We were not used to snow in August. It's -- but that was just a light snow. It was snowflakes. And -- and weather changes rapidly in Alaska. During the summertime, it's -- it could be as hot as 75 to 80 degrees. You don't get very many days like that, but it does warm up and everything grows around the clock during the summertime, very rapid growth. Wintertime is deadly quiet. And a very different scenario during -- during the wintertime.
But during the 2 years, we -- we stayed busy. My wife stayed very busy. I worked at the nuclear power plant on shift work. Very non-military atmosphere. We were more technical plant people trying to run -- operate properly and provide the service and -- and be safe.
In fact, often times I was given a jumpsuit, and you could change out of your uniform into a jumpsuit. You didn't even have to wear the uniform. That was to keep from getting oil, or staining your uniform.
And that was an experience. You don't normally run into that in -- in the military.
But, anyway, we -- we took -- we stayed very busy. We -- I worked also at a TV station that was on post. Ran the military TV station that broadcast on one channel. It was channel six. And also worked at a TV repair shop on the old analog TVs that was in need. Everybody needed some TV repair work.
Any expertise you had in Alaska, during that period of time, was very welcome. Anything that you could do that was your -- your scope, your talent, or your skill, was very much appreciated.
So, one of the sargeants started a TV repair shop, and I worked for him to get the experience of electronic bench work repair. And I worked in the TV broadcasting station to learn how they did things there. I worked --
At the time, I was also trying to prepare myself for civilian license of -- I wanted to be marketable. And I also studied for and took my FCC test.
So we had to make a trip to Anchorage, Alaska for that, for the test. I mean, we made -- And that was about 350 miles we had to --
We also made several trips to Fairbanks, which is about 100 miles away. Fairbanks provided a lot of entertainment. They had blanket toss, they had the gold panning, they had a lot of sights to see in Fairbanks. They were a developing city.
We also made a trip to Valdez before the pipeline was installed. The pipes were there, they were stacked up. In 1970, 1971. But they were not installed yet. The permits were not approved yet. And so, the large 48-inch pipes were stored and ready to go.
And you could -- you could rent trailers in a trailer park down there. So military could line up and rent some trailers to go fishing. So I took the whole family down there, but they -- they pretty much stayed in the trailer. They didn't really want to venture out for much, 'cause this was, at the time was wilderness.
And so I wanted to investigate. The silver salmon were running then. And the -- these salmon work their way back upstream and fight the -- the flow of the water in order to spawn further upstream. And so I wanted to see that and maybe do some fishing. So I took some fishing tackle, and the wife didn't want to go with me, so --
Oh, I found the stream, and I started fishing, and I felt like something was behind me. And I looked around and it was at least a 6-foot black bear behind me. Standing up. This isn't cool, because I didn't have a weapon on me. All I had was a fishing pole.
And so, my instincts kicked in, and the bear was between me and the car. And I'm by myself. And so I started wading directly into the water, and then started working my way upstream.
And the bear continued to sit on his hind legs upright, and turned his head and watched me. This isn't a good feeling. But the bear didn't move.
And so I worked my way a ways upstream and got some distance away from the bear. And then I started coming back inland and circling around, and worked my way back to the car.
And the bear apparently was hungry, fortunately, and I got out of his -- his -- I got away from his dinner. He could have all the salmon he wanted and I got to my car.
That was another experience I don't think I'll forget. You know, looking back on it, I wish I had a cell phone like we have today and could take some pictures. I don't know if people would believe me. But it was at least a 6-foot black bear. But I --
Kevin Taylor: Did you have any -- BJ Foreman: Yeah. Kevin Taylor: I'm going to interrupt you there real quick just ask you, what did your wife say when you got home and you told her -- or back to the campsite and you told her about the bear? Or did you -- did you keep that from her for a little while so she would remain comfortable where she was?
BJ Foreman: I don't recall. Knowing her, she probably said, “Well that's why I didn't go with you.”
But anyway, but yeah, I -- You know, these -- these things that are some experiences that -- I'm not an outdoorsman, and so I didn't ever expect to experience these type things. I don't really want to put myself into that situation.
But we -- we saw a lot of wild game. We saw -- One time I was driving back to the post with my family and we were driving on asphalt, in a heavily wooded area around curves. And during the summertime, windows down, and you could hear, "Clop, clop, clop, clop, clop." It was like horses on pavement.
And so we, carefully, slowly came around the curve and there's a large moose clopping down the highway. He kind of looked at me like, "What are you doing on my road?"
But we had buffalo herds that periodically came through the area close to the -- close to the post. And when they would come up on the post, the military police would go out and scare them off by clapping sticks together, making noise.
But anyway, my daughter claims that the buffalo actually came up on the -- on the grounds. On the school area where she was walking home one time. I don't know if that's a fact, because I never saw the buffalo on site.
But the buffalo did. According to Les McNeal, it did come on site one time. He had to pull a night shift with the post commander's office. We had to provide --
Periodically, we had to provide people to -- to man the post. I think I did it one time out of 2 years, where you had to report to the post for the night shift, and stay there to man the phones and to notify people whenever the General or the Colonel left or came in. And that was about the only thing. You just maintained communications to the pertinent leaders throughout the post.
And he was telling me one time -- I'm getting this second hand. But he was saying one time that he stepped outside, 'cause there was somebody else in the -- in the building. It was him and one other person in this building, and he stepped outside and the door locked behind him, and there was a buffalo.
And the buffalo took out after him. And the buffalo could outrun him, but when he turned a corner -- He would run around the building, and whenever he turned a corner, the buffalo could not turn as fast as he could.
And so, then he could outrun the buffalo and get ahead of the buffalo. But then on the long stretch of wall that he had to run, the buffalo started catching up with him again.
So meanwhile, he said he was banging on the windows trying to get the other fellow to open up. It's a story that people laugh about, but I've always believed it was true. He was a very truthful man that I had no cause to doubt his stories.
And so, yeah, the buffalos were there, and when they separated from the herd they would be individuals.
But I did remember one time driving down the highway and the -- the trees were a soft wood. I'm trying to remember what they were. I've gotta watch some Alaska shows and verify this type of tree. But they were a soft wood.
And I was driving along and I saw -- it looked like all the trees were mashed down. It was a heavily wooded area and all the trees were mashed down, like tanks went through there But it wasn't any tank trails where the tank went through.
It was on both sides of the road. It came in from one side of the road and crossed over and went on the other side road.
Then I realized it had to be the buffalo. Mashed down the trees. Made their own trail through the woods. They might have stampeded or something, otherwise they would try to go around the tree. But if they stampede, they could easily take out the trees.
But I didn't see that first-hand. But that was my theory that buffalos might have stampeded and mashed trees down like they were sticks. So that they -- They were very powerful animals. So is a moose. They were very powerful animals.
I could tell you some stories that's in the Fairbanks News-Miner that somebody could go back and research the Fairbanks News-Miner, maybe News-Miner. That was actually in the paper during that period of time.
A couple things that really impressed me was -- Oh, one of them, during the wintertime, this moose could get into the permafrost or tundra and -- and they couldn't find support for their legs to get out of it, especially in deep snow. Some snow drifts could be several feet high.
And so they would get -- the whole herd would get bogged down and couldn't get out of an area, a valley or something, when the snow drifts came in and starve to death.
And so, on the front page of that Fairbanks News-Miner was a woman in her backyard in Fairbanks feeding pancakes to a moose. And she said, "He eats 15 pancakes a day." So she'd cook him pancakes and hand feeding it to the moose.
And so there was some uproar as to why the Alaska Fish and Game was not feeding -- dropping hay from helicopters -- to drop hay on the herds so that they could survive.
And the caption -- and then I read through the article, as I recall, the Fish and Game claims that they would not eat the hay. Well, if they would eat the pancakes, I don't know why they wouldn't eat the hay. It's just puzzling to me.
Another thing about the Fairbanks News-Miner that can be researched and documented, it's already documented, was that the Inuits, or the natives that became citizens in the 1950's, at least the babies became -- the newborns became citizens when Alaska became a state.
They -- they lived in remote areas and their food source was caribou. And so they would leave during the summer and -- and go after the caribou herds and get their meat and -- and -- and fur and such, and do their -- do their hunting during the hunting season to prepare for the winters.
And they would go back to their home base, which was actually a -- a wood-built houses, and ordered the oil for heating to be delivered before winter. And they actually had it -- an airfield where airplanes could bring in the oil, and -- and they're expecting oil delivery.
Well, a blizzard hit, as Alaska -- the weather changes rapidly. A blizzard hit before the oil could get delivered and didn't let up, and snow drifts and such blocked off the airfield and their bulldozer. They had a bulldozer, but the bulldozer didn't work.
The radios worked. They could call out their two-way radios, but the bulldozer didn't work to clear the airfield so that the regular planes could not land. So it pretty much had to be hauled in by helicopter, which the military had. The U.S. military had the helicopters who -- it was actually determined that it was the Air Force's responsibility.
And so -- so reading the -- reading the article -- And they said that it was -- they were so desperate that they were all gathering in one house and tearing the wood off of the other houses to burn so they could have heat to survive the winter. And they still didn't have enough oil.
They were desperate because they were going to run out of fuel by burning up pieces out of the houses and furniture in order to stay alive.
And the -- and the Air Force said they could not respond because they had to wait for orders from the Pentagon. The Canadian Air Force stepped in and flew the oil that they had purchased for their winter over to the -- to their home base.
So that always impressed me how the Canadians stepped in when our own military was too slow to accommodate, apparently. That always bothered me.
Maybe that's not politically correct, but that -- that should not have happened. And hopefully those type things don't happen now or in the future.
That there are better response times, or better emergency procedures are in place.
But, you know, I'm just a specialist E6 in a nuclear power plant in Fort Greely, Alaska. You know, you're limited to what you can do at the time. But at least I can explain it now that those type things did happen.
But anyway, I wanted to explain about my family trips. And my wife stayed busy as well. She was a Sunday school teacher in church there. And she -- I was on shift, so I didn't make church very often.
But the -- the -- we're -- she also was -- got involved with the cub scouts.
Since the boy scouts at the time were required to have men, she couldn't qualify. So I helped her with the cub scouts, and we got literature and what games and what crafts to do. My wife's big on crafts.
And so, we -- we often had meetings in our basement where we could do things and get things. They'll make crafts and stuff for the scouts and got to know the different families. My wife also babysitted for people, as well.
So she got to know the people more so than I did. I was pretty much restricted to people at the plant, that’s about the only people that I knew other --
We were kind of our own fraternity. We still have conventions every 2 years. However, our -- our -- our numbers are dwindling. This is many years later. At least half of us are gone.
So, Fort Belvoir, Virginia had all the land-based military plants involved. And so we also had the Navy and the Air Force people who were -- who were assigned to their -- to maintain their nuclear power plants on land. Navy had one and Air Force had one at the time.
So what we've done in recent years, is for our conventions we've merged together with the Navy guys. Like we have one just about every year. Predominantly -- Prior to that, the Navy had their own, pretty much all of them, even though both lists are invited to either one.
We just don't know as many Navy people as we do Army people. And so, that's why I feel a little more at ease trying to throw out some names here of people that I worked with in the Army. I've known them for a much longer time.
But, another thing that we did one time was -- on the way to Fairbanks you crossed several bridges. One of them was the Tok River, I believe, and some other rivers. But one time, we -- with kids you don't want to drive very far. You want to pull off and let them and the dogs exercise, if you got dogs with you.
And so, we pulled off in the river bank, and walking up and down the river bank. It was an early spring. And there's all these different colored rocks were up on shore. And some of them were gold, and mica, and silver and jade.
So we picked up boxes and boxes of rocks and got a -- a tumbler. And got involved with the lapidary hobby of polishing rocks where you put the rocks into this cylinder, and the electric motor drives it for a couple days and nights, 48 hours straight. And the -- the rocks come out sparking and different colors.
I was very interested in the different minerals that they had there. And I went to -- one time in Fairbanks -- I wasn't sure what I had, so I purchased some different rocks that they're mounted in plastic. It's just a small piece of a rock, so you could tell the difference between real gold and fool’s gold, or real jade or silver or mica.
Very interesting to a person who's taken material science. We had one mountain that was south of Delta Junction called Rainbow Mountain. We drove by it a few times, and the whole mountain -- When that sun hits it in the afternoon, it's many different colors. So, it got its name.
One of the -- The main reason we had a nuclear power plant at Fort Greely was -- initially a nuclear -- the Army Nuclear Power Program was to support a missile program. I'm trying to recall off the top of my head. I believe it was the Nike Missile Sites. And then it was -- before the plants were built, that was changed to support the distant early warning system.
And so, that's what we did in Alaska. We supported a radar site that was approximately 40 miles south of Fort Greely. We drove by it occasionally.
One time -- when we came back from Anchorage that one time, it was in the summertime and it was still daylight, even at 10, 11 o’clock at night. We're getting close to home. So you got two kids that's ready for bed.
And I came up on a valley, a flat valley, and I -- and I saw snowshoe rabbits. They were maybe five or six abreast. As far as the eye could see from one side, and as far as the eye could see on the other side. The rabbits, snowshoe rabbits, white, large snowshoe rabbits moving an inch at a time.
They were migrating across this valley. But they were -- They had to be miles long. I couldn't tell how long they were, but easily over a mile, 'Cause I could see --
And so, what do I do? It's late at night, I've got a wife and two kids, I got dogs that need to be fed, I got to get back home.
And the rabbits, you know, they never saw a person. You can walk up to a rabbit in Alaska during the '60s, they just look at you. I mean, they've never seen a human before. They have no fear of a human, 'cause they cannot identify. You're not threatening to them.
And so, I couldn't get the rabbits to do anything. They were locked in lock step. They were to follow with the rabbit in front of them, and they're not going to move out of your way.
So, I hope I'm not censored for this, or arrested, but I put it in gear and I drove over the rabbits. And to this day, the wife doesn't let me forget that. She said, "You drove over the rabbits. You killed those rabbits."
Looking back I don't see how I had any choice because I couldn't get the -- couldn't move the rabbits. I had to -- I had to - I could not wait for another day for the rabbits to go by. I couldn't stay in the car and expect my family to stay there all night.
But anyway, we -- we killed some rabbits. We drove -- I drove over the rabbits. And so, they just would not get out of the way, no matter how slow -- how -- how much noise you made, or how much -- how slow you went. They didn't -- the did not get it. They were not going to move. But anyway, that's Alaska.
And I've seen worse, but I figured, well, that's -- it's a circle of life. In ecology. The one plant or one animal is there for another's food source for another plant or animal, and it's a full circle.
And so, I figured, well, there's going to be a need for -- for this food source from another animal. So buzzards, or birds are prevalent and it will serve its purpose. But -- but, that's me.
I'm not -- I was born and raised on the farm, and we -- we had to kill -- I had to kill chickens myself, and I observed the killing of pigs. And our cows, we -- were too much for us. We took those into the -- into the slaughterhouse and let them do the -- cut up the meat and such.
But, I was used to -- to required butchering of livestock in order to -- to have a food source. But, you know, my wife never let me forget that. So that that's kind of a family joke that --
It humbles me to this day that I did something I didn't want to do, but you had to make a decision and do it.
Patience Stuart: What an interesting sight though, to see that migration. Yeah, go ahead, Kevin.
Kevin Taylor: I was just going to tell BJ that I apologize, but I've got to drop off the call. But it certainly was good to -- to hear his stories. Again, I certainly appreciate the -- the information and sharing with the historians back on -- on SM-1. I enjoyed speaking with you back then, and -- and hearing these stories, as well. But I apologize for having to drop off I do have another meeting I have to get to. So Patience, thank you. And I'm sure you'll wrap this up.
Patience Stuart: Sure. Kevin Taylor: Thanks a lot, BJ, I appreciate it. Patience Stuart: Thanks, Kevin.
BJ Foreman: You got 99 percent of it. I'm just about -- I think that's about it.
Kevin Taylor: Thank you, sir. Have a great day.
BJ Foreman: Thanks for listening. Patience Stuart: Sure.
BJ Foreman: But anyway, yeah, I wish I could -- I didn't do a dry run on this, so this is all kind of cold. I'm just trying to jot down a few notes from my memory.
One other thing I wanted to -- personal note, I wanted to point out that we weren't used to is, we had two dogs. We kept them in the basement most of the time because of the harsh winters.
And then, summertime we were required to have a chain outside. But the school children would tease the dogs if they walked by. Knowing they were on a chain, I guess.
So most of the time we kept our dogs inside. And then, we would take 'em out for a walk, kind of run, in the middle of the night. And they normally came back.
But one time, one of the dogs did not come back. It might not have been able to find his way back because of all the houses looked the same. You had 144 -- at least 144 townhouses. And so, we thought we lost the dog.
And then a couple days later the dog showed up, and it had porcupine quills all up and down. All over the dog. We had to pull out these porcupine quills out of the dog. But the dog never ran away again.
I'm looking through my notes. I think I've covered just about everything. That's about all the personal things that I had happen to me when we were in Alaska.
Patience Stuart: It sounds like it was a -- it was a very interesting couple of years up there. And -- and definitely an adventure.
BJ Foreman: Yeah. We -- we had -- We were at the base of the Denali National Park. When we'd look out the kitchen window we could see three mountains, Deborah, Hess, and Hayes. And even during the summertime, you could see the snow-capped mountains.
It was a very pretty sight. Very pretty during the summertime. Very harsh winters.
The winters were extremely hard and I never understood cabin fever until I -- I could -- I was there and I could understand why a person could get cabin fever.
But my wife stayed very busy with church, and cub scouts, and crafts. And worked with different people throughout the post. And she knew a lot more people than I did. She got around, babysat for people.
And so, it was a -- it was an interesting trip. I don't know if I want to live there, but I wouldn't mind visiting during the summer. It was very pretty and warm.
I'm a warm bodied animal. I don't really enjoy cold weather. I don't mind a month or two, but 9 months -- 8 or 9 months of darkness is not for me. It's like there's 6 months of darkness. It's not -- it's not for me.
I stayed busy. I was busy all the time, too, which now I'm not. Now I'm more semi-retired so I've, you know, I've got more time on my hands. I don't have as much energy as I used to have, but I don't need to work long hours like I did.
I felt like I had to work long hours and provide for my family, which I guess every man -- every family man is under that feeling that you've got to provide for your families, are one of the most important things you've got to do.
But there's uh -- Well, one thing in my life that I've always wanted was a full life. I wanted adventure, I wanted the family, I wanted the education, I wanted the military experience. And I pretty much got it. God's been good to me.
And I've traveled. I lived in Southeast Asia, I lived in Europe, I've traveled in the Middle East. I've lived in Alaska, I've lived in Florida, I've lived California, I lived in Georgia.
I've traveled throughout the United States and traveled several other continents and lived there, whereas I had -- that was my address for a number of years.
And so, I've -- I've -- I've fulfilled pretty much what I've done in my life. It -- it goes very quickly. It goes much quicker than what you realize, because, at the time, you think you got all the time in the world, but then when you leave that area, or you leave that place, you realize you'll never have this experience again.
You'll never see these -- some of these people again. You'll never be able to interface with the people again, or see the area again.
I didn't talk about the northern lights. We did go out and see the northern lights. My wife wanted me to see it. And she was real excited about it. We didn't -- I didn't see different colors other than the blue green. I did see the blue green lights and it did move around.
And then I also wanted to test out the -- what I heard about taking a glass of water and pouring it at waist level in the winter time. And it was 60 degrees below zero, 65 degrees below zero.
I went outside and I got a glass of water and walked outside with it and poured the water waist high. And by the time the water hit the sidewalk, it was shattering into ice. So, that's true. That was -- that was a true statement. I did that first-hand.
And yes, they do have northern lights up there during certain periods of time, certain periods of the year. It's not predictable, as far as I know. You can't really -- you can't really predict, okay, tonight we're going to have some northern lights. You just know it's that time and the conditions are right, and you have to periodically check and see if the northern lights are appearing. And sometimes they will and sometimes they won't.
But anyway, yeah, it was an experience. I kind of enjoyed the experience, enjoyed the time there. But it's not an area I want to live in. It's -- it's -- I'm more of a -- I have to have access to resources.
I was born and raised, and my wife also was born and raised in Kansas. And so, whenever we go back there it impresses me at how quiet and peaceful Kansas is compared to the East Coast.
It's -- East Coast, it's -- it -- it -- it kind of wears you down when you're around traffic and noise, and a lot of people. When you go to another area like the Midwest where it's just beautiful area. Nice valley.
I went out last June. I went out to see my family and I was struck -- I had to fly into major airport to major airport. So, I flew into Kansas City, which is a 3-hour drive to my hometown.
And I'm driving along this highway, a huge, beautiful highway with paved side areas and all flat areas, you could see for miles, and there's no traffic, no noise, no traffic. Just beautiful countryside. It's like, ‘Where's everybody at?"
I'm used to bumper-to-bumper traffic, and noise, and sirens, and helicopters flying over and all kinds of activities. But it's just so nice and peaceful in the Midwest. If that's what you want to live day-by-day, fine. It's nice, it's peaceful.
I prefer both. I prefer having resources close by to access. I prefer having a residence where you can decently escape from the noise and the traffic and rest up and rejuvenate. So I kind of have both in Virginia. However, Virginia is becoming more and more heavily populated. But that's where we're at.
That pretty much wraps up what everything I remember of SM-1A. It was -- it was -- as well as SM-1, almost -- you could almost call it a prototype of sorts. We did a lot of unique things there that I hope these plants get the credit in history books, that they were the first in many things, especially SM-1.
But I was -- I later went on to work for Virginia Electric and Power Company, and people were wanting to claim certain things about the commercial industry.
For example, the security. And SM-1 had excellent security. I was always impressed with -- never knew the guard’s name. He always knew my name, whoever it was. It was different people. They always knew my name, and they always had the radiation dosimetry for me with my name on it.
And they always had a smile and a cheerful, "Good morning, sir." To me. And I always remembered that, always appreciated that. It's something that has gone by the wayside, I think. We just don't have the down-home connections that we did in the past.
But that's me, 'cause I come from the West, which is more friendly folks. I lived in California for a while, they were also friendly people. To this day, I think they're still there.
Once you -- once you have -- what happened in California is in the 1930s, a lot of Midwesterners had to leave the Dust Bowl and they had to go out to California. And they were people who needed to make a living. They had to pick the vegetables and the fruits, and they had to do their skillset, which was an agrarian business.
But they had a friendly personality, and that personality spread. And then you had an influx of Asians and Hispanics. But the personalities seem to -- seem to pass off to other cultures that they might've had. Now, especially the Asian people. Their culture is very polite and cordial people anyway. And so, but it -- It seems that -- And the Hispanics, many of them were polite and cordial, and hardworking people.
But that culture, it was started by -- I think I have to give the Midwesterners the credit, to be polite and courteous to your people.
I was in San Francisco last time, it was just catching -- making a connection on the BART system, which you got to look at the map to figure out which line you pick to go where we're going. One fellow came up to me and asked me if I needed any help. I was like, ‘Well, that's a friendly gesture."
This is a large city, and here you got like a small town atmosphere of trying to help each other. And so, that's what I kind of miss. We don't really have that in the big city. There's just too much crime, too much misunderstanding.
I think a lot of it is misunderstanding and a lot of it is we're all trying to do common goals and common things. If we could communicate better, I think is one of the major problems we have.
You realize, the other person has got the same goal as you do. But they may come from a different culture, or a different approach to it. And there's no need to be at each other's throats, because you're both trying to support the same goal. And so, I think that's what we're missing today in today's society, and on the East Coast anyway.
Patience Stuart: Sure. Well, thank you so much for sharing your perspectives. I think it's -- we should probably go ahead and wrap up the interview. It was really interesting talking with you and just hearing your journey as you, you know, connected your training, and then your time at SM-1A, and then, you know, your perspectives about your time in Alaska. Then just how it's carried you through your life. And -- and we -- We really appreciate your service to the program, to SM-1A, to the country, and then it sounds like also just -- just your kindness as a human being. So I appreciate that.
BJ Foreman: Okay. Yeah, I don't know if anybody's interested too much in the personal aspect, but, yeah, I -- I -- I really like to support the technical history of these plants. They really deserve their story to be told and preserved.
And some people were pioneers, of course. It was always a team effort. Whenever somebody would come up with an idea, it took a team to implement it, or to perfect it, or to fine tune it. And so, it's always a team effort, no matter what.
But anyway, that's my story, and that's where I sat. And I've been blessed with good health and long life, so I look forward to some good years left yet. But I enjoy my -- I've got a large family myself and I came from a large family. I look forward to some -- some golden years left yet.
Patience Stuart: Sounds like they're well deserved.
BJ Foreman: Well, thank you.
Patience Stuart: Alright. I will be in touch with you after the interview. There's a release form for the university that's headed your way. And then, we can talk a little bit about a bio for the website.
BJ Foreman: Oh, okay. Sure. Yeah. Do you need any more in-depth information or --
Patience Stuart: No, I don't think so. I think we'll put something together and work with you offline to just do a short bio about who you are and the time that you were at SM-1A. It'll just be a couple of sentences.
BJ Foreman: I can scratch around. In the '60s, we didn't have cell phones or -- We had still cameras and we did take a lot of pictures. So, I can -- we captured them in scrapbooks. And I've got a bookcase filled with scrapbooks. We got away from that and we do more cameras and digitized pictures and just store them on digital media.
But I can scratch around and look to see if we got any pictures. Are you more interested in technical pictures, or humane pictures of personal families in Alaska?
Patience Stuart: I think more pictures that show the building and the plant itself, or any of the operating equipment. I mean, there can be people in them, but definitely photos that are focused on SM-1A.
BJ Foreman: Yeah. I don't think I took any of them. I'd be surprised to get any pictures of the SM-1A. It was just something that we were cautious about because of security and the classification. Even though there really wasn't any.
Patience Stuart: Sure. That makes sense.
BJ Foreman: I remember taking a friend up to the spent fuel pit one time and showing him the blue Cherenkov glow. But I didn't take any pictures of it. And since then, other reactors have been publicly available with the Cherenkov glow. The blue glow that the spent fuel puts off in the gamma radiation underwater. There's plenty of pictures of that.
But I don't recall, other than my profile picture. One guy wanted to take a picture of me in a control room, and he did. And I got a copy of that and later on I put it on Facebook as my profile picture with a little bit of explanation.
Patience Stuart: Okay. Yeah. That photo is fantastic.
BJ Foreman: Yeah. That'd be about the only picture that I can think of that was SM-1A. Off hand. I'm trying to think. I can't think of pictures.
Now, Charlie Harmon probably has them. They -- He's been storing -- You know who I'm talking about, Charlie Harmon?
Patience Stuart: Yes. He gave us your contact information.
BJ Foreman: He should be able to provide more official release pictures without embarrassing anybody, especially the DOD. We don't want to -- Patience Stuart: Sure.
BJ Foreman: -- embarrass them. But anyway, I hope I didn't embarrass anybody otherwise. But you all --
Yeah, that always bothered me that the Fairbanks News-Miner would -- And that was well published that there was some Native Americans that were stranded in the wilderness in the blizzard and couldn't get any help from the American military. That really bothered me. And the moose was stranded out in the -- in the valley. Of course, I'm one to talk for killing rabbits.
We didn't have the PETA back in those days. We didn't have -- in fact, we only saw -- I only saw one Alaskan State Trooper one time in 2 years. And she was in Delta Junction. It was a woman, and she was in Delta Junction in a car. And she stopped for some reason and got in the car and drove off. That's the only time I ever saw any law enforcement in our area, in the Delta Junction area in 2 years.
And then, when I was driving to Anchorage, I was listening to the radio. And so, once we got away from Delta Junction, there wasn't any signal. So I needed something to keep the kids busy and entertained.
Sometimes I'll tell them, they -- they kind of wore out. We're driving up here I told them, "If you look at the snow on the top of the mountains, that's where the ice cream comes from." And so, once we got close to a glacier my daughter said, "Dad, that's not ice cream." But they -- for a long time, they thought it was ice cream.
But -- but, anyway, they -- But, once I -- halfway between Delta Junction and Anchorage, about 150 miles, was a area that's -- it's called, uh, Tok -- not Tok Junction. It was called Glenallen. And Glenallen had a radio station, and it was 100% in their language, in the Indian language. I can't remember if it was Aleut or what Indian language it was in.
But you could listen on the radio and it was a completely different language on the radio. So, that -- that was kind of interesting. 'Cause you knew that the -- you -- you were not in Kansas anymore.
Patience Stuart: Sure thing. Hm, mm. Okay, BJ, I'm going to go ahead and conclude the interview and stop recording.
BJ Foreman: Okay. I -- I hope I -- I hope I told you enough.