"After five years of steady decline, much personal distress, and a deep sense of frustration that obvious national problems were not being attacked," Laboratory Director Herman Postma said, "1974 is the year in which we perceive an end to such dismay." (See related article, Director Herman Postma.)
Warnings of energy shortages, Postma added, "finally hit home as the Arab oil embargo began and people had to wait in gas lines."
The 1974 energy crisis and Postma's appointment as director during the same year had far reaching implications for the Laboratory. Postma had joined the Laboratory's Thermonuclear Division in 1959 and became division director in 1968. He was the first Laboratory director without direct Manhattan Project experience.
In a broader context, his ascent symbolized the arrival of a new generation of scientiststhe "young turks." These youthful scientists displayed as much interest in bioreactors, coal reactors, and fusion reactors as the Laboratory's earlier researchersnow the "gray eagles"had exhibited in nuclear reactors.
Responding to the demands of the younger scientists, Postma launched several management initiatives. Drawing on his professional management training, he initiated attitude surveys, performance evaluations, and other modern management techniques. Adhering more strictly than Weinberg to organizational structure and procedure, he strengthened the administrative role of his associate directors and divested himself of the dual roles Weinberg had filled as both Laboratory director and chief of the Director's Division. Postma replaced the Director's Division with central management offices, under Frank Bruce, associate director for Administration. Postma also supported creation of dual career laddersone for scientists and technicians and another for managers. (Under earlier career ladders, Laboratory scientists had to become managers to obtain higher salaries.)
Although researchers from the old and new schools may have disagreed about the Laboratory's research agenda and its approach to management, both groups were pleased by a broad exploratory studies initiative begun in 1974. Known as the Seed Money Program, it aimed to encourage creative science. "Scientific advances are made by individuals in the privacy of their own minds," observed Alex Zucker in explaining the seed money rationale. "It is one of the functions of a scientific laboratory to discover the unexpected, to develop new ideas, and to explore in an unfettered way areas that may not show much promise to the casual observer."
Laboratory overhead funds were used to "seed" research proposals that review committees considered promising, especially initiatives that committee members thought had potential for acquiring additional funding from other federal agencies. Loucas Christophorou's study of the breakdown of insulating gases surrounding power-transmission lines, David Novelli's amino acid research, and Elizabeth Peelle's socioeconomic analysis of power plant impacts on neighboring communities were three successful seed money projects funded in 1974.
By 1977, funding had increased to $1 million, covering startup costs for 15 proposals. The program remains in place today, and it is viewed as one of managements most successful initiatives.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
To Postma's surprise, in late 1974 he found himself with a new job title. No longer head of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he became the director of Holifield National Laboratory insteadsame job, same place, different title.
Late that year, aides to the congressional committees on atomic energy and government operations memorialized their retiring chairman by renaming the Laboratory after Representative Chet Holifield of California. Done without consulting Oak Ridge community leaders or Laboratory officials, the name change met local disapproval, although Holifield was a respected friend of Oak Ridge. "I recognize the role Holifield's played," admitted Howard Adler, director of the Biology Division, "but the name ORNL has worldwide significance and recognition that can't be tossed aside lightly."
Responding to this concern, Senator Howard Baker, Representative Marilyn Lloyd, and other members of the Tennessee congressional delegation sought to restore the name Oak Ridge. In the interim, Postma and Laboratory management used Holifield National Laboratory for official government business and the familiar Oak Ridge nomenclature in scientific circles.
This conundrum ended late in 1975, when Congress reinstated the title Oak Ridge National Laboratory and named the national heavy-ion research center, a 150-foot (46-meter) tower under construction for the Laboratory's giant accelerator, the Holifield Heavy Ion Research Facility.
More challenging than the name game was the Laboratory's response to the energy crises of the 1970s. To address the fuel and heating shortages of the winter of 1974, Postma appointed Edward Witkowski and Charles Murphy as Laboratory energy coordinators. Lights were dimmed and thermostats were lowered in buildings throughout the complex, and gasoline was rationed for the Laboratory's fleet of vehicles. Taking these sacrifices in stride, Laboratory employees donned sweaters and joined carpools to get to work. In total, emergency conservation curbed Laboratory energy use 7% in 1974.
Congress responded to the energy crisis by boosting the national budget for energy research, a move that helped warm and brighten (at least symbolically) the Laboratory's cold, dim corridors. Equally important, the energy crisis fueled congressional discontent with the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which had already been under fire over questions about how well it was fulfilling its safety oversight responsibilities in nuclear energy.
In 1974, Congress voted to divide the AEC into two separate agencies: the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA), which would serve as the federal government's energy research arm, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which, as the name implies, would be responsible for regulating and ensuring the safety of the nation's nuclear energy industry.
Ending 28 years of service, the AEC closed at the end of 1974. Among AEC staff locking the commission's doors for the last time was Alvin Trivelpiece, later to succeed Postma as Laboratory director.
ERDA absorbed the AEC laboratories, plus the Bureau of Mines' coal research centers, and other federal laboratories with energy-related missions. In all, it inherited 57 laboratories, research centers, and contractorswith approximately 91,000 employees. The Laboratory became one of many ERDA laboratories, although its reactor safety and environmental programs also supported NRC licensing and regulatory activities.
Because no definition of laboratory roles and their relationships to other ERDA responsibilities was in place in 1974, questions about the laboratories' organization, planning, and accounting systems arose.
The ERDA director, former Air Force Secretary Robert Seamans, formed a committee of advisors, including Herman Postma, to help plan the reorganization. Postma soon learned that ERDA would demand rapid applications of technology to improve the national energy posture. An ERDA official warned Postma and other laboratory directors: "If you are not working on energy projects having a good chance of being in the Sears and Roebuck catalog in five years, then you are working for the wrong agency."
ERDA's sense of urgency propelled the Laboratory into a broad range of energy-related research endeavors, dubbed coconukeconservation, coal, and nuclear energy. At Oak Ridge, ERDA added fossil fuel and energy conservation programs to the Laboratory's traditional nuclear fission and fusion energy missionsan effort that fit nicely into the broad research agenda of the younger scientists.
As part of its response to the expanded mandate, the Laboratory formed an Energy Division in 1974 reporting to Murray Rosenthal, associate director for Advanced Energy Systems. Samuel Beall served as the Energy Division's first director; he was followed a year later by Bill Fulkerson. Previously Beall had been director of the Reactor Division; his successor, Gordon Fee, is now president of Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc.
The new Energy Division absorbed the environmental impact reports group, the National Science Foundation environmental program, an urban research group, and non-nuclear studies from the Reactor Division under one administrative umbrella.
The Energy Division sought to tie energy research and conservation to broad questions of social and environmental impacts. For example, in 1977 David L. Greene started a transportation energy group in the Energy Division to analyze consumer responses to fuel price changes and more efficient cars on the market and to determine ways to save fuel and cut down on pollutant emissions. In effect, the Laboratory had acknowledged within its administrative framework that energy research could no longer be confined to technical issues.
Recognizing that the nation's energy posture could be improved by reducing consumption of existing energy resources and putting wasted energy to use, the Laboratory joined ERDA's national conservation program. Through many small enhancements in energy conservation, the Laboratory and ERDA expected in the aggregate to reduce national energy use by several percentage points annually.
Some conservation research emanated from the Laboratory's earlier studies of potential environmental impacts of nuclear power plants, such as the discharge of waste heat to water and air. Laboratory researchers proposed using waste heat to warm both greenhouses for growing plants and ponds for raising fish for food. As an outgrowth of Laboratory recommendations, TVA and electric power utilities planned to couple greenhouses and related heat-use facilities with nuclear power plants being designed, constructed, and operated during the 1970s.
The Laboratory proposed similar uses for waste heat, called cogeneration, for a modular integrated utility system it blueprinted for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In this design for small communities, conducted by John Moyers and others, heat from an electric generating plant could warm buildings and supply hot water.
Using funding from HUD, ERDA, and the National Science Foundation, six Laboratory divisions, including the Energy Division, launched a comprehensive set of programs to foster energy conservation in 1974. Moreover, because of strict personnel ceilings, ERDA asked the Laboratory to act as its program manager for conservation efforts throughout the energy agency's sprawling federal network.
For ERDA, the Laboratory planned conservation programs, awarded subcontracts for research and engineering, and monitored and reviewed the work. Many of these responsibilities were carried out by the Laboratory's residential conservation program headed by Roger Carlsmith. The program supported studies of improved home insulation, tighter mobile home design, advanced heating and cooling systems, and energy-efficient home appliances.
ERDA asked the Laboratory to assess how much energy could be saved by better insulating homes and businesses. The Laboratory emerged as ERDA's prime resource for developing thermal insulation standards, later adopted by ERDA, the Department of Commerce, and building trade associations. These standards helped generate substantial and continuing savings for homeowners while paring national energy consumption. Retrofitting existing buildings to save energy followed when utility systems such as TVA financed improved home insulation, heat pumps, and other energy conservation measures in existing structures.
Manufactured homes promised energy savings that would likely exceed savings in more conventional structures. Laboratory studies, led by John Moyers and John Wilson, sought to determine the full range of potential savings. "Mobile homes are produced in factories," Moyers pointed out, "and should be more susceptible to quality control, unified system design, and engineering than custom-built homes."
The Laboratory relied on data obtained from a mobile home equipped with instruments to measure its power use and seasonal temperature fluctuations. Researchers proposed tighter insulation and storm window standards subsequently adopted by the American National Standards Institute and HUD to upgrade mobile home energy efficiency. Those who purchased new mobile homes, often recently married couples or retirees with limited incomes, enjoyed reduced energy costs, and the nation as a whole cut its energy consumption.
Harry Fischer's annual cycle concept may have been the most publicized Laboratory energy conservation endeavor. A retiree with wide experience in energy engineering, Fischer dropped by the Laboratory in 1974 to tell Samuel Beall, new director of the Energy Division, that he knew how to provide home heating and cooling at half the cost of systems then in use. His annual cycle energy system (ACES) used a heat pump that extracted heat during winter from a large insulated tank of water, changing the water into ice for summer cooling.
A working model for the ACES house was built and operated in two months, using funding from ERDA. Fischer met John Gibbons of the University of Tennessee Energy, Environment, and Resources Center, who was overseeing the university-sponsored construction of experimental houses using solar and conventional heat near Knoxville. Gibbons, a former ORNL physicist who later became director of the Office of Technology Assessment and is now President Bill Clinton's science adviser, offered university land for construction of two ERDA-funded homes, including one heated and cooled by ACES. Jointly managed by the university, the Laboratory, TVA, and ERDA, the houses were completed in a year. ERDA Director Seamans personally inspected them to highlight the fast response to government demand.
As Fischer predicted, the ACES house could be heated and cooled at half the energy costs of conventional systems. However, few ever adopted Fischer's system, largely because of its high initial cost and potential maintenance problems.
ORNL researchers also investigated ways to reduce energy use by industry. Ralph Donnelly, Victor Tennery, and colleagues undertook a study that, in 1976, reported that improved insulation was crucial to improving the efficiency of industrial processes.
Another Laboratory conservation project that received broad media attention was its bioconversion experiment, called ANFLOW. In 1972, Congress mandated secondary sewage treatment for all communities. The Laboratory estimated the new systems would double the energy used for sewage treatment, so it decided to explore technologies that might reduce energy consumption and costs. Alicia Compere and William Griffith, both of the Chemical Technology Division, working with John Googin, a Lawrence Award winner at the Y-12 Plant, devised a bioreactor, known as ANFLOW, to explore its energy-saving possibilities in treating sewage. (See related article, Skyjack '72.)
Conventionally activated sludge sewage treatment used oxygen-seeking aerobic bacteria to digest wastes. In contrast, the ANFLOW system used anaerobic microorganisms that did not require oxygen. This process eliminated the need for energy-consuming pump aerators. Moreover, the ANFLOW system could produce methane gas from sewage for use as heating fuel and recover valuable chemicals from industrial wastes for reuse.
On its own, the Laboratory built an experimental ANFLOW bioreactor, and in 1976 it contracted with the Norton Company to build a pilot ANFLOW bioreactor to be installed at an Oak Ridge municipal sewage treatment plant. The ANFLOW bioreactor pumped sewage through a 15-foot (5-meter) cylinder packed with gelatin-coated particles to which microorganisms attached themselves. The packing, made of crushed stone or ceramics, facilitated the waste flows and provided additional surfaces for the microorganisms, which thrived and reproduced while consuming wastes.
Richard Genung, Charles Hancher, and Wesley Shumate, all of the Chemical Technology Division, managed the ANFLOW program, and in 1978, a subcontract was awarded for design of a larger demonstration plant, which was installed as part of the Knoxville sewage treatment system.
Research on use of organisms to treat waste efficiently, however, has proceeded slowly. Moreover, municipalities seldom build new sewage treatment plants; they are capital-intensive, time-consuming projects that may require a decade or more to negotiate and construct. Therefore, energy savings derived from more efficient sewage treatment would be a long time coming. Despite these obstacles, work on ANFLOW has encouraged broader Laboratory investigations into potential biological solutions to waste disposal problems.
In contrast to long-lived sewage systems, homeowners replace several electric appliances each decade. Believing that aggregate energy savings could be substantial, Laboratory researchers launched detailed studies of ways to improve the efficiency of heat pumps, refrigerators, furnaces, water heaters, and ovens.
Eric Hirst, Robert Hoskins, and their colleagues in the Energy Division gained wide acclaim for computer modeling of home appliances to identify opportunities for greater energy efficiency. Their computer analysis of refrigerator designs, for example, indicated that energy use for these appliances could be halved through installing better insulation, adding an antisweat heater switch, improving compressor efficiency, and increasing condenser and evaporator surface areas.
Laboratory energy-saving recommendations for home appliances were incorporated into the design standards of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers and also into experimental appliances designed by subcontractors under the management of Virgil Haynes at the Laboratory. Out of this applied research came more efficient appliances, notably a heat-pump water heater and refrigerator, that were soon manufactured for commercial markets. By the 1980s, most American homes had at least one appliance that was more energy efficient as a result of the Laboratory's conservation research.
With nearly half of the world's known coal reserves, the United States has been called the "Saudi Arabia of coal." In the face of dwindling domestic petroleum supplies, scarce natural gas reserves, and the uncertainty and escalating price of oil imports, it seemed logical in the 1970s to supplement petroleum with fuels produced from coal.
Scientists had long known that applying heat and pressure to coal could produce liquids, gases, and solids for fuel. Efforts to turn scientific theories and blueprints into commercial ventures, however, had been minimal. Then, in 1975, ERDA announced that the United States planned to produce a million barrels of synthetic oil from coal daily by 1985. To create that much synthetic fuel would require as many as 20 plants, so ERDA contracted with industry to plan and design a series of pilot plants and demonstrations. ERDA's Oak Ridge Operations Office managed the contracts and obtained research support from the Laboratory.
In response to this major federal initiative, Murray Rosenthal announced an interagency agreement with the Office of Coal Research that brought the Laboratory into fossil energy research. This agreement culminated in the Coal Technology Program headed by Jere Nichols, later renamed the Fossil Energy Program under Eugene McNeese, and budgeted at $20 million annually. It included fundamental studies of the structure of coal, the carcinogenic properties of coal conversion products, a hydrocarbon reactor, and a potassium boiler to improve the efficiency of producing electricity by burning fossil fuels. Under this program, the Laboratory exchanged personnel and collaborated with the Bureau of Mines' coal laboratories at Bruceton, Pennsylvania; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Laramie, Wyoming.
Planning to fund industrial pilot and demonstration plants that used synthetic refined coal and hydrocarbonization processes, ERDA assigned the Laboratory a major role in evaluating the progress of this broad-ranging initiative. For one project, Henry Cochran and colleagues in the Chemistry and Chemical Technology divisions built a model hydrocarbon reactor that mixed finely ground coal with hydrogen under high pressure and heat to form synthetic oil, plus a substitute for natural gas and a coke-like solid fuel. Modeling experiments identified the optimal combination of pressure and heat for fuel production. Related projects conducted by Richard Genung, John Mrochek, and their colleagues included studies of coal thermal conductivity and recovery of aluminum and minerals from fly ash.
A bioprocessing group, led by Charles Scott of the Chemical Technology Division, launched a series of studies of bioreactors. The dual goal was to concentrate and isolate trace metals and to produce liquid and gaseous fuels organically. In bioreactors resembling those in the ANFLOW sewage treatment project, microorganisms adhering to fluidized particles in columns could digest toxic compounds from the wastes of coal conversion processes, converting them to harmless substances.
Researcher Chet Francis in the Environmental Sciences Division demonstrated that simple garden soil bacteria in bioreactors could remove nitrates and trace metals from industrial wastes effluents. As a result, the Laboratory built a pilot bioreactor used by the Portsmouth, Ohio, gaseous diffusion plant to treat nitrate wastes, and the Y-12 Plant used Francis's design for a full-scale plant to treat nitric acid wastes.
The Laboratory also looked for ways to reduce sulfur dioxide air pollution from coal combustion. In the Engineering Technology Division, John Jones's team developed a fluidized-bed coal reactor connected with a closed-cycle gas turbine for power generation. Aiming to make high-sulfur Appalachian coal more environmentally acceptable, the system fed coal and limestone particles into a furnace where jets of preheated air agitated them, igniting the coal and thus providing the heat needed to combine the limestone with sulfur dioxide to form harmless gypsum. ERDA sponsored construction at the Y-12 Plant of a prototype to prove that Appalachian coal could be burned cleanly during power generation.
Eugene Hise and Alan Holman devised another method of removing sulfur from coal. Because sulfur-bearing iron pyrites and ash-forming minerals are weakly attracted by magnetic fields and coal particles are mildly repelled, they devised a system for magnetically cleaning coal, using a superconducting solenoid to provide a magnetic field of the required shape and force.
ORNL researchers responded to the need to make components that could withstand the high temperatures of synthetic fuel plants. In 1983 C. T. Liu and his associates in the Metals and Ceramics Division began developing a scientific approach to the design of intermetallic alloys for high-temperature structural uses in advanced heat engines and coal conversion systems. The group developed ductile nickel aluminide alloys that become stronger as temperature increases. The development has been licensed to six companies and is being used in at least two cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs).
In another coal-related research initiative, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a regional evaluation of the economics of strip mine reclamation in Appalachia. Robert Honea and Richard Durfee headed a team in 1975 that used satellite imagery, census data, and regional-scale models to analyze strip mining. Focusing on mining in the New River basin north of Oak Ridge, the study took images from space satellites to classify land cover types, which were then verified with aerial photographs. Researchers could examine strip-mining effects during every overhead pass of the satellite, enabling them to obtain a better picture as the mining unfolded instead of just a snapshot of the impacts once the mining was completed.
In 1975, ERDA Director Seamans broke ground for an Environmental Sciences Laboratory in Oak Ridge, a two-unit structure that became the first programmatic laboratory in ERDA. It was completed in 1978. The Laboratory's first major laboratory and office expansion since the 1960s, Environmental Sciences was located at the west end of the complex near the Aquatic Ecology Laboratory. The main building was connected by walkways to greenhouses, animal and insect facilities, and chambers for controlled environment experiments.
In 1976 Chester Richmond, who succeeded James Liverman and John Totter as the associate director for Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, implemented a life sciences program to support coal conversion technologies. Working closely with the Environmental Protection Agency, the program, led by ecologist Carl Gehrs of the Environmental Sciences Division, examined the chemical and physical characteristics of coal liquids, their biological and health effects, and their transport through ecosystems. From this program came funding for examining mutagenesis (in the Biology Division), ecological toxicology (in the Environmental Sciences Division), health risk effects (in the Health and Safety Research Division), and coal-liquid constituent identification (in the Analytical Chemistry Division).
For example, in the early 1980s Barbara Walton discovered that cricket eggs exposed to chemicals from synthetic fuels produced insects having abnormalities such as an extra eye, antenna, or head; the discovery received considerable media attention.
These efforts enabled the Laboratory to prove that coal conversion liquids and effluents could be toxic. It also provided information to guide changes in coal chemical processing that would create less toxic products.
FUSION AND FISSION ENERGY
Under ERDA, Laboratory fusion energy research expanded more rapidly than fission research. Although fusion research could not enhance the nation's short-range energy posture, ERDA gave the program substantial support in the hope that it would ultimately provide a long-range solution to the nation's energy problems. With the end of molten-salt reactor research and modest support for high-temperature gas-cooled reactor research, the research agenda of the Laboratory's Manhattan-era researchers had been reduced to the Clinch River Breeder Reactor technology and related fuel reprocessing for plutonium recovery. (See related article, Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing.)
Under John Clarke, Postma's successor as chief of fusion energy research, successful testing of the ORMAK and ELMO Bumpy Torus devices continued into the 1970s. The Laboratory also built ISXsdevices called Impurity Study Experimentsto illuminate the behavior of impurities inside fusion reactor plasmas. Researchers, led by Stan Milora and Chris Foster, developed a pellet injection method for firing frozen hydrogen pellets into fusion plasmas to maintain the plasma densities. This refueling technology was subsequently adopted for tokamaks in Europe and the United States.
International fusion research involved many countries, DOE facilities, and Laboratory divisions. A major fusion research problem during the late 1970s was the action of the fusion plasma when it escaped the magnetic field and met the first wall of the vessel containing it. Would it damage the wall? Would it sputter impurities from the wall back into the plasma and "poison" it by radiating away the energy needed to sustain the fusion reaction?
To coordinate studies of these and related questions, the Laboratory joined with four other DOE laboratories in a "first wall interactions" group. Bill Appleton and Jim Roberto, both of the Solid State Division, Bob Clausing of the Metals and Ceramics Division, and Bob Langley and Peter Mioduszewski, both of the Fusion Energy Division coordinated "first wall interactions" studies at the Laboratory.
Other fusion research advances during the ERDA years included the neutral beam technology developed by Bill Morgan's team to heat plasma inside a fusion device. The neutral beam technology helped Oak Ridge's ORMAK and Princeton's tokamak achieve record temperatures that approached what was needed for self-sustaining fusion reactions. Investigations of huge superconducting magnets for containing fusion plasmas began under Hugh Long, Martin Lubell, Peter Walstrom, and William Fietz, leading to selection of the Laboratory in 1977 to build the international Large Coil Test Facility. Managed by Paul Haubenreich, this facility would test supercold magnets, weighing 40 tons each, that were manufactured both in the United States and abroad.
The fusion program also needed large amounts of specialized atomic cross-section data to understand complex plasma interactions. This need was met by a nationally coordinated program started in the Physics Division in 1956 by Clarence (Barny) Barnett, who ran the program until the late 1980s.
While fusion energy research prospered, the Laboratory built no new nuclear fission reactors during the 1970s. In 1976, the Laboratory changed the name of the Reactor Division to the Engineering Technology Division because its work no longer concerned overall reactor design; instead, it focused on development of engineering systems for both nuclear and non-nuclear facilities. The nuclear safety program for the NRC continued, however, under Fred Mynatt's direction.
After 1976, the Laboratory's nuclear energy research focused largely on the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project and plans to reprocess its fuel. Design of the steam generator and heat exchangers for the Clinch River reactor was undertaken by Laboratory metallurgists led by Peter Patriarca, who investigated thermal stress and creep in the materials to be used in these systems.
The Laboratory also specialized in devising materials for breeder and fusion reactors that would withstand radiation damage. Jim Weir developed a theory to explain how heated steels swelled and became embrittled during neutron bombardment in reactors, and researchers Jim Stiegler, Everett Bloom, and Arthur Rowcliffe developed low-swelling stainless steel alloys by doping them with silicon and titanium. Despite these advances, support for Clinch River breeder programs faltered after the election of President Jimmy Carter, who opposed the project.
The Carter administration also expressed concern over the possibility of diversion of weapons-grade nuclear materials used in civilian programs to military or terrorist purposes. The Nonproliferation Alternative Systems Assessment Program was initiated to evaluate the problem, which received much attention by DOE. A companion program of broader scope called the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation also was formed by several nations led by the International Atomic Energy Agency at a 1977 meeting in Washington, D.C. The Laboratory had a significant role in both programs, with William Harms as the major participant.
These programs focused on potential problems in nuclear fuel-cycle programs and contributed to a decrease in emphasis on breeder reactors. Both programs were unpopular at the time. However, their influence on the direction of the Laboratory's fuel reprocessing program resulted in both improved design concepts and better technology, including the development of robotic systems for use in hazardous operations.
Space exploration also received some nuclear energy research funding during the 1970s. The Laboratory designed radioisotopic heat sources to power long-distance space probes and designed materials to contain the heat within the space vehicles and protect the plutonium fuel from the impact of accidentally falling to Earth. Tony Schaffhauser, C. T. Liu, and Roy Cooper, for example, led teams in the Metals and Ceramics Division that developed the iridium cladding and carbon fiber insulation to contain the isotopic heat sources used aboard the Voyager and other space probes. Years after their launch, these probes returned spectacular images of the outer planets and their moons to Earth for scientific analysis.
The years of urgent energy research under ERDA were years of expansion for the Laboratory. By 1977, it had acquired lead responsibility for five major ERDA programs and had become involved with the full complement of the nation's energy programs. In addition, it had undertaken work for 11 other agencies, amounting to $35 million in funding annually, and it was subcontracting six times the amount of outside work it had supported in 1974.
The number of Laboratory personnel rose to more than 5000, performing and supporting about 700 scientific and technical projects. The Laboratory also hosted 1250 guest researchers and more than 25,000 visitors annually.
Emphasis by ERDA on developing non-nuclear advanced energy systems proved a boon for materials sciences at the Laboratory. Limited previously to studies of materials related to the fission and fusion energy programs, under ERDA the Laboratory's research in materials sciences advanced into studies of many materials. This new initiative was especially pertinent to the Solid State Division under Mike Wilkinson and the Metals and Ceramics Division under Jim Weir, which experienced significant program expansions.
Although the Environmental Sciences Laboratory and the Holifield Heavy Ion Research Facility were under construction in 1977, the Laboratory had not added significant space to its complex since the 1960s. Existing work space was reduced even more by addition of minicomputers and copying machines during the 1970s. The stereotype of scientists musing in splendid isolation was far from true at the Laboratory in 1977. In fact, conducting research there had become a close-quartered affair.
"The fact is that programs grow faster than buildings can get built or than money can be found for that purpose," lamented Postma. "In practice, the only justification for new buildings is to alleviate crowded conditions that already exist rather than rationally anticipating projected needs," he elaborated. "Thus, in the future there will be more crowding at the Laboratory, more sharing of offices, and far greater need for understanding and cooperation by all members of the Laboratory."
The problem of overcrowding decreased unexpectedly in 1977 when newly elected President Jimmy Carter and his Department of Energy adopted personnel ceilings that capped the number of Laboratory employees. After four years of nearly nonstop additional hiring, the Laboratory's personnel offices suddenly became tranquil and quiet. (See related article, The Carter Visit.)
President Carter walked to the White House in January 1977 in the midst of one of the 20th century's coldest winters. At the time, the effects of the 1973 oil crisis still rippled through the national economy. Unprecedented cold temperatures generated unanticipated demands for energy supplies, placing additional stress on a national energy system that had not fully adjusted to the new constraints on energy consumption.
The result was another energy crisis, although not nearly as severe as the paralyzing events that had gripped the nation four years before. Nevertheless, during the oil and natural gas shortage, the Laboratory narrowly avoided a complete shutdown for lack of heat only because the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant shared its oil reserves during the emergency.
Calling for the "moral equivalent of war" on energy problems, President Carter in the spring of 1977 requested public sacrifices for the sake of regaining control of the nation's energy future. To manage the battle, he proposed establishing a cabinet level Department of Energy (DOE). Approved by Congress in August 1977, the new DOE absorbed the functions of the ERDA, the Federal Energy Administration, and the Federal Power Commission, plus energy programs from other federal agencies.
Carter appointed James Schlesinger, former AEC chairman and Secretary of Defense, the nation's first energy secretary. In addition, the president announced his opposition to the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project and stopped the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. These decisions clouded the future of nuclear energy, which, in turn, placed the future of the Laboratory's nuclear divisions on an uncertain path with no clear signposts pointing the way to the future.
STABILITY AMID TRANSITION
The transition from ERDA to DOE proved difficult. The ERDA administrator and assistant administrators resigned before DOE became functional in October 1977, leaving agency program direction unclear. "Whereas we perceive uncertainty and lack of clear direction in Washington, the realities at the Laboratory are quite different," observed Alex Zucker during this transition. "Our programs are productive, our staff is busy. Stability rather than uncertainty characterizes our work; and, if we work now in new areas, we are doing it with the old elan."
Secretary Schlesinger revised the system for managing DOE's eight multiprogram laboratories, 32 specialized laboratories, and 16 nuclear materials and weapons laboratories. For their institutional needs, the laboratories were to report to assistant secretaries in Washington instead of regional operations officers. Invited to Washington to advise Schlesinger on basic research needs, Postma declared that integrating energy development into a single department at last recognized that energy was as important as labor, agriculture, and defense. "There will be studies galore to evaluate everything," Postma predicted. He was confident that the Laboratory would prosper despite the "turbulence represented by the changing political and programmatic winds in Washington."
During 1978 the transition to DOE was completed. Believing that national laboratories had reached optimum size, the Carter administration sought to work more directly with industry, expanding the role of national laboratories as program and subcontract managers. It designated national laboratories as centers of excellence in special fields and imposed ceilings on the number of personnel. Oak Ridge was made the lead laboratory for coal technology and fuel reprocessing, and the Laboratory was told that its staff could not exceed 5165 personnel for 1979.
The Carter administration proved more interested in energy conservation and "soft" energy than in nuclear energy. Taking its cues from Washington, the Laboratory began to emphasize small programs in geothermal and solar energy initiated under ERDA. The Environmental Sciences Division also initiated intensive study of wood and herbaceous biomassfast-growing trees and grasses that could be converted to a renewable energy resource.
John Michel managed the Laboratory's research on geothermal energy using hot water and steam formed within the earth. This included research in the Chemistry Division on scaling and brine chemistry, in the Metals and Ceramics Division on corrosion, and in the Engineering Technology and Energy divisions on cold-vapor, low-temperature heat cycles. The collective goal of this technical research was to upgrade the efficiency of producing electricity with geothermal energy. A related research program studied ways to improve heat exchangers to capture the oceans' thermal energy. Rather than burning the rocks and burning the seas with nuclear energya dream of the 1960sthis research sought to extract low-level energy from the earth and ocean in kinder and gentler ways.
The Laboratory's solar energy research was circumscribed by formation of a special DOE laboratory, the Solar Energy Research Institute in Colorado (now called the National Renewable Energy Laboratory). Robert Pearlstein became coordinator of Oak Ridge's small solar program, which included fruitful research in the three Laboratory divisions. Eli Greenbaum and associates in the Chemistry and Chemical Technology divisions investigated the production of hydrogen from water by using green plant materials to capture and convert the sun's energy catalytically, while the Solid State Division program, directed by Richard Wood, investigated improved photovoltaic solar cells for converting sunlight directly into power.
Funded initially as a seed money project, John Cleland's team in the Solid State Division developed a new method of doping silicon to produce the semiconductors used in solar cells. Instead of using chemical doping methods, a silicon isotope in samples inserted in the Bulk Shielding Reactor was transmuted into phosphorus through interactions with neutrons. This process provided uniform distribution of phosphorus in the silicon, thereby improving the efficiency of solar cells fabricated from this material.
In a related development, the Solid State Division in 1978 used lasers to prepare silicon for solar cell fabrication. To provide good distribution within the silicon, ions of a dopant such as boron were deposited on a silicon surface or implanted among the atoms at the surface using an ion accelerator. Lasers were used for diffusing the boron throughout the silicon and for removing crystal imperfections introduced in the implantation process. This combination of ion implantation doping and laser annealing, which was initiated primarily by Rosa Young and C. W. (Woody) White, spurred fundamental and applied studies in processing solids. The Surface Modification and Characterization Research Center, started by Bill Appleton and later headed by White and David Poker, became the focal point for these studies. Housed initially in the old fanhouse of the Graphite Reactor, the center became a DOE user facility that hosts many university and industry collaborators.
ALMOST A MECCA
To observe firsthand the Laboratory's research achievements and to soothe the Laboratory's ill feelings generated by his decision to oppose the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project, President Carter visited Oak Ridge in May 1978 at the request of Senator James Sasser. The president brought his science advisor and energy staff with him. Remembering his service as an officer in Admiral Rickover's nuclear navy, Carter declared, "Oak Ridge was almost like Mecca for us because this is where the basic work was done that, first of all, contributed to the freedom of the world and ended the war and, secondly, shifted very rapidly to peaceful use of nuclear power."
The first president to visit the Laboratory while in office, Carter enjoyed technical presentations and a roundtable discussion with a group of scientists in the auditorium of building 4500-North. There, the president seemed particularly interested in Lee Berry's description of fusion research, asking how it compared with Soviet research. Berry responded that the United States may have enjoyed a slight lead in the fusion race. Sandy McLaughlin appealed to the president's environmental interests by describing Laboratory research on the ecological effects of atmospheric pollutants.
Then in the lobby of Building 4500 North, Postma introduced him to Charles Scott, who described bioreactor experiments; Samuel Hurst, who discussed the ORNL development using lasers to detect single atoms of a target element among millions of atoms of other elements; and John Jones, who explained a fluidized-bed coal burner designed to cogenerate power and heat.
Laboratory personnel greeted the president with respectful cheers, surprising local reporters who thought the president's opposition to the proposed Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project and subsequent political decision to move a centrifuge plant from Oak Ridge to Portsmouth, Ohio, would elicit a less enthusiastic response.
President Carter, however, was near the peak of his popularity at the time of his visit to the Laboratory. Afterward, events, such as the Iranian hostage crisis, plagued his administration, exacerbating the national energy crisis and inevitably affecting Laboratory activities.
The March 1979 accident at Three Mile Island Unit 2 surprised nuclear experts at the Laboratory and elsewhere. Although nuclear safety research had concentrated on the risks of pipe rupture and the possibility of loss-of-coolant accidents in light-water reactors, the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania resulted instead from a pressure valve that stuck and inaccurate instrumentation and human error that complicated the emergency.
Having a national reputation in the safety field, Laboratory staff led by Fred Mynatt became immersed in the Three Mile Island emergency and subsequent analysis.
When the company owning the disabled reactor called Floyd Culler at the Electric Power Research Institute for help, Culler (who had just left the Laboratory after 25 years of service, including one year as acting director) contacted Postma and other Laboratory officials, as did the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. During the emergency, Laboratory personnel served as consultants and on-site analysts. Seventy-five staff members performed technical and analytical research during the emergency or subsequently provided information to the committee appointed by President Carter to investigate the accident.
The Laboratory helped the industry recover from the accident in many ways, including forming several response teams organized by Don Trauger. An Industrial Safety and Applied Health Physics Division team, led by Roy Clark, monitored emissions of radioactivity from the plant after the accident, while Robert Brooksbank's team minimized radioactive iodine releases by adding chemicals to the cooling system and by arranging replacement of the filters used to cleanse reactor gases before their release into the atmosphere. The absence of significant iodine releases was in part a testament to their success.
The Chemical Technology Division designed systems to store the contaminated water and remove the fission products. Robert Kryter and Dwayne Frye, both of the Instrumentation and Controls Division, supervised installation of monitors that replaced the damaged sensing systems inside the reactors.
Wilbur (Dub) Shults and an Analytical Chemistry team analyzed samples from the accident site to assess the severity of contamination and devise cleanup strategies. An Engineering Technology Division group led by Mario Fontana and a Metals and Ceramics Division team led by David Hobson examined core cooling and debris problems, zircaloy cladding damage, and fission product releases. A group led by David Bartine addressed radiation and shielding issues. Joel Buchanan led the team studying the hydrogen in the reactor, and David Thomas supervised an Engineering Technology Division group that fabricated an electrical core to simulate the accident in the Thermal Hydraulic Test Facility.
Accident investigations and recovery activities continued for years, and the Laboratory took pride in its emergency response. Anthony Malinauskas and David Campbell's review of the issues surrounding releases of radioactive iodine to the atmosphere for President Carter's commission and the NRC proved especially useful. They concluded that the reactor released far less iodine than expected because much of it remained in the reactor.
The accident at Three Mile Island forever changed the public's attitude toward nuclear power. The Laboratory's response, however, helped provide a sound scientific base for understanding the causes and effects of the most serious mishap in the history of the U.S. commercial nuclear industry.
Later in 1979, the nation and the Laboratory became troubled by the revolution in Iran and the hostage and energy crises that ensued. Visiting Iran shortly before the revolution to discuss training Iranian technicians at the Laboratory, Associate Director Don Trauger observed firsthand the political instability there. He refused, however, to describe the subsequent acute petroleum shortage as another energy crisis. After a decade of energy crises, he believed that it was time for the nation and world to accept the shortages of adequate energy supplies as a persistent and chronic problem. "`Crises' imply unexpected situations that can be set straight by rapid, aggressive responses." Instead, Trauger suggested that "we must hurry to find solutions, but we must not become overly impatient in our quest."
Laboratory energy conservation efforts accelerated during the Iranian embargo. The Laboratory converted its steam power plants from natural gas and petroleum back to coal and turned to gasohol to fuel some of its vehicles. It could not, however, find a local gasohol supplier and had to use its own staff to mix gasoline with ethanol. In addition, the Laboratory's environmental impacts group was commandeered to analyze implementation of the Strategic Petroleum Reservea federally sponsored effort to store large quantities of oil that could be tapped in times of emergency. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve later would serve an important role in stabilizing oil prices during the Persian Gulf War of 1991.
CONSTANCY OF CHANGE
In 1980, the Laboratory found itself caught in the impasse between Congress and President Carter over the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project. Funding for the Laboratory's breeder research to support the reactor and fuel reprocessing was slashed significantly--a blow to fission research that further discouraged the Laboratory's dwindling number of Manhattan-era researchers.
"This last defeat has convinced gray eagles like myself that the rainbow we have been following for the past 30 years may indeed not have the long sought after pot of gold at the end," lamented Peter Patriarca, head of the Laboratory's breeder reactor materials research program. "I feel that I and others like me have accomplished a lot in 30 years of service, but we really haven't achieved the ultimate and that is my disappointment."
Still, 1980 was a banner year for many Laboratory programs. For the first time, the budget exceeded $300 million. Of this total, $20 million was subcontracted to universities and $60 million to industry to support research and engineering. Completed in 1979, the new Environmental Sciences Laboratory eased staff crowding. Three new user facilities opened in 1980, marking the culmination of three successful programs launched in the 1970s: the National Environmental Research Park, the Holifield Heavy Ion Research Facility, and the National Center for Small-Angle Scattering Research.
The user facility concept evolved from a fundamental change at DOE. Before 1979, many Laboratory personnel collaborated informally with scientists from outside the Laboratory. That year, DOE made it official policy that DOE facilities were to be opened to outside users for cooperative and proprietary research and development.
The Oak Ridge National Environmental Research Park, comprising 12,400 acres of protected land for environmental science research and education, opened in 1980 as the fifth outdoor laboratory of the Department of Energy. Nearly surrounding the Laboratory, it made up about a third of the Oak Ridge Reservation. Here, scientists inventoried plant and animal species; monitored the dynamics behind climate and ecological change; undertook studies of contaminant transport and bioremediation; and cooperated with local, regional, and private agencies to promote science and environmental education. Nearly 20,000 students from kindergarten to high school visited this park annually as part of their science education programs. The Walker Branch Watershed in the park emerged as a key experimental facility for biogeochemical and hydrologic research. (See related article, Oak Ridge's Environmental Park.)
One early research effort in the park tested bird and small animal habitat models later used by the Army Corps of Engineers to prepare environmental impact statements for construction projects. Another early research effort examined atmospheric deposition of pollutants for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Laboratory located in Oak Ridge.
Former Congressman Chet Holifield participated in the December 1980 dedication of the Holifield Heavy Ion Research Facility named after him. "One more curiosity of the scientifically oriented human mind" was Holifield's description of the awesome tower and the pelletron accelerator it housed.
Twice as powerful as any other machine of its type, the accelerator in the tower was coupled with the Oak Ridge Isochronous Cyclotron to convert heavy ions into high-speed projectiles. Colliding with targets, these projectiles produced results that helped to illuminate fundamental nuclear science. Laymen were more amazed by the spin spectrometer, a clustered array of gamma-ray detectors, dubbed a "crystal ball," used to measure the energies of the gamma rays emitted by the products of the heavy-ion collisions.
Like the environmental park, the Holifield Heavy Ion Research Facility was designated a national DOE user facility. Over the years, it hosted numerous scientists from around the world. By the late 1980s, nearly a quarter of all Ph.D. degrees in low-energy nuclear physics involved work done at this facility. Oak Ridge Associated Universities organized the University Isotope Separator of Oak Ridge (UNISOR) group of universities that conducted studies using an isotope separator at the end of one of Holifield's beam lines. The Physics Division under Paul Stelson and later Jim Ball formed and built the Joint Institute for Heavy Ion Research on DOE land using funding from Vanderbilt University and the University of Tennessee. The institute has been a model of scientific cooperation. This mostly underground, energy-efficient structure designed by Laboratory architect Hanna Shapira also has served as a visible symbol of the Laboratory's commitment to energy conservation.
The National Center for Small-Angle Scattering Research was the Laboratory's third user facility opened in 1980. Small-angle neutron scattering blossomed during the 1970s as a way to explore certain types of microscopic structures. Although two laboratories using this scientific technique existed in the United States, they were not readily available to independent researchers. In 1977 the National Science Foundation (NSF) proposed to fund a center for use by scientists nationwide. Wallace Koehler and Robert Hendricks, who had developed a small-angle X-ray scattering instrument, submitted a proposal to establish a user-oriented, small-angle scattering center at the Laboratory. It called for a new small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) facility at the High Flux Isotope Reactor, along with access to the Laboratory's existing small-angle X-ray and neutron scattering devices. Their proposal received NSF approval in 1978.
The new SANS facility, which opened in 1980 at the High Flux Isotope Reactor, included a position-sensitive detector designed by Casimir Borkowski and Manfred Kopp for determining the directions and intensities of the scattered neutrons. Initially directed by Koehler and later by George Wignall, the SANS facility was comparable to the best facilities in Europe, and the center offered a combination of X-ray and neutron scattering that made the Laboratory a mecca for this type of materials research.
With these new facilities, the Laboratory entered the 1980s prepared for its role as a user-oriented institution that could host scientists from around the world. After a decade of energy crises and constant transition, the Laboratory seemed to have adjusted well to its new role as a multiprogram laboratory of the Department of Energy.
During the presidential election of late 1980, however, candidate Ronald Reagan complained that DOE had not produced a single additional barrel of oil and promised to dismantle Carter's creation. By Christmas of that year, Reagan's transition team announced it had profound changes in mind for both DOE and its national laboratories.
In less than a month, they would have an opportunity to put those ideas into practice. Barely having caught its breath from a decade of whirlwind change in energy policy and direction, the Laboratory was poised for yet another transition. The Reagan years were about to begin.
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