How OSU Grew Nuclear Science 50th Anniversary of the Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics Program
October 11, 2009
LaSells Stewart Center
Oregon State University
Grant McCallum (GM) OSU NERHP 1976 graduate, who has had a successful career in Nuclear Engineering. He currently works at Richland, Washington.
Ken Jacobsen (KJ) Oregon State Undergraduate, History Major
KJ My name is Ken Jacobsen. I am interviewing Grant McCallum on October 11, 2009 at the Oregon State University LaSells Center, in Corvallis, Oregon. At this time I’ll go ahead and allow Grant to give us some, start with some background on his OSU experience in the NERHP. I can use that acronym with you and you are comfortable with it?
GM That’s fine, in those days it was known as the NE Department, but…yeah, it was both in those days too.
KJ So go ahead, tell me.
GM Okay, well, I think probably the best thing to do is just to kind of go back a little bit in time to how I became interested in Oregon State in general. I lived in Oregon most of my life except for three years in California, but from age ten on we lived in Portland. My mother had attended Oregon State College back in the forties, and so she always talked up Oregon State. I was interested in the outdoors, the mountains, the trees, the rivers; fantasized about being in the wilderness. The first book I read that I remember in seventh grade was The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper so the wilderness was a real important thing. Very early in life I decided that I would be a forester. So when I finished up high school at Grant High School, I went to Portland Community College for five quarters and then transferred down to Oregon State School of Forestry. And a year in forestry to my disappointment, it just a, when I realized that it was a crop,
GM like carrots or tomatoes, but harvested for over thirty years, my interest waned and I was kind of in turbulence. I took a half a year off, came back in general science, for a couple of quarters, and happened to meet a fellow—a friend of mine knew—another guy he went to high school with, who went to graduate school in nuclear engineering, so I said, “what on God’s green earth is that?” So we went down to the Radiation Center and took a tour and that was in the spring of seventy three. We got up into the reactor bay and looked down at the blue glow of the Cherenkov radiation. They pulsed the reactor for me and so there was a flash of blue, and it just fascinated me. I was very interested in science all along so I thought “well, I’ll drop anchor here” and get a degree in Nuclear Engineering. So I interviewed with Bernie Spinrad and Bernie was a chemist with a strong math background, and he said, “Great, come on board, we’ll see you in the fall.” And so I started in seventy three and I finished up in seventy six. Along the way, I’d been putting myself through college, working on ocean going freighters in the summer so it kind of concentrated [courses] that last summer. I went out to sea and I came back and I got a job at the University and I didn’t sail again, so I could take summer classes and I worked. My job was with Art Johnson, on the health physics side so I was a health physics technician. I’d do surveys and help out with setting up packages to ship and all of those things. So I began my journey in nuclear engineering. I enjoyed the small classes. There was maybe twenty people who were going through at that time. And so you got to know people pretty well and it was a nice, small program and so we worked our way through those, and all the classes. Some of the classes that I, other than nuclear engineering, I liked, I remember, in fact, I just struck up a correspondence with a classmate of mine—what would we call it?—it was in ten weeks we went through a year of static strengths and dynamics. I think it was a sophomore sequence in engineering. So it happened to be, I think it was the summer of seventy four, it was blue skies and sunny and it was one of those real concentrated, difficult one subject classes that I enjoyed the most. And I would have to say that working for the Radiation Center really gave me a different dimension, because I was working around all the graduate students, not only nuclear and health physics, but in nuclear chemistry, there was even some people there in radiation biology, and people were analyzing moon rocks, a fellow named J.C. Laul, who I think is at Los Alamos now. So it was just, I got to see the whole back behind the scenes operation of graduate school, different disciplines, reactor operation, and now and then overhear the professors speaking about university politics, which I’d ask questions about, but beyond the a, just the a, working for the classes, I remember a couple of funny stories. One of them was that most days we had film badges. I think we might have had TLD’s also, when you worked at the Radiation Center, but I wore a film badge…
KJ Which would be, what that be used for, Grant? I mean, like your dosimetry…
GM Yes, a film badge was essentially a piece of negative that was first, it was all wrapped up so that it wouldn’t be exposed, but then depending on the amount of radiation was inserted on that would change the exposure of the substrate such that they could tell how much radiation had been absorbed.
GM And then I think we also had TLD’s which are little plastic pieces…
GM …that also absorbed radiation and then we would heat them up and they would release that stored energy and there would be a corresponding scintillation that could be measured and so…. I had this film badge and so I was in Art Johnson’s office and I was in the bathroom in the urinal and in some combination of swift moves…
KJ (begins laughing)
GM I knocked the film badge off and flushed the urinal and the film badge went down and disappeared and I’m watching and thinking, “Hmm. How will I tell Art about this?” So I thought, well it’s a done deed, and off I went, still trying to figure out how to do it, when maybe about a half an hour later, Art had gone into the bathroom to a different urinal and when he flushed, the back pressure pushed the film badge up into view. So he was walking through the Radiation Center,
KJ (continues laughing)
GM with this film badge on a stick looking for me, wondering the other side of the story. So that was one story that stuck in my mind, and he might remember that.
KJ (still laughing)
GM Another story…I was, it was senior year and I’d had just an ongoing, constant, chronic headache, and so I went to the doctor, and thought, well it is either stress or a it’s a tumor or something, so lets check it out, so they did a…so they said, “well, we’re going to do a brain scan.” And so went over the hospital and they injected technetium-99m. That is stable and has a six hour half life. And then they just set me up under a whole series of photomultiplier tubes, injected the material in and they were looking for the flow of blood throughout the brain, and also, whether it would concentrate in a tumor. I don’t know how the flow worked out, but there was no tumor, and so things looked good—of course, I did not know that at the time—but we got done and I took off because I was late for a lab in the reactor bay area where we were mapping a subcritical pile. I believe a…it was a graphite pile and they had dropped a neutron source into it, I believe it was a neutron source, so we were mapping the flux. And so I knew I was hot, there was radiation in me, and so I walked into the Radiation Center and as I walked down the hallways I was setting the alarms off in the lab. People came out and I just played dumb, as if I didn’t know what was going on, and worked my way back into the reactor bay, and waited for a couple of minutes and then I was next to a guy who had a leather coat on. I grabbed the g (sounds like jean tube) tube and got it close to me and it went off-scale and everybody’s eyes got big and I put the tube down and turned to the guy and I started wiping my hands on this guy’s leather coat. And of course he’s protesting, “What are you doing? What are you doing?” And I revealed my state, why I was hot, so they all forgot the subcritical pile and swung around and taking cutie pies and mapping me. I think at the heart where the blood pooled that was about twelve or more ? per hour, so…
That was probably, might be something somebody remembers. I don’t think Art was there, and I don’t know who our… it might have been Robinson, I don’t know who was running the lab, we didn’t’ have any courses with Karl Hornyik. So those are some of the funny things I remember. The other one was that these PhD candidates forever removed my…any tendency I would have to be in awe of Ph.D.’s!
GM Because although they were very bright and specialized in one area, sometimes they did not seem very practical or endowed with common sense, so it was a good experience to work there for three years. And beyond Art of course all the professors…It was Art and Steve Binney and Alan Robinson and there’s a couple of others I can’t recall their names, oh golly. One was a dean, an Assistant Dean, so he was gone quite a bit, but a Karl Hornyik stuck out as just being an individual whose just very excited to work with students, very much a concerned human being about their welfare and what they’re learning, but he also shared a lot about his background. He had, I think he was five or six and living in Austria when the Russian army came through at the end of World War II, and so he shared with me what that was like as a five, six year old when that happened. There happened to be some troops from the Steppes of Asia that may not have been that well educated and he saw them cutting a battery in half with a hacksaw, so he kind of had some opinions about some of the Russian troops, maybe about how educated they were. And he also just shared everyday things, what it was like in the beer halls, how the weather movements would come down from Siberia, just a real down to earth fellow. When he was in graduate school in the University of Illinois, he just loved getting out in convertibles on freeways and going a hundred miles an hour and just loved America and…. I think he was in his late thirties and he was quite a specimen, a real athlete, very competitive and he just had these deep blue eyes and I remember, I was coming up—I don’t know what the street is—but I was coming up the street going to the Radiation Center and I lived out of town so I probably put 15 miles a day on a bike and probably pushed harder than any other time and I was just in peak physical condition. And he is coming the other way and I had a ten speed and he has this English three speed and he sees me, going fast and his eyes light up and he says, “Hey, what are you doing?” And I turned the corner, downshifted and just gave it all I had and he turned and I could hear him behind me just pumping away on that three speed and he was gaining on me, I could not outrun him! He was just a, he was just a lot of fun. And so I remember also playing volleyball with him and he was just so athletic and it was so fun to spike the ball onto him because, you know, professors you’re not supposed to abuse…but he got right in there and he just kind of mud wrestled with us out there.
KJ Now what was he on the faculty, was he the Dean, or just one of the…?
GM No, Karl was an assistant, or maybe he was an associate…probably an Associate Professor, and it wasn’t a… oh golly, it might have been—I graduated in seventy six, it might have been, let’s see, about eighty four—he died early, of a heart attack, and it was probably within two days the news of that had spread throughout the world, to all OSU graduates and we were just absolutely bummed that he had passed on so early. He was just a beautiful human being. And I think everybody that worked with him, I am sure that all of the professors at the time felt that, he was just a great guy and… It was a very small group of professors, kind of like a small family, so, so it was really nice.
KJ Anybody else that stands out in you mind here on the faculty?
GM Well, they were all, they were all good. You know, the engineering faculty tend to be like engineering students, where their, they don’t stick out too much. But they are all pretty interested in your welfare there, pretty concerned and shared about their lives. One of the graduate students that I really enjoyed that I struck up a conversation and friendship with because I had either them as a lab partner or it was a Catholic Nun who was getting her PhD degree in nuclear chemistry. I think she was in her sixties. I suspect she was hiding from her order out here getting a degree. But she a, her name is Sister Mary Joseph Bruschard . She did receive her PhD in nuclear chemistry. I don’t know who her major professor was but I don’t think it was Walt Loveland, it might have been someone else, but at any rate… So just J.C. Laul, who was doing the analysis of the moon rocks, and beyond that, it was fun working with the technicians, running the reactor and the electrical technicians in the room. In fact we were, we needed a foot counter to go back into the reactor bay, and so I told Art that I was pretty handy and I’d go over to the Physical Plant at the university and I’d build one. So I got a little budget from him and I, we built a, it was with nice hardwood laminate plywood and expanded steel and I got plate of aluminum and cut two feet out and the lab textbook with pm tubes was in there and so was all the electronics. It looked like a, almost like they bought it from a catalogue and so you’d pull butcher paper through it and I think they used it from the early seventies into the late eighties. I know people remember seeing it. In fact, I might have seen it in ninety two when I came down to do some recruiting. So that was kind of, so I would do those sort of things. And Art told me that maybe we should change majors to carpentry
GM [inaudible] or something, he might have been right on that one! So I just, I had a different dimension of experience having worked down there. I got to know some of the graduate students in nuclear engineering and I work with them to this day. Just a lot of fun, and great guys.
KJ So when you graduated then what did you do, where did you go?
GM Well, I graduated. I took some time off and I went canoeing in British Columbia for a couple of months. Then eventually went to work, I was working for Lee Pedicord in between times and just doing whatever he wanted me to do. And then I went up to, I got my first job at Westinghouse Hanford, and worked at Westinghouse for about three and a half years. Then I got the wanderlust. Some of my friends were working in the construction of the nuclear plants up there in Richland. A fellow, Dick Spence graduated the same year I did lured me off the construction site and so for about for five years I worked on nuclear plants across the nation. And then ended up, in eighty five, getting on with General Electric out of San Jose, but assigned to the east coast. I worked with their simulator training, did a couple of start ups on the power plants, Limerick and Hope Creek. Then given that the nuclear industry was a, had collapsed, and they weren’t building anymore plants, my wife and I decided we’d move back to Richland and raise our kids there and I’d go to work for whoever. So I went back and worked for a technical and hard tech engineering companies. And then in the early nineties, quit and started my own business, a little technical consulting business, and worked that for about twelve, thirteen years. And then shut that down and I have just been working individually for various companies. I worked for Fluor Corporation up to about this year and now I am working for CH2M Hill, kind of deciding what I want to do next.
KJ Those two plants you did the start up for, where were they located at? I know you mentioned it but…
GM Limerick was right outside Royersford, Pennsylvania, just a little bit west, north west of Philadelphia and Hope Creek was down in Salem, New Jersey. They were located kind of central to some of other power plants around there Susquehanna, and Limerick and Hope Creek, so if we stayed with GE, the implication was you could go to the various plants. And so some of the people on that job, had come back to Richland, not with me but they ended up there and are working now at a, a lot of them work now at the Department of Energy. Three of them are working out at the GEWR out there at Energy Northwest. In fact, Dale Atkinson is out there and he is an OSU graduate, from seventy seven.
KJ Sounds like that it is not that small of a world for OSU graduates. I mean do you run across…
GM There is quite a few up in the Tri Cities but even as you move around the country you’ll run into people from OSU. Of course, I haven’t been out and about too much…
GM …lately. They are just kind of everywhere. They have all seemed to do very well. People think highly of the university, and are always excited to get especially these days if they can get someone who has graduated from here coming to work for them, so…OSU has had a very good reputation over the years.
KJ Do you think that’s because of the fact that we had, and was able to get, a reactor and the influence of the early, you know, academic visionaries to put that here at OSU?
GM Well, I think so. Of course, you don’t know while you are going through the program, you think everybody has these facilities and this reactor but when I think back on it in 1973, the Radiation Center, the TRIGA reactor, it was phenomenal to me that Chih Wang and others were able to put that together. I think the combination of that equipment, and in my mind, the interplay between nuclear engineering, health physics, radiation biology, nuclear chemistry and the geophysicists that were there doing things with moon rocks and other things. I think that whole interplay was just a phenomenon now when I think back on it was just a good solid program we had and what a good vision somebody had to put it all together. And that it has survived all these years with the vision to keep it going. It was just a powerful move on the part of the university and the leaders of the Radiation Center. Because they are positioned now for a phenomenal growth which I think they are experiencing.
KJ Anything stand out in you mind either on a humorous level or what, you know, post OSU experience that you know just your own personal experience that a or just anything that’s significant to…
GM Well, it’s always a, I think an OSU graduate, are always very open to seeking out another graduate for an opportunity in business, or just to kind of reminisce about old times. So its kind of a very open community. I have had people in my consulting company—one whose graduated I think in seventy eight, with a Masters degree at the time and her name is Kitty Shey and she was Chinese, and she had had a great experience at Oregon State. I think this was her third engineering degree. But it was a degree that she pursued in order to find employment and when she received it in seventy eight she was immediately employed. But she called me up and introduced herself, and I said well, I have heard of you. And she says, well I’m a Beaver and I am looking for work, and Wanda Munn said that you may have something. So, I did and was able to put her to work and we’ve developed a really strong relationship. It not just that, it turns out she teaches Tai Chi and some other martial arts, a little four foot ten seventy pound Chinese lady who teaches all these things so that interested me so she has been my teacher in Tai Chi for probably seven years. So, there are all these interrelationships that occur and it was just a fun community. Some of the people I see and work with now were here, Steve Baker graduated in I think sixty two in math and went into the nuclear navy, and then came back and got a PhD in math for fun, and then came to the Radiation Center to get a Masters so that he could find work. And so I met him at the Radiation Center, and we’re still good friends and do work together after all these years. I think it is just a strong community, and there is a real connection here. I don’t know what the other graduates think, but sometimes I look at my diploma now and I am just marveled that I had the good sense, and fortune, and luck to stumble into the program, because it has provided me a rich experience professionally and meeting people and being I don’t know if I’ve ever recorded this, I’m a little rare because I am a right brain engineer, and I do like to get out and about and interact with people and run programs and initiatives and things so…It was just a real good education and position to come from to go out into the world and have fun and interact and do things to this day. To this day, its still doing that for me, so I marvel that I had the opportunity and the good sense to go ahead and get through that program.
KJ What have been some of the changes since your graduation at least in your field that you would think would be something that you’d like to talk about or share in terms of nuclear energy?
GM As far as the opportunities that are available or how the program prepares you or just anything or all of those things?
KJ Just anything that you have noticed, you know, that’s different I mean, safety, technology, design, I mean any of those things from your initial…
GM Well I think that all the fundamentals and the basics that were relevant then, are still relevant today,
GM as far as the fundamental engineering. Of course, the control systems coming out on reactors are much more exotic, and even possibly simplified in that just all the things that computers and sensors will do for you. But I think just the fundamental preparation is relevant then as it is today, and today as it was then. I notice that the textbooks, there is a bigger variety and the material is a, there is a better quality of textbooks across the board in my opinion, in mathematics, and physics, and chemistry, and biology, and engineering. There is just a lot of media, a lot of interactive tools that are available, a lot of exercises and information, I notice in these textbooks, you can go out to specific websites and you can do a whole series of new exercises. I think there’s the opportunity for students to actually learn a little bit more. And have a little bit more preparation, depth beyond that. I think to my surprise and dismay, all engineers would do well to really bear down and learn how to write well, and get oral communication skills, regardless of where they are going. I can not think of any job that would exist now or in the future that doesn’t require those two things. And so I don’t know what the university is doing for that now but any class where an engineering student could have an opportunity to write more, even if they stayed another year, and combined it with something of interest, like I took some history and philosophy of science courses. Beautiful courses. So just anything that would cause them to write more. Some people come with those gifts to the university. I didn’t, and I suffered for it so I would say that is something that they could focus on, but I think as I look at the catalogue and the program the university is doing fine, so…
KJ Great. Over your career have you had opportunity when you go to different seminars or just you know different symposiums or anything, do you meet anybody fairly notable in the field I mean familiar names or have had personal contact with individuals that you would characterize as…
GM Oh, well, I think so but nothing is really jumping out at the moment. I tend to, I’ve never had, I’ve had no fear in ever approaching any executives, presidents, vice-presidents. I am kind of involved in politics, on political initiatives so when I work with Congressmen and sometimes a Senator, so, I just, I’ve always reached out to those people of interest to me, and those people who I thought were pushing forward into something that I was interested in. There is always SES positions in the government or in…
KJ SES being what?
GM That is Senior Executive Services that would be the executives in the federal government. I’ve always had some association working with them, so. I’ve been, I am always doing something with outside societies, the American Nuclear Society, sometimes the Health Physics Society, Rotary International; I do a lot of work with them. Within all of those roles, reaching out to somebody that is of note. We recently had the opportunity at our American Nuclear Society meeting to listen to the doctor, Yogi Gupte, from the Shock Physics Laboratory He is the director of the Shock Physics Laboratory up at Washington State University, and so all of his experiments are at high pressures and they all last about a billionth of a second. And he said his whole career he’s added up all these experiments and he’s got a couple of milliseconds worth of data. And so, you can read into that, you know that he has been doing nuclear weapons work too, but just in material science… He presented in his talk a thesis where one of his students, a PhD student, had taken photographs of the process whereby ice, where water turns to ice, and just the very, down to the billionth of a second, of photos of water turning to ice and the crystal structures that follow. I am always reaching out to that level and working with those levels, and so probably, not necessarily, but probably after I leave this interview, I will think of a bunch of names but I just, whether I was on loan to the Department of Energy, in DC or just around, I am always kind of reaching out to interesting people.
KJ Initiative wise you talked about some things you are working on, are you at liberty to share some of…
GM Well, I am just always involved in the cross between politics and our professions and what is going on in society. If I probably had an avocation it would probably be history, so I am always reading about and very interested in not only history, but foreign affairs, and military history, and the direction the nation is taking. I am just interested, so I am always combining that interest with my scientific interest and reaching out to people. So at Rotary recently I have gained an interest in possibly being part of one of these international deployment teams during disaster reliefs, and my bent is more in that direction now as opposed to career and maybe pursuing anymore interesting assignments there, kind of looking to do more work out in the world that is of a humanitarian nature. Maybe some advocacy for things nuclear.
KJ What’s your, you have talked a little bit about some things, you know, about on a world wide basis, but what is your experience been or what’s your feelings about underdeveloped countries developing nuclear power? I mean, have you thought much…
GM Well, I think, I have mixed feelings about that. Obviously, the rest of the world wants the standard of living that we have. It’s in most cases, not an unwise move to seek nuclear power. It sure would have been better if we had embraced the reprocessing, you know, a full fuel cycle early in the seventies, but that was shut down by Jimmy Carter and others, in that we would have probably had agreements on enrichment, and fuel availability and delivery and relationships with all the third world countries so I think, that one of the dirty little, what… secrets or results of all of that, is that I fear that someday some terrorists will get their hands on enough fissile material to make like a small suitcase nuke. I think that probably will happen in my lifetime. I know people do not like to hear that, it is just an opinion of mine based on all of my reading and studying and I think there is people working hard to do that. So the more, the less we have of an organized, controlled fuel cycle, will provide, be it Russia or you know, not so much Russia, but for example Pakistan, Iran, some of the other countries that have nuclear power, and have been moving towards other interests in fissile material. The less we have of an arrangement on the nuclear fuel cycle, where we can influence that and I think there’s problems. But the world is going to embrace nuclear power plants. The Chinese are building them as fast as they can on every street corner. The Koreans are taking some of our designs and they have the industrial capability to make those large vessels and so they are going to take those designs and sell them to some of the countries in Asia and we are kind of out of the loop a bit here. I have mixed feelings about that. Its gonna come, its needed, great for them…
KJ Well I think in this country we have not built a reactor, you know, a power producing reactor plant in some years. I mean, are your feelings, I mean that is still a very viable energy source for this country’s energy policy, I mean…
GM Well, it is
KJ You’ve been involved in building reactor plants, for production of electricity…
GM There is about thirty licenses to build in the process of various stages in the licensing process and we are very close to breaking ground in a couple of locations on new power plants.. They are going to have to replace the 110 we have and they are going to need more than that so I think someday there will be about 150. So it is just a matter of fact that we will need that technology and it is coming back now. But the problem is that the larger plants with the larger reactor vessel, we don’t have the capability to manufacture those in American anymore. That is what’s intriguing about these smaller ones, Nu Scale being one of them; they can actually build that vessel here in America. So I think it is going to be viable, and I think the public maybe as a whole, as a monolith is educated enough now to be able to discern the difference and work through that. I always felt that the baby-boomers, when the lights went out and the beer was warm, they would start inquiring about other forms of power. I think it is coming back, I am surprised actually. I never thought I would ever see one of the former founders of Greenpeace advocating nuclear power so, I think we are at a cross roads. Things are changing.
KJ Well, with OSU, with the great program that they have, they will be…
GM Oh yeah.
KJ able to produce the professionals that need to that can operate those plants for years to come,
GM I think they will see someday, I don’t know, I think the program total of all graduate students all the classes and all disciplines is about 200 I think now and I think it will probably rise to about 500 within ten years, and I know that competition for the graduates is intense. Which makes for very happy graduates. I don’t know what the room capability of the building is that they are in now, or if they’re in the process of seeking funds for a new building but they probably need room twice the size of the one that it in. so that will make them very happy.
KJ Right. Anything else? That stands out in your mind that you’d like to share?
GM Oh, nothing I can think of at the moment. Just that, I, I kind of, pinch myself for having found the program and having been able to go to college and the pride I feel when I am out and about. No one ever speaks anything but praise about any of the engineering disciplines at this school. But my best friend, who was best man at my wedding, I still see him, he did continue on and get a degree in Forestry and he had a great career so I know there are people who stayed in Forestry, so anyway…
KJ Good, good. Well, if there is nothing else, we’ll conclude this. I thank you so much for your time.
KJ Hopefully you’ll have an enjoyable day with your colleagues and stuff and see people. And I appreciate you doing this interview with us.
GM Okay. Three cheers for the history department!
KJ There you go!