Wasting It


Runit Your Way

World War II had hardly ended when - not satisfied with the wartime bombs that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Japan
- the US and the Soviet Union began testing new and nastier ones,
creating enormous amounts of radioactivity that spread through the air worldwide, descending as fallout.

- Barry Commoner

Source: www.brookings.edu from the Defense Special Weapons Agency

Beneath this concrete dome on Runit Island (part of Enewetak Atoll), built between 1977 and 1980 at a cost of about $239 million, lie 111,000 cubic yards (84,927 cubic metres) or radioactive soil and debris from Bikini and Rongelap atolls.  The dome covers the 30-foot (9 metre) deep, 350-foot (107 metre) wide crated created by the 5 May 1958 Cactus test.  Note the people atop the dome.

Nuclear Waste Management

by Wolf Hatch

Over the past decade... the specter of fossil fuel-induced global climate change has opened a new window of opportunity for the nuclear power industry.  However... the industry still faces a serious problem to which no solution has yet been found: how to dispose of the highly radioactive waste generated by nuclear power production (Dawson and Darst).

Nuclear waste is a problem that has plagued the world for decades.  While it is generated primarily from nuclear power plants, it is also used in a multitude of industrial, defense, and medical purposes - and, regardless of the source, this waste must somehow be safely reprocessed or else indefinitely stored.  Unfortunately, neither option by itself seems to present a viable solution, and no practical alternatives present themselves at this time.

"High-level waste takes at least 5,000 years before its activity becomes similar to that of a uranium orebody.  Thus, waste needs to be safely isolated for extremely long times, up to a million years, if the highest standards of radiation safety are to be met" (Quirk).  As a result, just storing the waste somewhere and letting it burn itself out may be rather unrealistic, since it is very unlikely that any given site will remain undisturbed for up to a million years; conversely, it is also unlikely that, in the intervening time, humanity will devise no useful alternative means of disposing of the waste.

As an alternative, reprocessing the spent fuel is problematic, because it is extremely expensive.  "A study by Japan's New Nuclear Policy-Planning Council recently estimated that the total extra cost for reprocessing 32,000 tons of Japan's spent fuel (about half as much as US reactors have discharged thus far) and recycling the plutonium (see Figure 1 would be about $60 billion" (Fetter and Hippel).  That is quite expensive considering the comparatively small return - and, with current processing technology, this would not even significantly reduce the amount of waste generated per kilowatt.

Figure 1: Nuclear Recycling Process for Plutonium
Mined uranium is transported to a mill where the uranium is separated from the ore.  The uranium is then converted to uranium hexafluoride (UF6), enriched,
and the enriched Uranium Dioxide (UO2) is then fabricated for use in nuclear reactors.  Once depleted, the spent fuel can either undergo reprocessing, be stored
in above-ground containment facilities, or be stored more permanently in federal waste repositories, such as the Yucca Mountain site (Fetter and Hippel).

Due to the high cost and the low return of current processing technologies, reprocessing is seen by many as an unacceptable solution.  However, no actual solution that everyone can agree on has yet been proposed.  The waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain has managed to get far enough for construction to begin, but it is far from unanimously agreed to be a good idea.  Theories for how to dispose of the waste are abundant, and these range from ignoring it to sending it on a one-way trip to Alpha Centauri.

That something can be done with nuclear waste, and can be done safely, is a given - the argument, as with many things, boils down to expense.  It would be perfectly possible to store all of the world’s nuclear waste in orbit and, if it were placed sufficiently far up, leave it there completely free of maintenance for over 1,000 years.  Since radioactive waste is not particularly volatile, there are even theories that we could fire it into orbit with large cannons - thus maximising fuel efficiency by keeping all fuel on the ground and at the same time learning more about a technology that could one day revolutionise space travel.

Unfortunately, the cost is prohibitive.

What very well may be the best option at this point is cheap interim storage in a centralised location until technology can advance sufficiently for other alternatives to become viable.  Yucca Mountain is the leading possibility at this time, but it is very expensive for mere interim storage.

For one thing, in coming decades we might devise better disposal methods, such as corrosion-proof containers that can withstand millennia of heat and moisture.  For another, used nuclear fuel can be recycled as a source for the production of more energy.  Either way, it's clear that the whole waste disposal problem has been misconstrued.  We don't need a million-year solution.  A hundred years will do just fine - long enough to let the stuff cool down and allow us to decide what to do with it.

The name for this approach is interim storage: Find a few patches of isolated real estate - we're not talking about taking it over for eternity - and pour nice big concrete pads; add floodlights, motion detectors, and razor wire; truck in nuclear waste in bombproof 20-foot-high concrete casks.  Voilà: safe storage while you wait for either Yucca Mountain or plan B (Schwartz and Reiss).

Sources Cited

bulletDawson, Jane I, and Robert G. Darst. "Russia’s Proposal for a Global Nuclear Waste Repository: Safe, Secure, and Environmentally Just?" Environment 47.4 (2005): 10-21. \ Research Library Core. ProQuest. Fairleigh Dickinson University Lib., Florham, NJ.  7 Nov. 2005 <http://www.proquest.com/>.
bulletQuirk, Tom. "The Safe Disposal of Nuclear Waste." Review - Institute of Public Affairs 57.2 (2005): 15-17. ABI/INFORM Global. ProQuest. Fairleigh Dickinson University Lib., Florham, NJ. 7 Nov. 2005 <http://www.proquest.com/>.
bulletFetter, Steve, and Frank N. von Hippel. "Is U.S. Reprocessing Worth the Risk?" Arms Control Today 35.7 (2005): 6-12. Research Library Core. ProQuest. Fairleigh Dickinson University Lib, Florham, NJ. 7 Nov 2005 <http://www.proquest.com/>.
bulletSchwartz, Peter, and Spencer Reiss. "Nuclear Now! How clean, green atomic energy can stop global warming." Wired Feb. 2005. 7 November 2005. <http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.02/nuclear.html?pg=3>.


bulletJane I Dawson is Virginia E Weinmann Chair of International Environmental Studies and an associate professor of government at Connecticut College, where she focuses on comparative environmental activism and politics in the post-communist states of the former Soviet Union and East-Central Europe.  She is currently working on a joint project with Robert G Darst that compares the complex politics of nuclear waste repository siting in Russia, Kazakhstan, East-Central Europe, and the European Union.  She is the author of Eco-Nationalism: Anti-Nuclear Activism and National Identity in Russia, Lithuania, and Ukraine (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), which was awarded the 1997 Shulman Prize in Slavic Studies, and of numerous articles on the environmental politics of the post-communist region.  She can be reached at jidaw@concoll.edu.
bulletRobert G Darst is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.  His research focuses on the international politics of environmental protection and human rights.  He is the author of Smokestack Diplomacy: Cooperation and Conflict in East-West Environmental Politics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001) and of numerous articles.
bulletSteve Fetter is a professor and dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.
bulletFrank N von Hippel is a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University.
bulletTom Quirk is a member of the Board of the IPA.  He has been deputy chairman of Victorian Energy Networks Corporation and has worked as an academic physicist.
bulletPeter Schwartz is cofounder and chairman of Global Business Network, a Monitor Group company, and a partner of the Monitor Group, a family of professional services firms devoted to enhancing client competitiveness.  An internationally renowned futurist and business strategist, Peter specialises in scenario planning, working with corporations, governments, and institutions to create alternative perspectives of the future and develop robust strategies for a changing and uncertain world.
bulletSpencer Reiss is a contributing editor, Wired Magazine, specialising in energy issues, commercial space travel and the human impact of technology.  A former Newsweek correspondent in Asia, Africa and Latin America, he also writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and MIT Technology Review.

Radioactive Waste Disposal

by Nigel Bruce and Jim Hunt

One of the most contentious issues of our time is what should be done with radioactive wastes.  The wastes from nuclear power stations are the most intensely radioactive and the lack of clear policies about what to do with these wastes is a strong argument used by opponents of the whole nuclear power program for generating electricity.  A considerable amount of research is, therefore, going on worldwide in order to find the answers.

"High level" wastes cannot simply be allowed to escape into the environment.  They must be contained and isolated from the environment until their radioactivity has fallen to negligibly low levels.  The decay of the radioactivity begins quickly but it gradually gets slower and slower and it may be hundreds or thousands of years before the waste can be thought of as reasonably safe.  One of the most attractive options for the ultimate disposal of these wastes is to bury them very deep in very stable geological structures in the earth.  There, their radioactivity will be absorbed by the great depths of rock.  The alternative special structures built on the surface, is unattractive because these installations would have to be monitored for many generations, perhaps long after our own civilization had passed into history.

Scientists are currently considering a 4-level containment system.

  1. The wastes are made into a stable glass.  This is called vitrification and involves heating the wastes with a mixture of metal oxides to over 1,000º Celsius.  The product would look much like beer bottle glass.  Like ordinary glass, it would be very resistant to chemical attack.
  2. The glass would be packed into stainless steel drums.  This would act as a barrier against groundwater.  Estimates are that the drums would last at least 500 years.
  3. The drums would be stored in an underground chamber and the space between the drums filled with concrete.  Concrete would provide a further barrier to the ground water, as well as other advantages discussed below.
  4. The geological formation itself would form a natural, kilometre-thick barrier between us and the waste.  As mentioned already, this would easily absorb all the radiation.

Why isn't this being done?  The reason is that the high level wastes have to be stored under water for at least 50 years before they are processed.  They are initially so intensely radioactive that handling them would be difficult.  Also, when they are said to be "hot", that is radioactive, we forget that they are also hot in the sense, as a result of the radioactive disintegrations that are occurring.  They cannot be made into a stable glass until the initial intense radioactivity dies away and they cool down.

The real concern among scientists about these radioactive waste materials is that the hazardous radioactive metals could leak out into the groundwater and possibly contaminate drinking water supplies.  Much chemical research on these elements such as uranium, plutonium and neptunium has been done in order to find the right conditions to minimise this.  Let's look again at our 4-level containment.

Glass is chemically very stable.  The hazardous metals are not in a form which will leak into water.  The stainless steel drum provides a physical barrier between the glass and the outside.  The concrete back filling also has an important role.  Any water which seeps into the concrete, will be very alkaline (for the technically minded, pH > 10.5).  Under these conditions, uranium, plutonium and the other metals are all in extremely invaluable chemical forms: that is, they would not dissolve in the water.  In fact, research has shown that even if the concrete was the only contaminant used, any water leaking out of the concrete would still be fit to drink!  The other barriers, plus the effect of dilution of any leachate, should give plenty of protection when the time comes to take the high level wastes out of 50 year "temporary" storage and dispose of them permanently.

College of Physical Science
University of Guelph

Source: physics.uoguelph.ca The Science Corner

In the Trenches

Source: brookings.edu from the Department of Energy

Until 1970, solid low-level and transuranic waste at the Atomic Energy Commission's nuclear weapons facilities (shown here is Hanford Reservation, circa 1950s) was frequently disposed of in cardboard boxes.  Once filled, this unlined trench would have been covered with dirt, leaving the cardboard to deteriorate and allowing the waste to contaminate the soil and leach into the groundwater.

A Different Sort of Nuclear Waste...

Greenbrier Bunker Blast Door
Source: brookings.edu from the Mosler Safe Company (courtesy Richard Gardner)

Workers at the Mosler Safe Company, circa 1960, stand by one of the two giant blast doors they built for vehicular entrances to the secret fallout shelter for Congress located underneath at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia.  The door is 19.5 inches (49.5 centimetres) thick and weighs 24 tonnes.

The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway

by Ted Gup

The year was 1960 and Randy Wickline was building something so immense and unnerving that he dared not ask what it was.  All the Superior Supply Company plant manager was told was that he was to haul concrete - an endless river of concrete - to be poured into the cavernous hole that had been excavated beside the posh Greenbrier hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.  He remembers an urgency about the job, his supervisor hollering "hurry up," even instructing him to push the legal weight limit on his truckloads, and paying the fines that resulted.  To keep up with the job, Superior Supply had to purchase two more concrete mixers, and still it was stretched thin.  Over the next 2½ years, Wickline estimates, the company hauled some 4,000 loads to the site and poured 50,000 tonnes of concrete into the abyss that scrapers, rippers and air hammers had carved out of the shale.  Cost was never an issue.  Lorries ccame and went day and night for almost 4 years, and a nearby runway long enough to accommodate jumbo jets was constructed to service a backwoods township of just 2,000 people.  It was known as Project Greek Island.

A warren of rooms and corridors took shape where there had been a hill.  The walls were 2 feet thick and reinforced with steel.  Later, the entire structure was covered with a concrete roof and buried beneath 20 feet of dirt.  At each entrance, cranes hung humongous steel doors, as if giants were to inhabit the underground structure.  Soon thereafter, Wickline was told, "sensitive equipment" was moved into the facility.  The door was locked.  A guard was posted outside.  No one had to tell Wickline that what he had helped build had something to do with the atomic bomb.  "Nobody came out and said it was a bomb shelter," he says today, "but you could pretty well look and see the way they was setting it up there that they wasn't building it to keep the rain off of them.  I mean a fool would have known.  There would have been enough room to get a few dignitaries in there, but us poor folks would be left standing outside.  It kind of made me think about it - and hope it never happens."

For years, the work that Wickline and scores of other local builders undertook at the Greenbrier fueled speculation, but in time the memories dimmed and the rumours died.  History took its course, and the generation that was defined by its anxiety over the Bomb began to see hope for a future free of mushroom clouds and radiation sickness.

But inside the hill, time stood still.

Now, more than 3 decades later, interviews with numerous current and former hotel employees and executives, contractors and former government officials, along with a review of private blueprints, drawings and photographs, have confirmed Randy Wickline's assumption, and more.  What he helped build, it is now clear, was a haven for members of the US Congress in the event of a nuclear war.

Unlike other government relocation centres, built mainly to house military and executive branch officials who would manage a nuclear crisis and its aftermath, the Greenbrier facility was custom-designed to meet the needs of a Congress-in-hiding, complete with a chamber for the Senate, a chamber for the House and a massive hall for joint sessions.  Its discovery offers the first conclusive evidence that Congress as a whole was even included in government evacuation scenarios and given a role in postwar America.  Today, the installation still stands at the ready, its operators still working under cover at the hotel - a concrete-and-steel monument to the nuclear nightmare.  The secrecy that has surrounded the site has shielded it both from public scrutiny and official reassessment, and may have allowed it to outlive the purpose for which it was conceived.

House Speaker Thomas Foley, one of the very few in Congress who has been briefed on the Greenbrier facility, declined to comment for this article.  But former speaker Thomas P "Tip" O'Neill says the evacuation plan always seemed "far-fetched" to him.  "I never mentioned it to anybody," O'Neill recalls.  "But every time I went down to the Greenbrier - and I went there half a dozen times - I always used to look at the hill and say, 'Well, that's where we're supposed to live in the event something happens, and that's where we're going to do business, maybe under the tennis courts.'"

Situated in a lush and remote valley in the Allegheny Mountains 5 hours' drive (400 kilometres) southwest of Washington, the Greenbrier is one of the nation's premier resorts, a place that touts itself as a playground for foreign princes and America's political elite; 23 men who were or would become US presidents have stayed there.  Dinners are 6 courses.  The most elaborate are set with 24-karat-gold vermeil and served by waiters in forest green livery.  A fleet of bottle-green stretch limos idles in front of the columned portico.  Spread over 6,500 manicured acres, complete with 3 golf courses (one Jack Nicklaus-designed), skeet shooting, white-water rafting, falconry with the co-operation of the resort's own Lanner falcon, gourmet cooking classes, tennis lessons with the hotel's resident tennis pro, spas, and a stream stocked with rainbow trout, the Greenbrier wants to be seen as a resort of distinction and aristocratic carriage.  It is designated a National Historic Landmark - and seems among the last places one might expect to find a Strangelovian bunker.

It all began humbly enough.  Amanda Anderson was ageing and riddled with rheumatism when she arrived at the curative waters on the outskirts of White Sulphur Springs in 1778.  Slung on a litter between two horses she immersed herself in the spring and is supposed to have cried: "I'm cured, I'm cured", returning to her native New York in high spirits and, it is recalled, with great speed.  Rows of cottages were soon erected on the site and throughout the 1800s increasingly ornate residences grew to accommodate the elite of American society.  During the Civil War they were used as a hospital by both sides and, after Robert E Lee surrendered control of the Confederate forces to William Tecumseh Sherman at Appomattox court house in Virginia in 1865, he retreated to the "Old White" to rest.  After all, it had been a long war.  Then, in 1910, a magnificently columned, 250-room Georgian edifice was added, followed by 3 further wings in the 1930s that increased the Greenbrier's capacity to more than 600 rooms

Though the resort has knowingly hosted both the ultra-sensitive congressional hideaway and the people who maintain it, there seems to have been little concern that any of the Greenbrier's 1,600 employees would reveal the facility's existence.  Many have heard rumours about what lies beneath the vast extension known as the West Virginia Wing, which houses luxury rooms and a complete medical clinic.  Some have direct knowledge of the installation, but no one will talk openly about it.  The Greenbrier is the only significant private employer in hardscrabble Greenbrier County, and its workers - many of whom are 2nd- and 3rd-generation employees - don't have to be reminded of the strictness with which the resort manages its public image.  "Anyone who doesn't work here and who is of working age, there's a reason they're not here," says the hotel's president, Ted Kleisner.  "Everyone comes to work for life here.  People die.  People retire.  And a couple of people get fired each year.  That's it."

Even before the facility was built, the Greenbrier and the US government were no strangers.  In the winter of 1941 - 42, the hotel served as a US internment facility for Japanese, Italian and German diplomats.  On 1 September 1942, the US Army commandeered the entire resort - purchasing it for $3.3 million from its owner, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad - then converted it into a 2,200-bed military hospital.  General Dwight D Eisenhower was twice a patient there.  (He returned to celebrate a wedding anniversary in 1945.)  After the war, the railroad bought the resort back.  Other governmental links followed.  In 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson met at the Greenbrier with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretaries of the Army, Air Force and Navy for what a history of the Greenbrier called a "top-secret discussion of postwar military strategy."  In 1956 Eisenhower hosted an international conference there with the leaders of Canada and Mexico.  Hotel operators at the time answered the phone: "Good morning, Greenbrier White House."  The hotel has 3 connecting "Eisenhower Parlours," and Ike's bust is on display in the North Parlour.

There have also been frequent congressional visits over the years - in the 1980s, Democrats from Congress liked to meet there - and senior officials from every recent administration have been to the resort.  A 1991 promotional publication features a photo of Greenbrier President Kleisner welcoming Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney.

Despite its many government ties, there is a touch of irony in the Greenbrier's selection as host for a facility built in response to the Soviet threat.  Cyrus Eaton, the man who presided over the C&O - now the conglomerate CSX - enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Soviet leadership.  Dubbed "the Kremlin's favourite capitalist," he took pride in having received the Lenin Peace Prize, and in 1954 organised a meeting between US and Soviet atomic scientists in the hope they would warn their respective leaders of the perils of the arms race.  "What got me started was the atomic bomb and the realisation that our civilisation and theirs could be wiped out overnight," he once said.

When construction on the facility began in 1959, near the end of the second Eisenhower administration, the Cold War was at its height and fear of a Soviet nuclear attack was deeply embedded both in the psyche of ordinary citizens and in the thoughts of Pentagon planners.  Americans were excavating back yards for bomb shelters, storing cans of Campbell's soup on basement shelves and screening "duck-and-cover" films for schoolchildren.  Meanwhile, the government was building a number of relocation centres on the East Coast.  Most were carved out of mountains and became alternate command posts for the president and Cabinet, or communications centers.  It was the heyday of the doomsday planners.  "Continuity of government," as it came to be called, evolved into a military subspecialty.  Near Berryville, Virginia, Mount Weather was hollowed out of solid rock and filled with state-of-the-art communications equipment, underground reservoirs and banks of computers.  Another such facility was located at Raven Rock Mountain in Pennsylvania near Fort Ritchie.

The Greenbrier was different in that it relied more on the element of secrecy than on any mountain of rock to shield it from incoming bombs.  Yet despite the discretion of the resort staff, the existence of some kind of hidden government installation there was widely known.  One former government official says he was told that so many people in the White Sulphur Springs area knew about the facility that the government dispatched two men who had not been briefed on the project to mingle with the locals, posing as hunters, to learn just how much was known and what was being said.  According to the official, the two returned to Washington a few days later with so many details about the facility that they had to be given top-secret clearance.

Hundreds of people suspect that something hush-hush lies under the Greenbrier's West Virginia Wing. "I've always heard the rumours that there is some kind of bomb shelter under the Greenbrier's clinic," says County Assessor Clyde Bowling.  Like many in this small town of 2,800, he remembers being told that a company called Forsythe Associates operated the bomb shelter, and that a man named "Fritz" Bugas ran Forsythe.

For many others, the facility is less a matter of suspicion than a certainty.  "The government does have an installation there, no question about it," says John Bowling, a former mayor of White Sulphur Springs.  "It's common knowledge here."  John Bowling says he has known for years that the facility is a government relocation centre.  His family, long in the hardware business, sold many of the parts that went into the construction of the West Virginia Wing.  His uncle, Bowling says, had an empty skating rink where the government stored C-rations before transferring them to the site.  He remembers the concrete walls, 2 feet thick.  "The depth of the excavation was very, very impressive," he says.  "It was way down there."

At the time the facility was being built, White Sulphur Springs Police Chief Bernard Morgan recalls, he was told by the head of Greenbrier security, the late Harry Welsh, that without a security clearance he would not be allowed inside.  Gerald A Wylie, a Greenbrier security officer from 1963 until 1980, says he has been in the facility; unwilling to comment further, he says only that "it makes you feel safe."  Martha Dixon is the widow of Arnold Dixon, who worked as an engineer at the Greenbrier.  She recalls her husband telling her that he had to enter the facility periodically to test the generators there.  "It was all supposed to be very secretive," he told her.  "It was for the ones in Washington to come here."

Another former Greenbrier security officer, who asked not to be identified, says he saw bunk beds, shower rooms, an internal power plant and numerous offices behind the secured door leading to the facility.  He also recalls seeing a vast number of crates of C-rations.  "You could last a long time in there," he says.  "If war had broken out, we {Greenbrier security} would have taken charge."  An office inside the facility was designated for the use of security officers, he says.

Not surprisingly, most of the Greenbrier's current and former managers deny the existence of any hidden facility beneath the resort.  The company line comes from CSX spokesman James A Searle Jr in Richmond:  "There's no bomb shelter, no government facility.  I can tell you what I know is the truth and that is the end of it."

Chuck Ingalsbee was the Greenbrier's general manager from December 1984 until February 1987.  He now runs a Caribbean resort on the island of Anguilla.  Asked about the existence of a classified government facility under the West Virginia Wing, he said he would have to "touch base with a couple of people" before he could answer.  "I won't speak to the issue until I have had a conversation with the right people," he said.  "It was an official oath I gave."  In a subsequent conversation a week later, Ingalsbee said he had been directed not to speak about the facility.

Truman Wright, now retired and living in Highland Beach, Florida, ran the Greenbrier from 1951 until 1974, spanning the period in which the facility was constructed.  "I did not know for certain of anything that was going into it," he recalls.  "I purposely did not look into it."  Wright acknowledges knowing there was a government installation there.  "I didn't imagine it was for hotel guests," he says.  But while "I was supposed to be as knowledgeable as anyone ... anything that took place took place at a level far higher than mine, for example in the Terminal Tower Building in Cleveland {then C&O corporate headquarters}.  I don't know what went on.  I simply worked for the railroad."

During the construction of the West Virginia Wing, Wright recalls, he had a conversation with a contractor about one cavernous room he was working on.  "This is an exhibit hall?" observed the puzzled contractor.  "We've got 110 urinals we just installed.  What in the hell are you going to exhibit?"

Wright says he was kept in the dark about the installation's funding as well.  Told of another source's belief that in return for allowing the facility to be built at the Greenbrier, the government helped pay to construct the West Virginia Wing,  Wright says it is plausible but he has no firsthand knowledge of the new wing's finances.

From the beginning, the Greenbrier relocation centre has been run by Forsythe Associates, an obscure company ostensibly based in Arlington.  Standing at the ready to operate the facility, whose entrance is only steps away from one of its Greenbrier offices, Forsythe has a cover that shows a genius for simplicity.  The company's 6 or 7 full-time employees emphatically deny any involvement with the government.  They say that their job is to repair and service the Greenbrier's nearly 1,000 television sets and provide the hotel with television service.

It is true that Forsythe Associates' employees repair tvs and deliver cable programming to the hotel's guests.  And it may be true that some of the company's employees know little or nothing about the classified site.  But there have been plenty of signs that the company is not simply what it appears to be.

The first general manager of Forsythe's Greenbrier operation was John Londis, now 76 and retired to Boca Raton, Florida.  Londis is a former cryptographic expert with the Army Signal Corps who had a top-secret security clearance and was stationed at the Pentagon.  He arrived at the Greenbrier in 1960 as work on the installation was getting under way.  During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, according to one former government official, Londis made a point of leaving work on schedule so as not to attract attention, but then returned to the facility under cover of darkness.  In a recent interview, Londis denied any knowledge of a hidden installation and said his only work was to provide television service to the hotel.

A series of recent calls to the Forsythe office in Arlington was greeted with this recording: "You have reached Forsythe Associates.  Currently we are unable to come to the phone.  Please leave your name and number and we will return your call as soon as possible ... beep ... beep ... beep ...  The tape is full; please call again."  A week later the tape was replaced, but no calls were ever returned.

Forsythe maintains a complex of antennas, ostensibly used to deliver cable programmes, atop a nearby mountain.  A former government official who visited the site says that one of the antennas had a tube-like sensor designed to detect the brilliant light emitted in a nuclear flash.  That sensor, he said, would trigger an alarm within the underground facility.  The company has at least two offices at the Greenbrier, one a maintenance shop for technicians and supplies, the other an administrative building in an area seldom frequented by resort guests.  The front door of the administrative office has 3 separate locking mechanisms - a Dayton time-lock on the inside, and, on the outside, a Yale lock and a magnetic key-card lock.  Inside are the offices of Paul E "Fritz" Bugas, who replaced John Londis when he retired in 1976.

Bugas is a short man with a salt-and-pepper beard, a dark hairpiece, thick glasses and an outgoing personality.  A friend who asked not to be named says that, like Londis, Bugas was a career officer in the Army Signal Corps with a top-secret security clearance.  His title is eastern regional director of Forsythe, though Forsythe employees say they know of no Forsythe business other than that at the Greenbrier.  On his desk, behind his nameplate, is a small American flag with gold braid.  On the bookshelf behind his desk is an eclectic collection of books including such titles as Robert Scheer's With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War and Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History.  In a brief phone conversation Bugas said, "I don't have any qualms about talking with you."  He promised to call back, but never did.

Bugas's assistant is a man named John Nemcik, who says he worked as an Air Force radio operator and had a top-secret clearance until he retired in 1958.  In 1977, he says, he came to Forsythe's Greenbrier office after learning of a vacancy.  How he learned of the vacancy he does not remember.  Prior to that, he says, he worked for an Ohio firm from 1975 to 1977.  Asked what he did in the 17 years between military service and the Ohio position, he says, "I bounced around at odd jobs."

Across the hall from Bugas's office is that of his temporary secretary, Gladys Childers.  The office contains a word processor, a printer and, in the corner, a high-speed shredder.  Why does a television repair firm need a shredder?  "That's to get rid of Gladys's mistakes," says Nemcik with a laugh.

Details of the design and construction of the facility, of course, are scarce.  But Randy Wickline, who hauled concrete to the site, remembers seeing the name "Mosler" on the enormous doors that were installed at the entrances.

"Mosler" was Mosler Safe Cmpany, an Ohio-based manufacturer famed for its vaults and safes.  In the '50s and early '60s it also had a flourishing "nuclear products group" that used the company's expertise to build massive doors for government relocation centres and bunkers.  The company believed its doors could survive the impact of an atomic bomb blast, or at least a near miss.  A Mosler vault door withstood a nuclear blast some two-fifths of a mile away at the government's Nevada Test Site in 1957.

Chuck Oder, still an engineer with Mosler, helped build the blast-proof doors for the Greenbrier.  His project records note that he received an order for 4 specially-built doors in February 1960.  The entry simply read "Greenbrier Hotel."  But in the project jacket and archives of the company there is a wealth of information about Mosler's contribution to the project.  Beside the specifications on one set of blueprints is written: "Greenbrier Hotel: White Sulphur Springs Additional Facilities."

Two of the four doors ordered were gigantic, built to shield vehicular entrances.  One was designated "GH 1," the other, "GH 3."  With its frame and assembly, GH 1 weighed more than 28 tonnes and measured 12 feet 3 inches wide and 15 feet high.  The other vehicular door, GH 3, weighed more than 20 tonnes.  The doors were 19½ inches thick.  Each was hung with 2 hinges.  Those hinges alone weighed 1½ tonnes, according to Mosler's records.  Yet the doors were so delicately balanced that they could be opened and closed with the application of a mere 50 pounds of force against their bulk.  Two other doors were also built: a hatch-like door measuring 3 feet by 3½ feet, and a "personnel door" 7 feet wide by 8 feet high.

Ordinarily, the larger doors would have been constructed with two panels, or "leafs," but the Greenbrier doors were "single leaf."  Single-leaf construction maximised the doors' strength, eliminating the vulnerability caused by a seam.  Engineering instructions from the time note: "The locking devices shall be operable from the inside only and shall be protected against any possible damage by blast action against the outside surface of the doors."  In keeping with those instructions, large wheel handles were fitted on the inside of the 2 larger doors.  Placing the handle on the inside served 2 functions.  First, it enabled those inside the facility to lock themselves in against those who might otherwise try to enter.  Most importantly, as the instructions note, it protected the locking mechanism from a blast.  Turning the handle one way slid giant pins or rollers into fittings behind the frame.  Turning the wheel the other way released the pins.  Not surprisingly, the whole apparatus resembled the workings of a safe - but instead of deterring robbers, it was meant to withstand an atomic explosion.  A bomb's initial impact would theoretically be absorbed by the door, then spread to the frame, then finally to the wall of concrete poured around the frame.  The door would bend inward under the strain, distorted and bowed.  Then would come the reactionary pressure after the blast.  The door would recoil - or, as the experts say, "rebound" - shooting outward.  Without the huge pins to secure it, the door might fly off its hinges on the rebound.

From Mosler's Hamilton, Ohio, plant, the doors were moved to West Virginia by train.  They were too wide to be laid flat on an ordinary freight car, so they had to be transported standing or tilted at an angle, requiring a special flatbed car that was low enough so the doors would clear tunnels and trestles on the way.  Notations on Mosler's blueprints indicate that upon arrival at the Greenbrier, the steel doors were to be filled with concrete.  Mosler personnel at the job site installed the doors and their frames.

Not having been inside the hidden portions of the Greenbrier facility, I cannot paint an exact, up-to-date picture of what lies beyond those Mosler doors.  But a former government official whose familiarity with the facility dates back to its origins offers a fairly complete description, many details of which are confirmed by sources stationed there in more recent years.  The relocation centre's largest room is not hidden, but has been incorporated into the design of the resort's West Virginia Wing and is known as "The Exhibit Hall."  Measuring 89 by 186 feet beneath a ceiling nearly 20 feet high and lined with 18 massive support columns, it is one of the hotel's major conference facilities.  Through a vehicular entrance, exhibitors can drive truckloads of equipment and displays into the hall.  General Motors' top executives have met here amid displays of the company's newest model cars.  A Greenbrier brochure dating from the early 1960s notes, "The floor is finished with a beautiful plastic terrazzo designed to support unlimited weight."

Both the vehicular entrance and a second, pedestrian entrance can be sealed off by blast doors on very short notice.  Yet hotel guests see nothing but a spacious room.  On a recent afternoon, guests were practicing their golf drives there, hitting balls into large cages made of nets, while off-duty resort employees jogged around the perimeter.  Children played shuffleboard along the north wall.

At the rear of the Exhibit Hall are two smaller auditoriums also available for guest use.  The larger of these seats about 470 - enough to accommodate the 435-member House of Representatives.  Green corduroy-covered chairs with armrests that raise up to become desks are locked into rows.  A red carpet leads to the stage.  The smaller of the auditoriums has a seating capacity of about 130, enough to serve as a temporary Senate chamber.  The Exhibit Hall itself could be used for joint sessions of Congress.

All of this has been open and available to hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting guests who have passed through for more than three decades.  But the rest of the installation is out of public view.

Not far from the auditoriums is a large white door with 4 metal bolts; 2 lock into the floor and 2 into the ceiling. It leads to a corridor, perhaps 20 yards long, that ends at a locked door where a sign with red letters against a white background cautions: "Danger: High Voltage Keep Out."  Overhead are a large emergency lighting system, vents and what appear to be sensors.  Few people have been beyond this door, which can be opened only with a special key card.  When the former government official first entered the facility, he was amazed by what he saw.  Along the left side of the wide corridor leading further into the hillside was an infirmary complete with an operating table, then a dormitory with hundreds of metal bunk beds.  The mattresses were covered, but the beds were not made.  Beside the dormitory was a shower room, complete with wrapped bars of soap in the dishes.  "I remember the first time I saw it, especially the dormitory," the former official says.  "I had bad dreams that night.  It's one of those experiences you don't lightly forget.  It scared the hell out of me."

Beyond that room was a television studio from which the legislators would be able to address what was left of the nation.  Still further into the compound was a radio and communications room, then a room with phone booths that had been specially soundproofed and fitted with cryptographic machines.  To the right of the corridor as one entered the door was a dining room where a number of place settings had been neatly laid out.  The walls of the dining room featured false windows complete with wooden frames and country scenes painted on them.  The idea, apparently, was that the illusion of being above ground might counter the sense of entombment that could come from a prolonged stay in the facility.

There was also a kitchen and storage area.  In the very rear of the compound was a power room, with 2 diesel generators, standing 2 stories high, ready to supply all electrical needs.  In the same room was a device identified as a "pathological waste incinerator" (translation: an oven for cremations).  Once the blast doors were sealed, no one could enter or leave until the crisis had passed.  Burial or other disposal of bodies would be impossible, the former official was told.

Beyond the installation, a vehicular tunnel led through the hill and out to the rear of the Greenbrier property, invisible from the road, but convenient to both Route 60 and a railroad line.  Supplies for the facility came in through this tunnel, usually at night.

Ted Kleisner, president and managing director of the Greenbrier, is a gracious host.  Photos in the hotel's brochures show him beaming with his celebrity guests.  But he can hardly be expected to welcome questions about a government installation concealed within his resort.  "How could that possibly go on without my total involvement?" he says as he prepares to fly to Vancouver to pick up an American Automobile Association Five Diamond Award, the resort's umpteenth honor for excellence.  "It can't.  I run everything that's here at the Greenbrier...  Our only role here is to serve guests."  Kleisner consents to accompany me to the West Virginia Wing to prove once and for all that there is no secret site on the property.  From his office it is a 10-minute walk through one lavish salon after another, and finally down a long, stark connecting corridor reminiscent of a Pentagon hallway.  On the way he dismisses the story I'm reporting as "bizarre," "fantastic" and utterly untrue.

As we approach the Exhibit Hall I point out a false wall behind which one of the blast doors is concealed.  Five large steel hinges protrude from the wall.  He laughs and says I'm looking at "an expansion joint" connecting the two buildings.  We make our way to the rear of the 470-seat auditorium.  Imagining the House of Representatives in session here, the outside doors to the Exhibit Hall sealed behind tonnes of steel and concrete, I try to conjure up the agenda: Retaliation?  Rebuilding the nation?  Kleisner interrupts my eerie reverie to note that this is where the children of employees watch cartoons at Christmastime.

Finally we stand a few feet from the door that leads directly to the hidden part of the relocation facility.  It is the only closed door I have asked to go through.  Kleisner refuses to open it.  "Actually that goes to an equipment area and we just don't need to go back there," he explains.  Later I ask him again why I could not enter the door.  "Because I said 'no,'" he says firmly.  As he prepares to leave for Vancouver, his tone softens.  The nation "ought to have a facility like what you say we have here," he says.  "We ought to have lots of facilities to protect us in case Moammar Gadhafi decides to throw a few over our bow."  Well, I ask, why not at the Greenbrier?  "It clearly would not be compatible with a destination resort," he says.  Then, in case his repeated denials have missed their mark, he invokes the absurd.  "Do you honestly think that if there was imminent global nuclear war that Congress would be sipping tea and listening to concerts at the Greenbrier?"

When it comes to the usefulness of the Greenbrier facility, Kleisner's question may be uncomfortably close to the mark.

Just how Congress was expected to reach the Greenbrier is unclear.  It is at least a 5-hour drive from the Capitol.  In the spring of 1962, just as the facility became operational, the C&O and the Greenbrier paid some $90,000 to have the runway at the nearby Greenbrier Valley Airport extended, according to a promotional brochure of the time.  Today that airport has a 7,000-foot runway capable of handling a commercial jetliner.  But it is still an hour's flight from Washington.  And because very few members of Congress have been aware that the facility exists, it would take far longer than that to round them up.  The installation only made sense if the planners anticipated evacuating Congress many hours, if not days, before a crisis turned from rhetoric to attack.  Yet mobilising 535 members of Congress and evacuating them to a resort area 250 miles away in the middle of such a crisis would almost certainly draw unwanted attention to the site.

Another problem is that members of Congress would be barred from bringing their spouses or children.  Tip O'Neill recalls that, as speaker, he received an annual briefing on the facility, but says he didn't pay much attention to it.  "I kind of lost interest in it when they told me my wife would not be going with me," O'Neill says.  "I said, 'Jesus, you don't think I'm going to run away and leave my wife?  That's the craziest thing I ever heard of.'"  O'Neill's concerns have been repeatedly echoed by Cabinet secretaries and other top officials during mock exercises at other relocation centres.  Only a few have expressed a willingness to leave Washington - ground zero in almost every attack scenario - without their families.  All these factors made the utility of the Greenbrier facility questionable from the beginning.  In the decades since it was conceived and built, the number of nuclear weapons has vastly multiplied and their accuracy has been greatly enhanced.  And the time elapsed from launch to impact could be less than 15 minutes.  "I never put much credence in it, to tell you the truth," O'Neill says.  "I just didn't think it would work."

No exodus from Congress has ever been attempted, so the practicality of the relocation plan has never been put to the test.  On at least one occasion, however - during the Cuban missile crisis - the Greenbrier facility was put on high alert.  One former official recalls being told of a series of crates arriving at the Greenbrier during that period, sent from Washington by the architect of the Capitol.  Inside, the official was told, were original manuscripts dating back to the 18th century, part of an apparent effort to disperse critical government documents so that they would not all be incinerated in a nuclear conflagration.

Absurdity in doomsday scenarios is relative, however, and the Greenbrier plan looks good in comparison with the government's relocation plans for ordinary citizens.  As recently as June 1990, for example, the nation's civil defense planners still designated Greenbrier County as the place to which some 45,500 residents of Fairfax County would be evacuated in the event of a nuclear war, under a master plan to relocate civilian populations living in key East Coast target areas.  It is a ludicrous plan, as some of those charged with overseeing it freely acknowledge.  "They would be running from nowhere to nowhere - to me, it would be absolute panic," says C Kim Hallam Jr, a "population protection planning officer" with the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services.  "To be honest, I usually have a pretty good imagination, but if I lived in Fairfax County, I can't see myself driving 5 hours to some place where there's not going to be anything to help me once I got there."

The sudden influx of people would more than double the county's population.  Not only is there no vast and well-stocked underground bunker waiting to take them in, there is no food or shelter set aside for them at all.  Instead they would be expected to show up with recreational vehicles or tents and to bring their own food, medicine and supplies.  "They would be located in hills and valleys and pasture lands," says Rudy Holbrook, the civil defense coordinator for Greenbrier County.  "It would be tent city."

I was 11 at the time of the Cuban missile crisis.  I remember believing that I would not grow up to be a man.  I remember crouching under my desk at school and being told to face away from the window when the blast hit.  I remember too the jet-black newspaper headlines that each day suggested we were moving closer to the precipice, the grainy photos with arrows pointing to long objects on the decks of Soviet ships.  I wondered why I'd been born into the first generation that had to grow up in the shadow of the Bomb.  Even as a child, perhaps especially as a child, it seemed unfair.

More than 30 years after the complex was dug beside the Greenbrier, I walk the hill that hides it and search for evidence of the facility.  The pine and oak trees that have taken root since then are now mature.  The ground is cushioned with decaying pine needles, and deer droppings are scattered everywhere.  I find some comfort in this, the passage of time.  I draw an easier breath thinking that over the course of 3 decades, all that lies beneath my feet in the forbidden bunker - all the horrific plans and preparations - has remained unneeded.  Walking this ground as a man of 41 helps me to come to terms with those childhood nightmares.  At the summit of the hill, a green and ghostly T-shaped smokestack rises out of the ground.  Behind a fence, a large satellite dish points toward a cloudless sky.  I wend my way over the hill, through entangling thickets.  Thorns and briers snag my pants legs.  A hare darts out from behind a tree.  Eventually I come to a clearing and a road that leads to the rear entrance of the installation.  I know that behind the bright metal facade, flanked by concrete walls, is one of the blast doors built by Mosler.

And it strikes me that here, before my eyes, is the very architecture of fear.  The Greenbrier's secret lesson is the same one my generation learned so well: how to compartmentalise our lives.  How to contain our fear just below the surface, secure and controlled - daily denying its existence - while above ground we manicured our lawns, concentrated on recreation and consumption, and turned up the music as loud as it would go.  So too it has been with the Greenbrier.  For 30 years, its guests have come to play golf, to be massaged, to bathe in the restorative waters of the mineral baths, while some of the men who repaired their televisions and brought them movies made all things ready for a darker world after this world.

The tunnel is 133 metres long, but looks longer.  Descending 18 metres beneath the West Virginia wing of the hotel you enter the 10,444-square-metre bunker.  Boxes of 1950s Pixie tissue paper still lie atop the dormitory-style lockers, and laminex-topped dining tables still sit on the cavernous dining room's classic 1950s black-and-white linoleum floor.  Fake windows depicting serene rural landscapes are everywhere in the hope of preventing its occupants from going mad.  There is a hospital, dental surgery, and a huge mural of the Capitol to broadcast to the nation from the bunker's own TV studio. And there is a crematorium to dispose of the bodies.  The bunker's power plant could provide power for 1,100 people for 40 days, at which time, with the air supply and the Greenbrier's legendary 5-star service presumably at an end, the guests would emerge to survey the result of generations of unchecked nuclear proliferation.  But isn't it nice to know that in these uncertain times there's still one extraordinary hotel that is able to offer something others can't: survival.

Ted Gup is a Washington correspondent for Time.  His last article for the magazine was on fugitive financier Tom Billman.

Sources: washingtonpost.com 31 May 1992 Page W11 The Washington Post © The Washington Post Company and stuff.co.nz 24 July 2008 via the Sun-Herald

The Greenbrier Hotel
300 W Main Street
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
Phone +1 304 536 1110

There are 90-minute tours of the bunker on Sundays and Wednesdays; adults $US35 (NZ$47) and children (age 10 - 18) $US15.

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