Scientist builds acoustics lab in unused nuclear reactor building

The (Tacoma) News TribuneDecember 17, 2010 

Work ground to a halt on Satsop nuclear reactor building more than 25 years ago before it ever produced a kilowatt of electricity.

The $440 million concrete behemoth designed to withstand a massive earthquake and a direct hit from a jet airliner sat empty for years, a lasting legacy to the failed nuclear plant construction program of the Washington Public Power Supply System on Fuller Hill near Elma.

Then along came Ron Sauro, an energetic scientist and entrepreneur who sees opportunity and jobs where others see gloomy concrete rooms and lost dreams of energy too cheap to meter.

Deep in the bowels of the 400,000-square-foot reactor building, Sauro has built a world-class acoustical laboratory to test how a variety of building materials and speakers absorb and transmit sound.

It took some precise carpentry and sophisticated electronics to shape the lab. But the reactor building was ideal for the retrofit job with its 10-foot-thick concrete foundation floating on a bed of gravel and its five-foot-thick walls.

“What we wanted was stability from all outside elements, including temperature, humidity and noise,” he said. “This is a one-of-a-kind place.”

The prototype laboratory Sauro opened this year includes two reverberation chambers that are the largest of their kind in the world, he said. One of them used to be the control room for the nuclear reactor that never was loaded with fuel.

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