Hanford Reach: In The Atomic Field > Oral Histories

I came out in this area back in 1951 with my Kansas National Guard unit. We wound up at Fort Lewis, and we would come over to Yakima firing Center once in the spring, and once in the fall, and practice firing.

I had read an article about Hanford being a secret location and that fascinated me… What's so secret about atomic energy? I wanted to know more about it. I wanted to check that place out… Eventually, I [applied and]got an application back, and they said they could use me: “It will take several weeks to get your clearance through and then, you can come to work.”

Once a week they’d have a dance on Saturday night; single people were invited to go down there, put a nickel in the Nickelodeon machine… You can dance. So I went down there, and I saw this nice looking lady sitting over on the other side, went over, and asked her to dance. One of us asked the other, “Well where are you from?” She says, ”Well I’m from Cherryville Kansas.” “You’re what? That's where I'm from!” The town was only three thousand people. We parted ways when the dance was over. I went back the next week. Sure enough, she was there. So I asked her again to dance, and we did…

It was up to me to keep track of the time in the zones. I would go out in the field [as] a radiation timekeeper, for the radiation zones. Radiation monitors, they would tell me how hot the area was, and I would calculate it out, how long [they] could stay in the zone: about fifty MR per day. And when they got to fifty I’d go in and get them, “Gotta come out, you’re burned out.” And it was my job to keep the bookwork on these guys, how much radiation they would receive each week, and month... We already knew that in order to get enough radiation to kill you, it took between four hundred fifty to six hundred REM; REM included gamma, beta, alpha. So that's why they had the limits set at five REM per year, here, for the workers, in 1959.

Then I had a chance to go into radiation monitoring. I would go in with my Geiger counter, my “CP:” it’s actually named a “cutie pie.” I would check the radiation; if I could set it up and leave it, I would. On the radiation zones, some people in the lab, all they needed was maybe a lab coat, a pair of shoe covers, and a white cap. Unless they were going to be working on a sample: then, they would have one pair coveralls, and gloves. If you were working in a high-level contamination zone you’d have two pair of coveralls, two pair of gloves, and a hood and a cap, and then a mask if necessary… Then they would go in, and do their work.

They had a building called “Hot Semi Works.” They would run their chemical reactions and test them in the “Hot Semi” building. Sometimes you’d have to take the portable roof off the building. We had pretty bad winds around here sometimes. A whirlwind might come whirling along and go right over that open building, pick up some contamination and spread it around…

Sometimes at the Redox facility, the stacks would be thirty, forty, fifty feet tall. Sometimes when they would be changing out the stack filters, with the monitors that would filter out the contamination before it would get airborne, they might get some contamination that would come out and fall off over the sagebrush and everywhere else… Over the streets.

When I was in the tank farms, we would have to take the concrete lid off of them to change the filters out. To do that, there's always the possibility that a wind gust could come along…

So I would periodically take my outside rubbers off and I’d have a pair of clean shoe covers that I would put on; I would check them, before I put them on.

Viola: "He came walking home one morning, I think he’d been working night shift. He came stomping in with his shoes loose. He had gotten his shoelaces contaminated, and had to leave his shoelaces. I just remember the shoes… he came walking back, shoes loose… You left them out there…"

Bob: "It was near the end of the shift; I didn't have time to clean up the bottoms of them. The way you would clean them up was either soap and water, or a file brush, you would
pound them on the floor about three times...

We had the best radiation protection people on the job, they hired this guy from England to come over and tell us what we needed to wear. He was well respected, world renowned; that was back in the forties… Remember that we if didn't get started on that, we’d probably be speaking German, or Japanese, about now…"

And they had a unit called the F farm. They would buy these little pigs, and dogs, and snakes. They had little white pigs, small ones, because they had a digestive system and everything else similar to humans. And they would feed them radiation to see how much it would take to make them sick or to kill them, even. And the same with the dogs: they would put a mask on a dog, and have him breathing in strontium 90 or cesium 137, and see how much it would take to get to get in his lungs, and what kind of damage it would do.

It’s better to experiment on animals than humans. So that’s why they had to go that route. You’re talking about 1945, at that point in time. This high-powered doctor from England knew as much as there was available in the world to know; how he learned that… He had a doctorate, in whatever he did. So evidently he went to school enough to know.

And anyway people like us: you might say we were guinea pigs. Because we were the ones working out there with it…