Hanford Reach: In The Atomic Field > Oral Histories

We came out in the summer of ’44. And we lived in a trailer at Hanford construction camp, “Hanford Camp,” while they were building our house in Richland Village, as it was called. I was about three years old when we came out... We kids, we all knew that we came from somewhere else.

Hanford [townsite], it got pretty much leveled, when the government took construction in April of ’43. DuPont was contracted to build this construction camp to house up to fifty-one thousand workers. And they had considerable turnover due to something called “Termination Winds.” Because of all the construction going on out there in the Reactor Areas, all the vegetation got skinned off of the ground. And so any time the wind would come blowing down the valley there, you’d have this super-sandstorm. It wasn’t just a dust storm. It was actually flying sand. And every time a big sandstorm would blow through, well that night at the “termination trailer” there were long lines of people that were resigning to go away. So they were nicknamed “Termination Winds.”

In '58, they arranged a tour for high school students, juniors and seniors in chemistry or physics. I got on that bus. And I remember the excitement of going through the security gate. When we got out to the process areas, we could look through the fence and we could see the reactor building; we got to go through their labs. They gave a presentation… I can remember the feeling of elation, going through that gate.

Last year is the first time the DOE was able to get approval for Hanford tours so they could take high school groups like I started with. And this year they lowered it to twelve, so they’re getting Middle School classes. They’re running a lot of school tours out there…

But I think the workmanship and the controls started to go all to heck in the '70s, when they broke up GE. And they were going to have all these different contractors out there, and they would just be given a book that would say, “These are all the safety deals.” They didn’t know which ones were written in blood, or which ones they thought that they could cut corners on.

I don't think it was reckless from the start; the idea for the whole plant was for it to last just ten years. The problem occurred when they decided keep the plant going. Especially when they started getting close to ’52, ’53, and GE was in charge, and the Atomic Energy Commission, they should have started saying: “Look, we have this ticking time bomb here…”