We spent most of a week at Ponderosa State Park in McCall Idaho with friends Darrell and Cindy. In addition to hanging out and disc golf, we had some rockin’ Racko and Yahtzee games!
McCall is a destination with great summer and winter activities. I love that these chairs that show just that!
We moved to my cousins’ yard in West Richland, part of the Tri-Cities area in south eastern Washington, a place my extended family has lived for many years. As I grew up I knew that both sets of grandparents moved to eastern Washington so my grandfathers could work at Hanford. They lived in company housing in Richland and my parents met as kids in the neighborhood.
Fast forward decades and we’ve all learned more about Hanford. Unfortunately there is a long history as a Superfund Clean-Up site and most believe, a legacy of cancer victims, including my grandfathers, uncle and cousin. But it is also a success story of great magnitude.
We were able to learn some Hanford’s history yesterday when we went on a tour. In 2008, Hanford was designated a Historic National Landmark – on par with the Alamo and USS Arizona. Last year, Hanford, in combination with sites in Los Alamos, New Mexico and Oak Ridge, Tennessee became national park #490, The Manhattan Project National Park.
Tours of the site, and an openness about the work done at Hanford, would be unbelievable to those that planned and worked at Hanford in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
Think back to when Germany was dominating Europe and Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese and the US was drawn in to WWII. Scientists who left Europe were aware that Germany was trying to create an atomic bomb and were encouraging the US government to do so as well. When Albert Einstein added his name to their effort things got rolling.
The Manhattan Project, named because the man in charge, General Leslie Groves, had an office in Manhattan, was urgent and top-secret. General Groves could co-opt anything he needed from any other agency in the war effort.
General Groves had identified Los Alamos as a test site and Oak Ridge as a site for uranium processing but needed a site to make plutonium. In December 1942, Colonel Franklin Matthias, began looking for a place that was remote, had a supply of fresh water, had low population for safety and security reasons and had raw materials for making concrete. Six hundred and seventy square miles of southeastern Washington was selected.
The people currently living in the area, Indians and those in and around the small towns of Hanford and White Bluffs, were bought out and told to leave, one of the first times on record “eminent domain” was used. By report, the payout amount was generous enough but those effected had difficulty finding other lands that had irrigation water available.
DuPont Corporation was Grove’s choice to construct and run the site. Heavily involved with munitions during World War I, and having a reputation as a “corporation of death,” DuPont originally declined. However, General Groves was convinced they were the right company because of their high quality reputation and DuPont started construction in 1944.
One hundred thousand workers, including my grandfathers, came from all over the country to work at the Hanford site. Half of them left because of the desolation and harsh climate. Strong winds were called “Termination Winds” because so many people lined up to quit after big dust storms.
The population settled in at about 45,000 workers making Hanford the 4th largest city in Washington and the largest voting precinct. It had the largest “general delivery” post office in the world. Forty thousand workers were housed in barracks while others lived in trailer parks on site. Administrators lived in the government village of Richland.
My father’s and my aunt’s families both lived in trailers on site, two of 10,000.
This partial list of food needed in area mess-halls is interesting.
Construction of Reactor B, the world’s first nuclear reactor, took 11 months and was operational in a total of 13 months. Theory to execution took less than two years.
Hanford received heavily guarded shipments of uranium and produced very small amounts of plutonium. A ton of uranium yielded 1/2 pound of plutonium. Initial levels were 230 grams per day. The amount of plutonium needed for the first nuclear bomb test, completed in Los Alamos, was hand carried in a briefcase by train.
Many workers and area residents didn’t know exactly what was going on at Hanford until President Truman made it public in August, 1945.
The second atomic bomb, developed to use uranium at Oak Ridge, Tennessee was dropped on Hiroshima. The third bomb, built in Los Alamos, using plutonium from Hanford, was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered 6 days later.
After Russia detonated their own atomic bomb in 1949, Hanford continued to develop plutonium for cold war weapons for decades. Eventually there were nine reactors at Hanford. Modifications to the equipment and processes eventually yielded 1800 grams of plutonium per day.
The site was decommissioned as part of a arms reduction treaty in 1987. Russian inspectors come to this site each year to inspect, as ours do with their sites.
So, many years later, we can see the the “areas” and go into the B Reactor, the worlds first nuclear reactor. B Reactor was shut down in 1968.
During the tour, the process of irradiating the uranium and eventually getting small amounts of plutonium is explained in mostly understandable ways. What I really understood is that this was an impressive feat, made even more so because the engineers back then didn’t have computers to do all these calculations and designs.
The construction workers, plant operators and support workers believed in what they were doing and did it well. One process they developed took 55 degree water from the Columbia River and purified it through settling ponds and filters. When the water went through the reactor as a cooling agent it went from 60 to 190 degrees in one second. The still pure water was cooled again and put back into the river. The basics of this process are still used today in water treatment plants around the world.
Initially, those who worked here believed they were helping end the war a day earlier for every day they worked. Later, they believed they were keeping our country safe. I am proud that these people included my grandfathers and uncle all of whom worked at the B Reactor.
My grandmother taught in a Hanford camp school and my father and aunt attended elementary school on site. Both of my grandmothers and my mother worked clerical jobs at Hanford. My cousin worked maintenance as a pipe fitter on another of the reactors. Currently, another cousin, Chris, works as a driver in the Super Fund clean-up operation.
My family’s history with Hanford is extensive and we were glad to be able to visit the site and take the B Reactor tour. The National Park offers two other tours, one about the history of the two small towns and people who were displaced, and the other about the clean-up still in progress. We plan to go on those tours on another trip to this familiar and family ground.
That is a fascinating piece of American history. Interesting to learn that your family was involved.
We really learned a lot – far more than I could include in this already too long blog! Of course, I was glad it got long enough that I didn’t have to try to decipher my notes about the transition from uranium to plutonium and all the nasty byproducts.
Pingback: Projects Big and Small | Serene Wandering
Pingback: Los Alamos: The Secret City | Serene Wandering