Interview with Max Freshley

Dublin Core


Interview with Max Freshley


Hanford (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Hanford Nuclear Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)


An interview with Max Freshley conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Mission Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


O'Reagan, Douglas


Freshley, Max


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Douglas O’Reagan: First off, would you please say and spell your name for us?

Maxwell Freshley: My legal name is Maxwell Freshley, F-R-E-S-H-L-E-Y. Not many people around here know me by that name. I go by Max.

O’Reagan: Okay, thanks. My name is Douglas O’Reagan. I’m conducting an oral interview history here on January 11th, 2016. This interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. And I will be talking with Mr. Freshley about his experiences working at the Hanford site. To start us off, would you tell us maybe some of your life up, before you came to this area?

Freshley: Well, I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. I graduated from the University of Portland in 1951 with a degree in physics. I was offered a tech grad position on the site here. At the time, it was operated by General Electric Company, and this was—I started work here in June of 1951. Okay. So I guess prior to coming here, my having been raised in Portland, and that’s where I went to school, my extended experiences were rather limited. That’s kind of what happened. So I came here in June of 1951, fresh out of school, I wasn’t married at the time. First place I lived was in the Army barracks in north Richland. I can’t tell you about how long I lived there, but while I was living in north Richland in the barracks, I did not have a car. So being kind of isolated out north was a bit of a challenge. So as soon as I could find somebody who would loan me some money, I bought a brand new Ford and that solved a lot of my problems. And then sometime during that first year, I was moved to one of the dorms in Richland. I think the dorms were located on Lee Boulevard. It was close to—I’m calling it a drugstore. But it was kind of like a Payless. I don’t think that was the right name at that time. But they had a restaurant—they served food in this drugstore. So that’s where I would eat.

O’Reagan: Had you heard about Hanford before you came here?

Freshley: Not really. I really hadn’t heard about it. It was all secret, you know?

O’Reagan: Right. Were you aware of the sort of connection with the atomic bomb before you got here?

Freshley: I’d have to say I was not. Although while I was still going to school—still in school—when was the Nagasaki ignited?

O’Reagan: ’45, I believe?

Freshley: ’45?

O’Reagan: I think so.

Freshley: That—oh, okay.

O’Reagan: It was the very end of the Second World War.

Freshley: Yeah. Well, I might’ve heard of that. Yeah.

O’Reagan: What was your first impression of Richland and this area?

Freshley: [LAUGHTER] First impression was living in the barracks out in north Richland-- [LAUGHTER] was not too great. Of course, my first impression was it was darn hot here, coming here in June. It was very warm. My future wife and her mother brought me to Richland from Portland and dropped me off. [LAUGHTER] So things kind of went from there.

O’Reagan: Sure. So we were going to ask about where you were living, but we already addressed that to some degree. What was life like in the barracks?

Freshley: Oh. I would say very basic. Of course, in the dorm rooms that were assigned, you always had a roommate that you lived with. So I became, of course, very familiar with my roommates. When I moved from the barracks to Richland, I had a different roommate. So I made acquaintances with two people like that. They were both scientists, so we got along really well. In fact, one of them is still living in Richland.

O’Reagan: What kind of work did you do at Hanford, and where on the site did you work?

Freshley: Well, first of all, I worked in 300 Area in 3706 Building. I was—they assigned me a position in the Graphite Group. We were studying graphite, the moderator in the reactors. One of the things that was going on at the time—and I can’t tell you what reactor it was—but the graphite core was swelling. It was—I don’t know if it had come in contact yet with the upper shield, but it was growing. I was assigned to two people in the Graphite Group. We went and extracted samples of graphite from the core of this reactor. The thing that they had set up to do that, of course, was already here. So we were extracting samples—core samples. What the purpose of my job was to determine the annealing temperature of the graphite, so that if they raised the temperature in the core to a point where graphite annealing started occurring, then the core would shrink back and not interfere with the top shield.  So I think they were looking for somebody—[LAUGHTER] I won’t say it. But anyway, I was assigned the position or job of taking these graphite samples and investigating the annealing temperature. What we used was a Fresnel diffractometer. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that, but interference rings from this interferometer would be displayed. It was my job to count the rings. It was a very tedious job. I’m sure that these two fellas didn’t want to do that, so they found me, and I did it. These rotations were—honestly I can’t remember whether they were three months or six months, but you would rotate from one position to another. I don’t remember if you could choose your positions—your rotations—I guess it probably depended on whether or not there was something available or not to go to. So I fulfilled my position in the Graphite Group. I didn’t want to stay in the Graphite Group, so I moved on.

O’Reagan: Before we move on, I have a quick question for you. This is a little bit off-script, but I have an undergraduate degree in physics.

Freshley: Uh-huh.

O’Reagan: I was reading a while back that when you started heating up the reactors, it caused that expansion to go back, and that sounds like what you’re describing.

Freshley: Mm-hm.

O’Reagan: But what is annealing?

Freshley: It’s heating to a temperature where the damage caused by the neutron radiation would be annealed physically. So the core would shrink back. But you had to get it up to a certain temperature, and you didn’t want to overheat it, because if you get it too hot, then the core—the graphite would oxidize. That would not be good. But I think the cores were enclosed in an argon atmosphere, as I remember.

O’Reagan: It just surprised me, of course—I expected you get something hot, it expands. But now we’re saying you get it hot and it shrinks!

Freshley: Yeah, that’s right. But when you’re looking at the diffraction rings on the interferometer, you can tell by the movement of the rings when you are reaching the annealing temperature. So either they—and I can’t honestly remember the details here, whether the rings did not move as fast, or whether they might have even changed direction.

O’Reagan: Interesting.

Freshley: So I had an early experience with a graphite-moderated production reactor.

O’Reagan: What was it—you said you moved on from graphite to something else?

Freshley: Oh yeah. My second assignment was in the metallurgy laboratory in 234-5 Building. 234-5 Building now is known as—god. Hm. Plutonium—it’s the one that you read a lot--

O’Reagan: Plutonium Finishing Plant?

Freshley: Pardon me?

O’Reagan: Is it the plutonium finishing?

Freshley: Yeah, Plutonium Finishing Plant where the plutonium buttons were received and machined to a hockey-type shape. Well, they were—actually, they were reduced to form the metal, and I was not involved in that. But I was in the Plutonium Metallurgy Lab, which was at one end of the Plutonium Finishing Plant. I don’t think there are many or any people left around who know of that. I can’t think of anybody that I worked with during that period who’s still around. But we had a Plutonium Metallurgy Lab, and my manager was a very nice fella. This, now, was in the early ‘50s. One thing that he wanted me to do—and I don’t think that what I did was original research, because I think all of the original research was probably done at Los Alamos, which was the renowned weapons facility. He wanted me to investigate the low temperature phase changes in plutonium. So what I did—and that’s important because phase changes in plutonium or any metal creates a dimensional change. And a dimensional change is not something that you want in a weapon or a bomb, because it interferes with the efficiency of the bomb. So here I was, fresh out of school and didn’t know from up. Anyway, I put together what’s called a differential thermal analysis apparatus. Are you familiar with that?

O’Reagan: I know the individual terms.

Freshley: Okay. [LAUGHTER] So that’s what I did. I ran low temperature phase studies on plutonium—pure plutonium to detect these low temperature phase changes, which were very—since they were low temperature, they were very difficult to pick up, because there wasn’t much energy exchange during the phase change. Then, since that was not something you would want in a weapon or a bomb, small alloy additions were added to the plutonium to stabilize the low temperature, so you didn’t have these low temperature changes. All of this at the time was quite classified, which make it extra interesting, I guess. But when I went out to 234-5 Building in the plutonium lab, we were—there were three or four of us—we were assigned a car. So we had a car that we could go back and forth in, to work. That made it pretty nice, because we didn’t have to ride the bus and all of that. Then—this is something else that I doubt very much that anyone knew about at the time. It was the fabrication of plutonium parts for artillery shells. We cast plutonium in what was known as the 231-Z Building. We didn’t do it in the 234-5 Building. 231 was just across the street. In that building, I was not involved in the casting or the machining, but the parts were machined in that building. Then they were brought over to 234-5 Building in the Plutonium Metallurgy Lab. Because plutonium would oxidize and so on—so my job was to produce pure nickel coatings. But I don’t mean coatings like were attached. We used bismuth, which has a low melting temperature and it’s stable, to machine the exact replica of the plutonium part. Then, my job was to make—with electroplated nickel onto this bismuth—and then the bismuth was melted away. My job was to enclose the plutonium parts in nickel. So I had to do that in a vacuum. At first I had to do the electroplating. Then I had to put the nickel—what—the nickel cover, if you want—on the plutonium part, under vacuum, and solder a seal around the edge to make it—so it wouldn’t contact the air. And then it wouldn’t be as—you wouldn’t have to worry so much about contamination. But it had to be done in an atmosphere where, after the nickel part was put on the plutonium part, I sealed it with the vacuum and then it was not contaminated. The interesting part about that—one of the interesting parts—is that we were doing this for the Livermore National Lab, who was also at the time at a weapons facility. There were two: Los Alamos and Livermore. We were doing this for Livermore. As soon as the parts were finished, and I finished them, there would be a representative from Livermore waiting for the part. These parts, at times, were handed off, out the back door of 234-5 Building to this individual, who then took them to town, to the airport. I presume then, they were flown to Livermore. These tests at the time were conducted in the South Pacific—Eniwetok Islands. I never knew anything about the results. [LAUGHTER] Or what happened. But I suspect that these days we have artillery shells with plutonium weapons involved.

O’Reagan: When you were working on all these—all these different processes, what sort of team were you working—were you working mostly on an independent sub-project, or did you have other people you were sort of working with day-to-day?

Freshley: Well, when I did the differential thermal analysis, it was me. And when I was enclosing the plutonium parts in these nickel shells, that was pretty much me. Yeah. The group was small. I would guess—let’s see, there was—oh, three, four, five—I suspect there were less than ten people in the whole group. The machinist—there were two machinists—I guess I shouldn’t say who they were, but—they did very well—one of them did very well in the Tri-Cities. He had a big vision and—

O’Reagan: I ask, because some of what you’re describing sounds—at least to my sort of ignorant ears—like applied chemistry as well as applied physics. Did you have a chemistry background, or was that not really necessary for what you were working on?

Freshley: I did not have a chemistry background other than what you normally get in a four-year program. I did not have a metallurgy background, either. You know? So that all took—I had to get acquainted with that aspect of the world, and I found it to be very interesting. Later on in my life, I was sorry that I probably hadn’t taken metallurgy.

O’Reagan: How much were you instructed specifically what to do versus sort of innovating yourself or figuring stuff out as you go?

Freshley: Well, I’m sure that my manager—he had a degree from Montana School of Mines in Metallurgy. He was a very nice person. He—I’m sure I got instruction and help from him, because I needed it. Here’s this 21-year-old kid, just out of school, doesn’t know metallurgy from up. But I guess I was successful and it worked out.

O’Reagan: Okay. Let’s see. Could you describe a typical workday within those first—you worked there for a long period of time overall, is that right? How long were you working at Hanford overall?

Freshley: Overall?

O’Reagan: Yeah.

Freshley: [LAUGHTER] I started in 1951 and I retired in 1993. Then I consulted for a period after that. So you figure out the years. The first 14 years were with GE, then Battelle came in ’65, and I transferred to Battelle. I had the choice at that point to transfer to either Battelle or Westinghouse. Westinghouse was focused on the FFTF, and the development of that reactor. But I chose Battelle.

O’Reagan: Why did you choose Battelle?

Freshley: I don’t know. I think they were interested in things that I found fascinating. So I switched to Battelle, and have never been sorry. [LAUGHTER]

O’Reagan: So when you were describing—is that amount of time that you were describing up to the end of your time at GE? Or was there still more that you were working on at GE before, or subsequent to—you were describing the different plutonium products.

Freshley: I haven’t gotten to the end of GE yet. [LAUGHTER]

O’Reagan: Okay, great. I’d love to hear more.

Freshley: Yeah. And then I got out—I was moved—I got into other things besides plutonium metallurgy. I might say that one of the—while I was at the plutonium lab, one of the technicians was working in a glovebox—do you know what a glovebox is?—that exploded. And it totally, totally contaminated the lab with plutonium. So we spent—the group—spent a lot of time decontaminating that room, and everything in it. We were successful enough that the walls were repainted to secure the plutonium contamination and everything. But then—I don’t know why I changed—but I stayed in 234-5 Building, and maybe—I don’t know, three, four, five years, possibly. Then I got involved in light-water reactor fuel development. That’s where I basically spent the rest of my career. In the late ‘50s, PRTR was under construction. We did—in those days, you were given—at least, in my case, you were given a lot of flexibility to do new things. That was really neat. Then—I didn’t write down the date, but in the late ‘50s, PRTR was under construction, and there was the second International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. We contributed to that publication—there were several publications. I didn’t get to go to the conference, but we contributed to that. Then I got involved in plutonium recycling in thermal reactors. I don’t know if you read this morning’s paper: there was an article there about a plutonium fuel—well, it’s called MOX—mixed oxide: plutonium oxide and uranium oxide, a mixture of fuel. This was at Savannah River, and they were building—or are supposedly building a facility for fabricating mixed oxide fuel for light-water reactors. But there have been some problems there, and it’s way behind schedule and over cost or whatever. But that doesn’t affect me. So I’m not involved in that. But anyway, I got involved in, like I say, fuel development—plutonium fuel development for light-water reactors. We had the liberty of doing a lot of different things. One of them was—oh, when we—at first, we found diluents for the plutonium. We irradiated and tested many diluents for plutonium. It had to be diluted—I mean, you can’t use pure plutonium. So I got into that, and we conducted lots and lots of testing of different diluents for plutonium in the MTR and ETR in Idaho—Materials Test Reactor and the Engineering Test Reactor in Idaho. There was a lot of that, and the post-radiation examination was done in the 324 Building, where the major contamination still exists that they have to remove. It’s in the ground, and it’s a major decon project right now with whoever the contractor is, I don’t know. Anyway, we did a lot of testing in MTR and ETR with diluents. We developed a plutonium aluminum alloy spike enrichment element for PRTR. That was one of the activities. An aluminum plutonium spike element—excuse me—is only for spike enrichment in the core. These are spaced around for different neutronic effects. And the reason—it’s a difficult concept, and I don’t know how we got started on that, exactly, because the coefficient of thermal expansion of aluminum with a little bit of plutonium in it is a lot different than the Zircaloy cladding in which it is enclosed. So there were problems with that. Then—ah, let’s see—then I got into recycling the plutonium in thermal reactors, and that was a major government initiative to dispose of plutonium that was no longer needed. So we made mixed oxide fuels of different types. One of the types that seemed attractive at the time was a vibrationally compacted mixture of plutonium and uranium. That is a difficult thing to achieve, because we had to make plutonium—mixed oxide shot, and we vibrated it into the long rods. I remember setting up a shot tower in the basement of 326 Building to make uranium shot. That didn’t work out too good. We didn’t put any plutonium in 326 Building.

O’Reagan: Is this still the late ‘50s or have we gotten into the early ‘60s yet?

Freshley: Well this would be the late ‘50s. Well, we’re getting into the ‘60s, though, yeah. We did irradiation tests of aluminum plutonium spike elements in PRTR. I can’t remember what the plutonium concentration was, but then we started working on VIPAC, or vibrationally compacted fuel. It seemed like it would have advantages, because you’re not working with the small centered pellets. You can just pour the fissionable material into the tubes and VIPAC—vibrationally compact—it. So that—we did a lot of work on that, on VIPAC fuel, because we thought it would have an advantage fabrication-wise. But it had disadvantages, too, of course. You couldn’t compact it to the density that you would get with the centered pellet. There was another concern about it, and that is: fuel elements and reactors, the cladding fails from time to time. Still does. I think they suspect that there is a cladding failure in the Columbia Generating Station now. We needed to look at how they would perform with a cladding rupture. So we performed a test in PRTR in what was known as the Fuel Element Rupture Test Facility, FERTF. We were brave.

O’Reagan: It sounds dangerous!

Freshley: We put together a test element. The elements in PRTR were 19 rod clusters—I forget how long, but quite long. So what we did--we were adventuresome—we put a mixed oxide fuel element in PRTR, but first we drilled a hole in the cladding. John Fox, who you’ve interviewed, still can’t imagine that we did something like that. [LAUGHTER]

O’Reagan: This probably couldn’t happen today [INAUDIBLE]

Freshley: Oh, no. No way. Anyway, in 1966, we had that experiment in PRTR, and everything was going pretty well until they started cycling the reactor power a little bit. Well, from then on, things went from bad to worse. The cladding failed, but I mean, other than the small hole that we had drilled in it, it ruptured for over quite a distance. When it did that, it swelled, and it came in contact with the pressure tube of the FERTF. It caused that to fail also. So this made a horrible mess in PRTR. The reactor was shut down for I don’t know how long during the cleanup and the recovery from that. I can’t remember—I have some pictures if you’re interested—whether or not we were operating with fuel melting at the time. Because we wanted to get as much heat out of the element—or out of the rods as we could. Now, uranium melts at a little over 2,800 degrees centigrade. So we did a lot of work with not only VIPAC fuel—fuel melting in VIPAC fuel, but also in pellet fuel. Of course, you don’t do that sort of thing in real life. In a commercial light-water reactor—I don’t know what the maximum operating temperatures are in the uranium pellets, but it’s a long ways from melting, I guarantee you.

O’Reagan: So did you get the data that you wanted from this rupture test?

Freshley: [LAUGHTER] Yeah, don’t do it. Yeah, and that was kind of actually the end of VIPAC fuel interest. It would definitely not have been commercially viable to have something like that going on in a power reactor. Of course, we learned what the rupture behavior—probably the worst case of what a ruptured VIPAC fuel might do in real life. So that was kind of the end of VIPAC fuel elements. But it was interesting! A really interesting thing to work with and try and develop. We had various—came up with various schemes for compacting UO2 and MOX with using a Dynapac machine, which is a high-energy compaction machine, to form particles. The ideal particle would have been a sphere in a varying size range, so you can maximize the density during VIPACing. But it didn’t work out. And I didn’t get fired. [LAUGHTER] But there were a lot of experiments. Also with looking at the transient behavior of VIPAC fuel, we even conducted some tests in a test reactor. You are placing pure PUO2 particles next to the cladding. Then doing a transient power test on that to see what kind of behavior you would get: how the PUO2 particle would behave. This was done in a reactor in Idaho called SPERT—I can’t tell you what the acronym stands for right now, but it was an interesting exercise. Had some—maybe the reactor was in San Jose; I’m not sure. Anyway, I had some companions who were working for GE; we worked together on that sort of thing. But then, this would have been in 1975, ’76. The light-water reactor power industry wanted to go to higher burnups. That is, leave the fuel in the reactor longer, so they would have longer times between maintenance shutdowns. At the time, the maintenance shutdowns were probably a year or less. So what happened when they went to higher temperatures and higher burnups, the fuel column in—these are ten or 12 feet long rods—would shorten. The fuel column, then, would shrink—would settle. So that caused a great deal of consternation in the light-water reactor power industry, because they had these voids, then, at the top of the fuel columns. Something we called the irradiation-induced densification occurred. So then there was a big effort, commercially, to find solutions to that, so we had—there was what was called a fuel densification program to solve this problem. The fuel industry—let’s see, how was this—they could not tolerate the core shrinking, and then that led to an understanding, or an investigation of N Reactor densification—just the neutron activity. But then they wanted to go to higher burnups. So they started leaving voids in the pellets to accommodate the fission products associated with the high burnup. That didn’t work out to well, either, because of the column shrinking. So that’s when we launched, or got into looking at the fuel densification behavior. The fuel vendors, then, came up with adding materials into the fuel—god, I can’t think of the name now—that would disappear on the high temperature centering of the pellet, leaving voids—controlled voids in the pellets. And they do that today. So the High Burnup Effect Program was a big program here at the lab for quite a long period of time. As a result of that, the fabricators reduced, by using—I can’t think of the name—reduced the density to accommodate the fission—oh, then they put in pore formers. And we, as the lab, were instrumental in coming up with suitable pore formers that would disappear upon centering, during the centering process, to leave these voids in the fuel pellets to accommodate the fission products. As a result of that, this proved to be very satisfactory. It resulted in a stable fuel column and the achievable burnups were increased significantly. You’re probably aware of the fact, now, that the Columbia—the reactor, generating—the Columbia Generating Station, now, can go on a two-year cycle. Meaning they don’t have to shut down for maintenance every year; they can go two years. So the achievement of satisfactory high burnup in reactor fuel was made. All of the other reactors, now—light-water reactors—use that technique. And in fact, as a result of that, the NRC—the Nuclear Regulatory Commission—has imposed a requirement that they test the thermal stability of centered pellets by exposing them to a heat treatment so they don’t shrink any more. Or the shrinkage would be very small. So we were instrumental in coming up with this out-of-reactor thermal test to test the stability, if you will, of the pellets.

O’Reagan: You mentioned working with the light-water reactor industry. Were you working with different groups outside of the Hanford Site and outside of Battelle at that point, or was it still focused within the company?

Freshley: I would say that the company, Battelle, the lab, was instrumental in these investigations. EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, was a partner. In fact, they were kind of the driving force helping us put together a joint program where we had seven other contributors—financial sponsors to this program. We had meetings frequently on the progress of this effort. These seven sponsors came from all over the world: Japan, France, England—of course, the commercial operators in the United States were members. So we had this rather large, difficult to manage international program to develop these advanced fuels for high burnup.

O’Reagan: So this wasn’t classified, or was it more of a sharing agreement with [INAUDIBLE] Not classified then?

Freshley: No, it wasn’t classified. Well, maybe there might have been some—not security, but because the seven sponsors of this program were—they were paying money, you know? And contributing, and they wanted to protect their interests.

O’Reagan: More like trade secrets, then, rather than—

Freshley: Pardon?

O’Reagan: So, more like trade secrets, then, rather than confidentiality.

Freshley: Yeah, but I’d say, most of the—in the United States, the utilities that were operating light-water reactors contributed to this. Another contributor or sponsor was Germany. I can’t remember all of them. That made it real interesting. We had these technical reviews and meetings all over the world. So that made it kind of neat.

O’Reagan: Yeah.

Freshley: Yeah. But the program was very successful. I think I have some documents that describe it, if you’re interested.

O’Reagan: Yeah, absolutely.

Freshley: Okay. And then—I’m not covering this too well—I thought my notes would be more complete but they’re not. [LAUGHTER] Then I got into—this was late in my professional career. There was a reactor in Savannah River, and I didn’t—I can’t tell you the name of it—that produced tritium for thermonuclear weapons. It had to be shut down because of safety reasons. So I got involved in what was called tritium target development for light-water reactors. Because you need tritium for a thermonuclear device. What we did was, the way we did it, we irradiated lithium metal—I shouldn’t say irradiated; we exposed lithium metal to a neutron environment in light-water reactors. The idea being to generate tritium, the gas. Well, what happens is lithium is a metal similar, maybe—low-melting, kind of—to aluminum. It’s not compatible with many cladding or enclosure materials. So we exposed lithium to neutrons to form tritium. In doing that, you had to—because the tritium is an isotope of helium, you had to tie it up some way and contain it. You didn’t want it to get out of the cladding, because we were using zirconium cladding. And then inside of this target, we used a getter for the tritium to collect the tritium and try and keep it enclosed. In fact, I’ve learned recently that there are some commercial reactors back east that have tritium target elements in their cores now to produce tritium for thermonuclear devices.

O’Reagan: I imagine that’s something the government wouldn’t want other places to be doing then.

Freshley: Well, probably not, yeah. You can google tritium production and you’ll get information on the process—well, I don’t know about the detail of the process, but information on producing tritium in light-water reactors. Then as I was nearing retirement, I got out of that and was taken over by a couple other people. But it was interesting, and so that’s kind of—I enjoyed doing this sort of thing a lot. Exploring and testing and so on.

O’Reagan: Was the tritium work also unclassified then, or was that back to the classified world?

Freshley: I think it was in the classified world, perhaps, at the time. Although the lady who currently manages that project at the lab here gave a talk on these elements, these targets, and some of the latest things that they were doing. This was a while back, that she gave this talk. But there were parts of the talk she could not discuss. These parts that she couldn’t discuss are unknown to me and foreign to me, because a lot of that has happened since I retired. See, I retired in ’93—1993. That was—what—25, 26 years ago.

O’Reagan: When you moved from GE to Battelle, did you ever notice any sorts of differences in your work experiences in sort of general terms?

Freshley: No, not really. They were the same people involved, in my case. The big difference is that under DoE at the time—I think it was DoE, maybe AEC—we did not earn credits for service. So 14 years, I didn’t get any—[LAUGHTER]—credits for service which would help my pension, until Battelle came. Then that changed. I do get a GE pension still, but it’s not very much.

O’Reagan: Let’s see. Are there sort of—one thing I’m interested in is how working on Hanford—people’s experiences changed over time as the decades went on, how things changed. Anything sort of leaps to your mind in those regards?

Freshley: Well, one thing that comes to mind to me is things that you do if you’re in the lab and so on, are a lot more regulated now than they were back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Can you imagine opening the door and getting somebody a plutonium part that he takes off with and goes to Livermore?

O’Reagan: Yeah.

Freshley: You don’t do that.

O’Reagan: Right. Let’s see.

Freshley: So things are a lot more regulated now. And I would say a lot more sophisticated, too. I am aware of the fact that AREVA, here, the fuel fabricator, has developed since my time some very sophisticated models on fuel performance. We didn’t have models like that in those days.

O’Reagan: Interesting. One of the things we’re also trying to get at, which is why a lot of this has been very useful, is what was done on the Hanford site that was sort of innovative or hadn’t been mastered elsewhere? Because you hear sort of both sides of the Hanford legacy, and a lot of these are harder to get at without having classified sources. So the unclassified versions people could tell us about are very interesting.

Freshley: Well, I would say, that except for my time in the plutonium laboratory, things were pretty much unclassified. The development of these different fuels—fuel materials—and testing them and so on. I would say that was pretty much unclassified.

O’Reagan: Interesting.

Freshley: Now, I’m sure that AREVA here has some proprietary interests in their fuel modeling these days. But I’ve seen some of it; it’s a very sophisticated code and model.

O’Reagan: What was it like living in Richland, let’s say the ‘40s and ‘50s first and ask for the later parts afterwards.

Freshley: Well, I can tell you my experience.

O’Reagan: Yeah.

Freshley: First, as I said, I lived in the Army barracks. Then I moved to the dorms that were on Lee. This was before I was married. I was here for a year before I got married, and then when I got married, we got access to one of the Gribble apartments. I don’t know if they’re still there on Gribble Street? I think, maybe, Kadlec has taken all of that over now and destroyed all of the old buildings. But they were two-story apartments. They were really nice. Then after that, we lived in that apartment for five years, my wife tells me. And then we bought a ranch house. It wasn’t a purchase from the government; it was after the ranch houses and the other government houses were sold off by the government. This fella was in a position, a management position, in DoE—I think it might have been AEC at the time. And we bought this ranch house from him on Burch Street in Richland. We paid him $10,000 for it. And then from there—we lived there for a few years, and then we bought a house on Howell. And from Howell, we built a house in Country Ridge. That’s where we live now. We’ve lived there for 20—over 25 years.

O’Reagan: Interesting. I was just thinking back on the timeline there. I know for a long time people couldn’t buy houses in Richland. So I guess you got your first place not too long after you were allowed to?

Freshley: Oh, I think it was very soon. I can’t remember his name, but he was in some management position in DoE and wanted to sell his house. So we bought it from him and got the title and made some changes and so on. Yeah, it was among the first government houses that were sold privately.

O’Reagan: Mm-hmm. What was life like in the community around there? Do you remember any sort of community events?

Freshley: Yup. Town Theater was there. Actually showing movies, of course. Mm, I don’t know how to answer that. I would say it was pretty normal. Did a lot of outdoor activities, a lot of snow skiing at Tollgate—I don’t know if you know where Tollgate is.

O’Reagan: I’m new to the area.

Freshley: Oh, are you? Okay. It’s in the Blue Mountains. A lot of boating activities. We had a canoe and enjoyed that. Things like that.

O’Reagan: Great.

Freshley: Pretty normal, I would say. Wouldn’t you?

O’Reagan: Sure.

Freshley: [LAUGHTER]

O’Reagan: Did you ever feel like the sort of larger scale politics of the day ever impacted your life whether—Cold War security issues or changing Presidents or any of that?

Freshley: I can’t relate to that. I was not politically inclined like some people you know. [LAUGHTER]

O’Reagan: Sure. Let’s see. This is sort of a similar question, so we don’t have to go into too much detail. Any memories of the social scene, local politics, or other insights into life in the Tri-Cities over the time you lived here?

Freshley: Over what time period? Oh.

O’Reagan: In the time you lived here.

Freshley: Well, like I said, I’m not politically oriented, so if there were these things happening, I was pretty isolated from them.

O’Reagan: Okay. Could you describe any ways in which security and/or secrecy at Hanford impacted your work?

Freshley: No, I really can’t, except 234-5 Building, every time you went out there, you had to have your badge and security. I think even in the Plutonium Finishing Plant, there probably—I think there were—additional security requirements.

O’Reagan: What would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford or living in Richland during the Cold War?

Freshley: [LAUGHTER] Well, I wouldn’t know how to answer that. I would say, from my experience, it was very normal. I guess if there were security requirements and things like that, you just kind of got used to it, and you didn’t—it wasn’t something that stood out. I think that’s true.

O’Reagan: Okay. So what haven’t I asked about that I should ask about? What else is there I should be asking about?

Freshley: Well, how do I answer that? I don’t know. I think we’ve covered my experience pretty thoroughly. [LAUGHTER]

O’Reagan: Well, we don’t have to dwell on it if nothing comes to mind.

Freshley: No.

O’Reagan: It is an open-ended question.

Freshley: Well, what happened, after we bought our ranch house, the government didn’t come around and change our light bulbs anymore. [LAUGHTER]

O’Reagan: Oh, really? Did you have to—how much of a transition was that once you sort of became a homeowner? Was it--?

Freshley: Oh, it was a good transition, from my standpoint. You could do things—like we made modifications to the house. It was our house. It wasn’t controlled by the government—or owned by the government. So that made a big difference. You had a lot more freedom and so on in what you did and how you did it.

O’Reagan: All right. Well, thanks so much. This is very, very interesting, very useful.



Bit Rate/Frequency

248 kbps

Hanford Sites

300 Area
3706 Building
234-5 Building
231-Z building
324 Building
N Reactor

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site


Names Mentioned

Fox, John


Freshley, Max.jpg


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Max Freshley,” Hanford History Project, accessed June 24, 2024,