Interview with Jerome Martin

Dublin Core


Interview with Jerome Martin


Richland (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Hanford (Wash.)
Nuclear weapons plants--Waste disposal--Environmental aspects--Washington (State)--Hanford Site.
Nuclear weapons plants--Health aspects--Washington (State)--Hanford Site Region


An interview with Jerome Martin 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.



Date Modified

2016-07-29:Metadata v1 created – [J.G.]


The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to this US Department of Energy collection.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Robert Franklin


Jerome Martin


Washington State University - Tri-Cities


Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I’m conducting an oral history with Jerome Martin on June 1st, 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Jerome Martin about his experiences working at the Hanford site and his involvement with the Herbert M. Parker Foundation. And you—just wanted to use your legal name to start out with, but you prefer to be called Jerry, right? 

Jerome Martin: Yes, I do. 

Franklin: Okay. 

Martin: Jerome’s a little too formal. [LAUGHTER] 

Franklin: Right. Just for the technical purposes. Sure. No more, we will not mention the name— 

Martin: Okay. 

Franklin: Again. [LAUGHTER] So for the record, you did an interview with the Parker Foundation sometime in 2010. 

Martin: I believe it was earlier. 

Franklin: Or possibly earlier. And some of the Parker Foundation videos, as we know, were lost. And so this video is an attempt to recapture some of the information that would have been in that oral history, but also add some other information, and also to give you a chance to talk about your involvement with the Herbert M. Parker Foundation. So just as a introduction to whoever views this in the future. So why don’t we start in the beginning? How did you come to—you’re not from the Tri-Cities? 

Martin: Not originally. 

Franklin: All right. How did you come to the Tri-Cities? 

Martin: Well, a little quick history, I got my bachelor’s degree at San Diego State College and then I was a radiation safety officer at San Diego State for about three years. Then I had an opportunity to go to the University of Colorado in Boulder, where, again, I was a radiation safety officer and on the faculty of the physics department. After several years there, an excellent opportunity came up for me here at Hanford with Battelle, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. So I moved here in 1976, and had a great opportunity to work with many other more senior people here at Hanford that had been here since the beginning. One of those, of course, was Herbert M. Parker. He was former director of the laboratories under General Electric, and then retired, but stayed on with Battelle as a director. I had a few opportunities to interact with him, and was quite impressed. I have heard stories about, he was a rather demanding taskmaster. And I could kind of imagining myself trying to work for him, but it would have been a challenge. 

Franklin: What do you feel is important to be known about Herbert M. Parker for the historical record? 

Martin: I’ve had an opportunity to review many of his publications. They were quite professional and very well researched, and in many cases the leading authority on several topics. So I was very impressed by his publications. I didn’t have a direct opportunity to work for him, so I don’t know about his management style or other things. But that was the thing that impressed me the most, was his publications. 

Franklin: What topics did Dr. Parker write on—or do his research? 

Martin: His early professional career was in medical physics. He was at Swedish Hospital in Seattle for many years. Then he was called upon, as part of the Manhattan Project, to set up the safety program at Oak Ridge. He did that for about a year or so. Then he was called upon to do the same thing here at Hanford. So he came here and established the entire environmental safety and health program for Hanford. Of course he had all the right background to be able to do that, and he was able to recruit a number of really talented people to help him with that. So I think Hanford ended up with what could be known as the best environmental safety and health program, among all the early AEC and then DoE laboratories. One of the things that impressed me most by that program was the record keeping. And I had an opportunity to work on that in later years. But the way the record keeping was designed and set up and maintained was quite thorough. It was designed to be able to recreate whatever may have happened according to those records. It turned out to be very valuable in later years. 

Franklin: Who instituted that record-keeping? Was that Parker? 

Martin: I don’t recall the name of the individual that set it up, although I know Ken Hyde was involved very early on. He may have been at the very origin of it. But I’m sure Parker certainly influenced the rigor with which that program was established. In later years, John Jech was manager of the record keeping program, and then my good friend, Matt Lyon, was the manager of that. I worked with Matt, then, on American National Standard Institute’s standard for record keeping. We incorporated into that standard virtually all of the fundamentals that Parker had established initially. 

Franklin: The first name was John— 

Martin: The second manager of records was John Jech. J-E-C-H. 

Franklin: Do you know if he’s still living? 

Martin: No, he’s not. 

Franklin: And what about Lyon? 

Martin: Matt Lyon passed away about ten years ago, as did Ken Hyde. 

Franklin: What’s that? 

Martin: Ken Hyde—I think they all three passed away about ten years ago. 

Franklin: Okay. 

Martin: Yeah, give or take. 

Franklin: So you mentioned that the record keeping was designed to recreate an incident as it happened. Do you know of any such—or can you speak to any such times when that record keeping system was crucial into a safety issue? 

Martin: The one that comes to mind is one of the more I guess infamous incidents here at Hanford. It occurred just around the time I arrived here in 1976. It was sometimes called the McCluskey accident out at the 231-Z Building. There was an explosion in a glovebox that resulted in very significant contamination of Mr. McCluskey by americium-241. And the response to that incident, and then all the following treatment of Mr. McCluskey was very well documented. In fact, those documents then became the basis for a whole series of scientific papers that described the entire incident and all the aspects of it. So that was one major case where excellent record keeping was very valuable. 

Franklin: Excellent. And what—I’m just curious now—what happened to Mr. McCluskey? 

Martin: He survived for about ten years after the accident. He initially had very severe acid burns and trauma. But he was very carefully treated for that. The americium contamination that he had was gradually eliminated—not eliminated, but reduced substantially. He survived for another ten years after that incident even though he had heart trouble. I know several people that assisted in his care, and it was quite remarkable what they were able to do and what he was able to do. 

Franklin: Wow. Did he ever go back to work? 

Martin: No, he was 65 at the time of the accident. 

Franklin: Oh, okay. 

Martin: So he kind of went into medical retirement at that point. [LAUGHTER] 

FranklinRight. Yeah, I can imagine. So you said you came in 1976. 

Martin: Right. 

Franklin: And what did you—what was your first job, when you came to Battelle? 

Martin: Well, I worked in what was called the radiation protection department, later called health physics department. My first assignment was called ALARA management. ALARA stands for maintain our radiation exposures as low as reasonably achievable. I would monitor the exposure records of Battelle workers, and watch for any that were the least bit unusually high, and then look for ways that we could reduce those exposures. And I monitored other things like average exposures and the use of dosimeters and things of that nature. The overall assignment was to generally reduce the workers’ radiation exposure.  

Franklin: How successful do you feel that the department was in that effort? 

Martin: I think we were very successful, and it went on for many years, even after I had that assignment. I remember one time, looking at a report that DoE put out annually on radiation exposures over all the major DoE facilities. Those average exposures, highest individual exposures, and things of that nature. Battelle and Hanford had among the lowest averages of all the other DoE facilities. So, I believe it was a very effective ALARA program here at Hanford. 

Franklin: Do you know if that report was ever made publically available? 

Martin: Oh, yes. 

Franklin: Oh. 

Martin: Yeah, those are published every year by DoE. 

Franklin: Oh, great. I’ll have to find that. Sorry, just scribbling down some notes. 

Martin: At one point, Battelle had a contract with the DoE headquarters to actually do the production of that report each year. 

Franklin: Okay. 

Martin: And I was involved in the production of it—oh, three or four years, as I recall. 

Franklin: Okay. So you mentioned that you had moved on out of that program or department, so what— 

Martin: Right. Well, I started getting involved in management at kind of the bottom level. I was an associate section manager, and then I got an assignment as section manager for the radiation monitoring section. I was responsible for all the radiation monitors—or as they’re now called, radiation protection technologists—the radiation monitors for Battelle and two other of the contractors here at Hanford. It was kind of ironic that I was located in what used to be the 300 Area library, and my office was on the second floor. And my office was the former office of Herbert M. Parker, when he was director of laboratories. 

Franklin: Wow! 

Martin: It was an honor to have that space, and recall memories of Mr. Parker. 

Franklin: Wow, that’s great. And how long did you do that for? 

Martin: I did that two or three years, and then another opportunity came along in 1979—no actually, it was ’79, but I guess I’d been on that management job for about a year and a half. In September of ’79, which was about three months after the Three Mile Island accident, we had an opportunity to make a proposal to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to provide support for their staff in emergency planning work. At that time, NRC was making a big push on all the power plants, all the nuclear power plants across the country to enhance their emergency planning programs. So we began about a ten-year project with NRC to supplement their staff. The NRC established the requirement for annual emergency exercises at each of the nuclear power plants, where they had to work up a scenario, and then they would activate their emergency response staff to demonstrate that they would know how to handle that accident scenario. We served as observers. We had teams of observers with the NRC staff. We did a total of 800 of those exercises over a ten-year period. 

Franklin: Wow. 

Martin: So we had a lot of staff out there, doing a lot of travel. 

Franklin: Yeah. So that would have been—so you said for power, would that have been for all of the power reactors in the United States? 

Martin: Yes. There were 103 plants at the time. 

Franklin: Wow. Did you do any in foreign countries? 

Martin: I didn’t personally, but we did have some staff that went to a similar kind of program with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and visited foreign nuclear power plants. Some in France, that I recall. 

Franklin: Wow. So you said 103 power plants? 

Martin: In the US, yeah. 

Franklin: Wow. 

Martin: Actually, that was the number of reactors. There was a fewer number of plants, because many of them are two or more reactors at a site. 

Franklin: Oh, okay so the 103 is the number of reactors? 

Martin: I believe that’s correct. At that time. 

Franklin: How did Chernobyl affect your field and your work? 

Martin: That’s an excellent question, because that was in this period. Of course, the Chernobyl accident happened in 1986, and I was working directly with NRC at that time. I was project manager on that NRC contract. When Chernobyl happened, there was an immediate reaction, and NRC had to study the Chernobyl accident as well as we could, and then determine what could be applied to US power reactors by way of improvements and emergency planning. One of my managers, Bill Bair, was part of a US delegation led by DoE and NRC to actually visit the Chernobyl area shortly after the accident, interact with the Russians, and do lessons learned that was turned into a series of DoE and NRC documents that tried to extract as much useful information as we could from Chernobyl and apply it here in the US. 

Franklin: Right, because if I’m not mistaken, the design of the Chernobyl reactor—there were reactors of similar design in the United States. 

Martin: Not exactly. The Chernobyl reactor had no containment vessel. There were a few reactors in the US that also did not have containment vessels, but they had other safeguards. The N Reactor was one of those. Unfortunately, I would call it an overreaction of the US government to a reactor with no containment. Severe restrictions were put on N Reactor, and some re-design was required that ultimately led to the end of N Reactor. It’s interesting to note that at that point in time, which was about 1986, 1987, N Reactor had generated more electricity from a nuclear reactor than any other plant in the world. So it’s unfortunate it came to an early demise. 

Franklin: And—sorry, my ignorance here on the technical aspects. You said some of them don’t have a containment vessel. What does a containment vessel look like and what role does it play, and why would there would be reactors with one and without one? 

Martin: Well, N Reactor went back to the early—the late ‘50s, I believe when it was designed. It was designed similar to the other reactors here at Hanford that were intended for production of plutonium. But N Reactor was a dual purpose, in that it also generated 800 megawatts of electricity. But it had a similar kind of design to what you see out at B Plant, for example. So it didn’t have the same kind of containment vessel that other modern pressurized water reactors or other nuclear power plants have that is designed in such a way that if there is reactor core damage, any radioactivity released can be contained and not released. 

Franklin: Okay. 

Martin: Or released in a very controlled fashion. 

Franklin: I see. Kind of like a clam shell that kind of covers the— 

Martin: Well, it’s basically—yeah, in many cases a spherical kind of containment. 

Franklin: Okay. Excellent. So after—obviously the demise of N Reactor, ’86, ’87, is kind of the end of operations—or I should say of product production—product and energy production on the Hanford site. So how did your job change after that? And what did you continue to do after the shutdown? 

Martin: I wasn’t directly affected by N Reactor shutting down. And the other production reactors had been shut down before that, so I wasn’t really directly involved in that. But I had yet another opportunity came up that turned out to be really a challenge for me. The Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas is the primary assembly and disassembly facility for nuclear weapons. At that time, it was managed by a company called Mason and Hanger. Mason and Hanger had that contract for many years, and DoE challenged them to rebid the contract. So Mason and Hanger reached out to Battelle for assistance in teaming on environmental health and safety. So my manager talked me into being involved, so I went down to Amarillo and visited the plant and worked with the team there on the proposal that had to be presented to DoE. And we won the contract. Of course in the fine print it said I then had to move there. 

Franklin: Ah! 

Martin: But it turned out great. By that time, my family was pretty well grown, kids were through college. So we moved down to Amarillo, and I went to work at Pantex. We really enjoyed that. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Amarillo’s a very nice town, a lot of nice people. The work at Pantex was very challenging. I enjoyed that very much, too. 

Franklin: Great. So how long were you at the Pantex plant? 

Martin: Well, I was manager of the radiation safety department down there for three years, which was my original contract obligation. During that time, we were very closely scrutinized by the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board, which was an organization established by Congress to be a watchdog over DoE. Their method for watching DoE was to watch the contractors very closely. So they would scrutinize everything we did, and then challenge DoE if they found something. They pushed us in a way that was good, because one of the things they promoted was professional certification. I’m a certified health physicist, certified by the American Board of Health Physics. At the time at Pantex, I was the only one we had there. But the DNFSB pushed us to add more, so I got more of my staff certified. There was a similar program for technicians called the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists, and at the time, we had two of my staff that were registered with NRRPT. Again, they pushed us to promote more training. By the end of that three-year period, I think we had ten of our technologists registered and certified. So we really improved the credentials of our staff. We instituted some new programs, again, related to ALARA radiation reduction. Probably the most interesting or challenging day of my life occurred down there in 1994. We were working on disassembly of the W48 program. The W48 was a tactical weapon used in—that was deployed in Europe—it was never used. But it was a very small, cylindrical nuclear weapon designed to be shot out of a 155 millimeter howitzer, which is amazing just to think about. But the plutonium pit in this device was surrounded by high explosive. It turned out to be rather difficult to disassemble this particular design of nuclear weapon. It also turned out that the plutonium pit had a relatively high dose rate, compared to others. So the workers were getting some increased exposure to their hands in the process of working on this. So we were concerned about their extremity dose. So we worked up a method for doing a classified videotape of the disassembly operation, so that we could study each step in the process to find ways to improve worker safety. Providing shielding, remote tools, things of that nature. The process on this was to take the plutonium pit and high explosives and put it in liquid nitrogen bath for a period of time. Then bring it out and put it in a little tub-like, and pour hot water on it. The HE would expand rapidly and crack off. And for the most part, it worked very well. Well, there was this one particular pit that we were working on when we were doing the videotape for this study. Apparently the HE wasn’t coming off the way it should, and so they had to repeat this process over and over. They brought it out of the liquid nitrogen, poured hot water on it, and the plutonium—the cladding, the beryllium cladding on the plutonium pit actually cracked, due to the severe temperature change. The workers who were working on this were trained very carefully that if that cladding on the pit ever cracks, get out of there fast, so you avoid a plutonium exposure. So that happened. One of the technicians heard an audible crack and saw it on the surface of that pit. And they all evacuated immediately. They got just outside the door of this special facility, and they called our radiation safety office, and fortunately my three best technicians were standing there by the phone. They said, pit had cracked. And so they got over there as fast as they possibly could. They recognized the danger of having an exposed plutonium pit, and how that can oxidize and cause severe contamination very quickly. They decided to put on respirators to protect themselves, but they didn’t bother with any of the other protective clothing because they wanted to save time. So they made an entry where the cracked pit was, still there with the water bath on it, and the video shooting this picture. They took samples right on the crack and on the water and all around it. They managed to take that plutonium pit and get it into a plastic bag and then they doubled bagged it and then they triple bagged it and sealed it up. Then they came out. Of course, the samples revealed that there was indeed plutonium contamination coming out of that crack, but they had contained it very quickly. When we made a later entry to retrieve the video tape that was still running, and we looked at the timestamp on it. From the time the crack appeared until they had it in the bag was seven minutes. 

Franklin: Wow! 

Martin: That’s about as fast as you can possibly expect a response team to come in and secure a situation like that. And so, following that, of course we had the incident debriefing, and I had to chair that. But we very carefully went through and recorded every little thing that happened from the time they were working on the disassembly to the time they exited. Got that all documented, and then the videotape of course documented all of that. The scrutiny by Department of Energy, the Amarillo office, the Albuquerque office, Headquarters, any number of others—we had a lot of attention that day. It was a long, hard day at the office, but very exciting. Following that, we had to debrief many other investigation committees and others. But we had that videotape to rely on, and that just was invaluable. That’s my—that was probably the most exciting day of my life, down there. [LAUGHTER] Got a follow-up to that. That W48 weapon was designed by Livermore. They came in at a later time and did a post-mortem on that cracked pit. And when they did, we discovered that the amount of plutonium contamination there that was available for distribution had it not been contained, would have totally just made that facility useless. I mean, extremely expensive clean-up, if it ever got done. 

Franklin: Not just the room, but the entire facility? 

Martin: Well, mainly that room. 

Franklin: That room. 

Martin: But it was a very big room, and a very valuable room, specially designed. But the quick response of our radiation safety technicians and getting that contained saved that room and millions of dollars in expense. 

Franklin: Wow. And so this was a weapon that was the size of a howitzer shell? 

Martin: 155 millimeters. 

Franklin: Wow. And what is the—I don’t know if you know this—but what’s the explosive power of that—is it—I guess it could be— 

Martin: Well, it’s just like the atomic bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, about 20-kiloton fission device. The plutonium pit is designed to implode and cause a super-critical reaction. 

Franklin: But fired out of a howitzer, instead of— 

Martin: Fired out of a howitzer, perhaps 20 miles or something. And then you can somehow coordinate the careful detonation of this-- 

Franklin: [LAUGHTER] 

Martin: --device. It boggled my mind. 

Franklin: I guess that’s best that that was never ever— 

Martin: There’s quite a large number of different nuclear weapons. Many of them were tactical weapons used in Europe—or deployed in Europe during the Cold War. Many other more modern ones are part of Polaris missiles and other large bombs that can be deployed by B-52s or B-2s. 

Franklin: Sure. 

Martin: Yeah. There’s quite a wide range of different models and designs. I didn’t know that at the time, but it’s fascinating. I remember one day standing in one of the disassembly rooms, and they had this nuclear weapon in a cradle standing there on the floor, and they had the top off of it. And I could just look down in the top of it. I couldn’t touch it, but I could look in there and just see the engineering in one of those things was just amazing. Just beyond belief. 

Franklin: I bet. I can only imagine. 

Martin: Yeah. But I’ve gone off on this nuclear weapons story and departed from Hanford. 

Franklin: It’s okay. 

Martin: Maybe I should come back. 

Franklin: I think that’s a very interesting story. I certainly—I’ve also, like I said, heard of plenty of bombs—ICBMs, missiles, but I’d never quite heard of a howitzer-type fired weapon. But also just the fact that your team and your field was able to prevent a really nasty incident is pretty amazing. 

Martin: Right. 

Franklin: It speaks to your profession and your skill. 

Martin: Well, like I mentioned, the professional credentials. Two of the three technicians who responded were certified by NNRPT. And they had the right kind of training, knew what to do, did it very well. 

Franklin: Great. 

Martin: I had an opportunity a year later to nominate them for a special DoE award for unusual—not heroism, but effective response. And they won the award that year. 

Franklin: That’s great. So how and when did you leave Pantex? 

Martin: Well, the first time, was in ’96—no, I’m sorry, in ’93—and I had a special appointment back at DoE headquarters in Germantown. So I went back there for two years to work with the branch of DoE that was like an inspector general—the internal inspection branch, if you will. Very similar in scope to what the DNFSB—Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board—was doing. Scrutinizing all the DoE operations at the national labs and other facilities, and trying to always make improvements. 

Franklin: Wow. 

Martin: So I worked with the DoE headquarters staff on many different audits that we did at other DoE labs. At the time, I specialized in dosimetry, both internal and external dosimetry, and other operational health physics parts of the program. 

Franklin: Wow. So when did you come back to the Tri-Cities? 

Martin: Well, I had a couple other interesting assignments in there. After DoE headquarters, then I went back to Pantex for three more years. And then another opportunity came up on an old facility near Cincinnati that needed to be decommissioned—decontaminated and decommissioned. And I went to Oak Ridge first, worked with the Foster Wheeler Company on the design of what became the largest radon control building that had ever been done. I was the radiation safety officer for that project at Oak Ridge in the design effort. And then we moved to Cincinnati for a year and I worked at the Fernald facility in actually building this radon control facility. What we were trying to deal with were these large concrete silos that contained residual ore material from the Second World War. They have to go back to—when the Manhattan Project was trying to bring together the necessary uranium in addition to the plutonium that was produced here at Hanford, they were using a rich pitch blend ore that was coming from what was then called Belgian Congo in Africa. It was shipped from there up the Saint Lawrence River to a facility near Niagara Falls. And then it ended up being processed to extract as much uranium as possible. But there were these residuals. They ended up in these concrete silos near Niagara Falls, New York as well as this Fernald facility, just outside of Cincinnati. So we had three big concrete silos that—I don’t recall—they must have been 80 feet in diameter and 50 feet high. So they held a lot of uranium ore residuals. It contained a fair amount of radium, which gave off radon gas. This facility was located not too far from a residential area. So it became a greater concern for getting it cleaned up. We put together this radon control facility that had these huge charcoal beds and you could pipe—you could take the head gas off of this silo, pipe it into these charcoal beds where the radon would be absorbed, and then the clean air would circulate. So you could fairly rapidly reduce the concentration of radon inside the silo to much lower levels. In the process, the charcoal beds got loaded up by absorbing radon. There came a point where you had to heat up that charcoal to drive off the captured radon. We devised a clever scheme with four different beds where we could kind of keep one of them recirculating on all times and have the other three working. 

Franklin: So you say drive off the captured radon, where would it be driven off? 

Martin: Over to the next charcoal bed, which hadn’t yet been completely saturated. 

Franklin: Oh! But then eventually you still have charcoal that— 

Martin: but it decays with a 3.8 day half-life, and that was built into the plan, too. 

Franklin: Oh! 

Martin: [LAUGHTER] 

Franklin: But if it was to escape, right, it would get people very—it would contaminate or get people sick, or--? 

Martin: Well, it was pretty carefully designed not to— 

Franklin: Oh, but I’m saying that radon— 

Martin: Oh, if it escaped from the silo. If there was no control of it—a certain amount of radon was escaping from the silo. For the most part, it’s a light gas, it just goes up and the wind blows it and disperses it. So it was very difficult to even measure anything offsite. But there was that concern there that we were dealing with. 

Franklin: But if enough of it was released at once, then there might have been an issue? 

Martin: Like if the whole roof of the silo was suddenly removed and it all came out, that could be a problem, yeah. 

Franklin: Interesting. I didn’t realize it had such a short half-life. 

Martin: Yeah. So I did that, what amounted to ten years of offsite assignments. About that time, my wife and I got tired of moving. So we came back to the Tri-Cities, and our kids are here. I came back to work at Battelle for another few years before I retired. 

Franklin: When did you come back to Battelle? 

Martin: I came back in 2001. 

Franklin: Oh, okay. So then you worked for—it says you retired in 2006. 

Martin: I retired about four years later. And the last major project I worked on was also very interesting. It was the project for customs and border protection. It was to install radiation portal monitors at seaports. This was shortly after 9/11, and there was a concern about dirty bomb material being imported by any means. We had one part of the project dealt with seaport, another part airports, and a third part postal facilities. 

Franklin: Wow. 

Martin: So I worked on the seaports part, and I had the Port of Los Angeles was my assignment. Another one of us had Port of Long Beach, which is right next door, which are the largest seaports on the West Coast and have the largest number of shipping containers coming in. So we devised a method for monitoring those shipping containers as they were unloaded and making sure nothing was coming in that way. 

Franklin: Did—oh, sorry. 

Martin: Very interesting project. 

Franklin: I don’t know if you can speak to this, but was anything caught by these monitors? 

Martin: Yes. But not dirty bomb material. 

Franklin: Oh, okay. 

Martin: Turns out they were so sensitive, they would detect any kind of elevated background radioactivity. For example, kitty litter is a little bit elevated in background. Any kind of stone product, and there are various granite and other stone products imported from different places. Those had a high enough background activity that they would trigger our monitors. So we would run all these containers through a set of monitors, and any that triggered that amount would then be sent over to a secondary monitor, where they’d examine it more carefully, verify what was actually in the containers, sometimes inspect them. 

Franklin: So recently our project staff got a tour of some of the facilities at HAMMER. And I believe we saw one of those monitors. Would that have been the same? 

Martin: Mm-hm. Big yellow columns? 

FranklinYeah, that they run it through. 

Martin: Yep, that was the one. 

Franklin: So you helped design— 

Martin: We helped design—oh, I didn’t really get involved in design. That was done by some real smart people out here at Battelle. But I was onsite trying to get them installed. 

Franklin: Oh, okay. 

Martin: And tested. 

FranklinWow. That’s really—that’s fascinating. 

Martin: Yeah, it was. I had a chance to do a lot of fun things when I worked at Battelle. 

Franklin: Yeah, it sounds like it. Sounds like maybe I need to go get a job over there. Maybe they need a traveling historian. So, where—what have you been doing since you retired? 

Martin: Well, for about five years, I worked for Dade Moeller, which is kind of a spinoff company from Battelle. And they had a major contract with NIOSH—National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health—as part of an employee compensation program for radiation workers. Initially, the way this was set up was we got the actual radiation exposure records for former employees and examined their measured radiation exposure, and then did some other calculations that would tend to take into account anything else that they might have been exposed to but was somehow not measured on the dosimeter and many other factors to kind of add up their maximum possible radiation dose. And then that was compared—this is where it got a little complex. There are many different types of cancer that can be caused by radiation at a high enough level. Some types of cancer can be caused by a radiation level lower than some others. So it depended on what type of cancer the individual had as to which—how we measured their maximum possible radiation exposure to the likelihood that that cancer was caused by radiation. We did a careful calculation using probability and determined that if their cancer was at least 50% probable that it was caused by radiation, then they were granted an award. Well, we did that for several years in a very careful, scientific way that was well-documented. Then it became political. A lot of former workers, then, applied for another category within this overall compensation program that they called Special Exposure Cohort. Which meant that it didn’t matter how much radiation exposure they had, if they had the right type of cancer, they could get the award. And it’s kind of degenerated that way. But for many years, I think we did it right. I also had an opportunity to work on another part of that project where we did what we call the technical basis documents, where we reconstructed the history of how radiation exposure records were developed and maintained at each of these different sites. Every one varied a little bit. I did the one for the technical basis document for Pantex in Amarillo, because I was familiar with that. But I got to do several other interesting sites, one of which was Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Going there and interviewing some of these old-timers and looking at their old records, I found that there was a chemistry professor at what was then Iowa State University. He was called upon by the Manhattan Project in 1943 to help them improve their methods for extracting uranium metal. The old process that had been used by the Curies and other early scientists was really quite inefficient. But this professor developed a method used in a calcium catalyst that was very effective. He was able to purify uranium metal much quicker and in larger quantities. The story was that he would have to get on the train every Sunday afternoon and go to Chicago for the meeting with the Manhattan Project and report on the progress of his research and so on. One week after successfully isolating an ingot of uranium metal, he took it with him in his briefcase. Went into the meeting with Manhattan Project and clunked it on the desk, and passed it around. He said that this is a new method for producing substantial quantities of uranium metal. All the scientists around the table kind of poked at it and scratched it and so on and didn’t believe it was really uranium, but it was. And they finally decided that he had made a great breakthrough, so they sent him back to Iowa and said, make a lot more, fast. And he did. So he had the material they needed, then, for the Manhattan Project. 

Franklin: Wow. 

Martin: Interesting story. 

Franklin: Yeah, that’s really fascinating. So how did you become involved with the Parker Foundation? 

Martin: About ten years ago—almost ten years ago—my friend Bill Bair and Ron Kathren and a couple others on the Parker Board invited me to participate. Matt Moeller was chairman of the board at that time—invited me to participate, and I just joined in, and found it very rewarding. I really appreciate what the Parker Board does in the memory of Herb Parker and in the sense of scholarships and other educational programs. So it’s a pleasure to contribute to that. 

Franklin: Great, great. You moved in 1975 or ’76? 

Martin: I moved here in ’76. 

Franklin: ’76. And you mentioned children. Were your children born here, or did you move here with them? 

Martin: My oldest daughter was born in San Diego, and my younger daughter was born in Boulder, Colorado. 

Franklin: Okay. 

Martin: So they were six and eight, I think, when we moved here. 

Franklin: What were your impressions of Richland in the mid-70s when you moved? Did you live in Richland or did you--? 

Martin: We did. Yeah, we lived just a few blocks from WSU here.  

Franklin: Oh, okay. 

MartinIn North Richland. It was a very different community, but one that I came to know and respect. Because at that time, education was really paramount in the minds of parents and the school system. And my wife was a teacher. So we really took an interest in that. My kids got a really good education here in Richland. Went to Hanford High, and then did well in college. One of the main features of Richland at that time, I think, was a superior education program. Some of the other history of Richland with old government housing, and then we got a new house, and things like that are entirely different, but also very interesting. 

Franklin: And is that what you kind of are meaning when you say it was a different community? I guess I’d like to unpack that a little bit more. How—in what ways was it different? 

Martin: Well, a large part of Richland was originally government housing, and you only had to drive through town, you could see all the evidence of that. And then on the north side of Richland, they had opened up—beginning in 1965, I believe—development of newer private housing. We got here just in time to get in on a new house, and worked out fine for us. 

Franklin: Great. Was there—being next to a site that was primarily involved in product production, plutonium production—was there a different feeling about the Cold War in Richland per se than anywhere else you had lived in the United States at that time? 

Martin: There definitely was different feelings about the Cold War and living anywhere near a nuclear power plant. I remember when we were working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at many different reactor sites around the country. In many cases we would have public meetings to introduce the local folks to what we were trying to do to improve the emergency planning. There was a lot of concern about living anywhere near a nuclear power plant just a few years after TMI. I tried to explain to people how I live within 30 miles of nine nuclear power plants. But I understood radiation. I understood the risk, and I understood what could go wrong or how to deal with it. And it didn’t concern—didn’t bother me that much to live here. I found that to be generally true of a lot of people in Richland that were part—working at Hanford and were well-educated. They understood the risk and they could deal with it. Whereas many other people were just afraid. And I attribute that to what I call now about a 71-year deliberate misinformation program on the part of mass media to scare people about radiation. 

Franklin: I like that. I’m writing it down. How do you feel that the—do you feel that the ending of the Cold War changed your work at all? I guess the reason why I ask— 

Martin: It did. 

Franklin: --these questions about the Cold War is because it was the impetus for much of the continued production of the material. 

Martin: Yeah. I was in Germany in 1988, just before the Berlin Wall came down. I was also there in Berlin in 1984, and we actually crossed through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin on a special tour. 

Franklin: Really? 

Martin: It was quite amazing. I was in Berlin for a meeting of the International Radiation Protection Association. I took my whole family; it was a tremendous adventure for them. But we were able to be part of a special US Army tour that went through Checkpoint Charlie. I think they did this once a week. And we had a little tour of East Berlin while it was still under the control of the USSR. We visited their Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and they had a little ceremonial changing the guard there. And we visited the square in Berlin where Hitler had burned the books that one night in 1939. And then we visited a huge Russian war memorial, and there was a building there where the Germans had surrendered in 1945. There was quite a story about that. But I was really impressed with this huge Russian war memorial. There were five mass graves that each held 100,000 soldiers. It was done in kind of the Russian style, with statues and other honorary symbols to clearly show their respect for the lives of all those soldiers. But that was an impressive sight. But I was there again in 1988 just before the Berlin Wall came down, and you could kind of see the end of the Cold War coming. So it was a great opportunity that I had, working for Battelle, being able to travel like that, and do many exciting things. 

Franklin: Did you get to ever talk or meet with any of your counterparts on the Russian side? 

Martin: Yes. 

Franklin: After the Cold War ended. And what was that like, to finally work with what had been considered the enemy? 

Martin: It was quite unusual. I was scheduled to go to Russia a week after 9/11. It almost got canceled, but I managed to go. I was giving—they were having a conference for young scientists and trying to introduce them to international concepts of radiation safety. So I gave my paper and four others that we did to that group. It was located at what was the Russian equivalent of Los Alamos, their design facility. There weren’t very many Americans had been in there up to that point. So I was watched very closely. [LAUGHTER] And not allowed to see much, actually. But it was a very interesting exchange. The papers I was presenting were prepared in both English and Russian. And then we also did what they called a poster presentation, where we had a big poster with diagrams and everything—again translated to Russian. So we were able to put these up at this conference for these young scientists. They, I think, got a lot out of it because it was in their language so it was easy for them to understand. Working with an interpreter was a new experience for me. I would give this oral presentation, so I’d say one sentence and the pause. The interpreter would repeat that. I’d say the next sentence, and—kind of an awkward way to do an oral presentation. 

Franklin: I can imagine. 

Martin: But their hospitality was very good. This was in 2001. So the Cold War had been over for quite a few years. But we were trying to establish better relations. I think it was quite effective in doing that. I had another opportunity to work with Russian scientists on an NRC program, again where NRC was trying to provide training to their equivalent Russian inspectors for nuclear power plants and explain to them some of the ways that they did inspections, things they looked for, how they documented findings and things like that. We had four Russian inspectors and their interpreter come over from Moscow. I was their host in Washington, DC, and we worked with them there with the NRC headquarters for a week, providing training. And then we brought them out to Idaho to the Idaho National Lab, north of Idaho Falls, and went to a large hot cell facility at Idaho. A hot cell is where they have a heavily shielded enclosure with mechanical arms that do things on the inside. It was quite a sophisticated facility and somewhat unlike what the Russian counterparts were used to. But it was a good learning exercise for them. We kind of went through a demonstration of how we would do an inspection—a safety inspection. So, I had those kind of opportunities to interact with Russian scientists and found that very exciting. Very interesting. 

Franklin: Did you find that there was anything that you had learned from them at all? Or do you feel that the US was much more advanced in radiation protection and health physics? 

Martin: Well, I kept my ears open when I was talking to them, but they didn’t reveal much. [LAUGHTER] So, we didn’t pick up much that way. 

Franklin: Sure. 

Martin: We were trying to help them. 

Franklin: Right. Were you at Hanford during the Russian visit to Hanford when they toured the Plutonium Finishing Plant? 

Martin: No. That was after I retired, I think. 

Franklin: Okay, just curious. 

Martin: I heard about it of course. 

Franklin: I’m sure. That must have been a pretty big deal from the standpoint of both countries. Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you would like to talk about? 

Martin: I think there’s one thing I remember from when I did this interview the first time that I wanted to mention. 

Franklin: Sure. 

Martin: I’ve been talking about all the varied experiences I had, and excellent opportunities over the years. But I think one of the perhaps most impressive things that I was able to do was to be able to hire several good people into my organization. I won’t mention names, but there were several that I call superstars that are now leaders in the field. I was able to bring them in right out of college or from another job, and hire several really good people that certainly enhanced our program, and then gave them great opportunities to grow and expand. Like I say, they’re now leaders in the field. That was one of the most rewarding parts of my job. 

Franklin: That’s great. Maybe you can give me their names off camera and we could contact them. 

Martin: I think they’re already on your list. [LAUGHTER] 

Franklin: Oh, okay, good. 

Martin: But I’ll do that. 

Franklin: Well, good. 

Martin: We’ll do that. 

Franklin: They should be. Tom, did you— 

Tom Hungate: No, I’m fine. 

Franklin: Emma, did you have anything? 

Emma Rice: No, I’m fine. 

Franklin: Okay. Well, I think that’s it. Jerry, thank you so much. 

Martin: Well, that was fun. Did we stay on target? 

Franklin: I believe we did. 

Martin: I wandered a little. [LAUGHTER] 

Franklin: That’s okay. 

Martin: There’s some stories there that might be interesting. 

Franklin: I think the stories help keep the oral histories—they have a human-centered focus and they’re interesting for people to watch. 

Martin: I hope so. 

Franklin: And I think there might be a couple things that merit some more research in there that personally, for me, I’d like to find out some more about. 

Martin: Oh, okay. 

Franklin: Especially the howitzer thing. 

Martin: Oh, yeah. [LAUGHTER] 

Hungate: One thing I’d just like to ask— 

Martin: Sure. 

Hungate: You’ve been involved in a lot of things over a broad range of time and experiences and I just kind of wonder what you would feel is the one—maybe the item or two that you’ve worked on that will leave the most lasting impact? 

Martin: The most lasting impact. 

Hungate: Or that you wished had been developed more that didn’t quite complete, you’d like to see more work done on it, it was either defunded or it was— 

Martin: Well, I’m thinking of several different things now. I’ll just have to think it through. The work we did with NRC to improve emergency planning on nuclear power plants I think was very effective. And that’s still being maintained today. Work we did with DoE at Pantex on nuclear weapons. You mentioned the end of the Cold War, that’s when many of these tactical nuclear weapons in Europe were brought back and declared obsolete, and so we were doing a massive disassembly operation on those. I learned a lot about nuclear weapons and found it fascinating. We implemented some methods at Pantex that I think are still in use in the maintenance programs that they do now. But we were able to, I think, substantially improve on radiation safety at Pantex. Certainly to the point where we were finally blessed by DNFSB and DoE. I think the quality of that program has been maintained. There’s several other projects that I’ve worked on over the years, but I guess there’s no one thing that stands out that I would be concerned about that it was defunded or ended or somehow went downhill. I’m sure that’s happened, but I haven’t kept track of everything. 

Franklin: Being as nuclear power and nuclear weapons have different objectives, and you mentioned this retirement of a lot of nuclear weapons, do you feel that nuclear weapons still have a role to play in security— 

Martin: I do. 

Franklin: You do? 

Martin: Yes. Because the Russians still have a lot of them, China has some, the French and English have a few. It’s what I call the mutual deterrent, which is a term that’s been used. It just means that we don’t ever want to use one again, but if any one of those countries had some kind of an unbalanced advantage, it could be used. So if we have this mutual assured deterrence, it keeps that in balance. So it’s important to maintain that stockpile. 

Franklin: Interesting. Thank you. 

Hungate: Okay. 

Franklin: Great. 



Bit Rate/Frequency

248 kbps

Hanford Sites

N reactor
300 Area
B Plant

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site


Names Mentioned

Kathren, Ron
Bair, Bill
M. Parker, Herbert
Hyde, Ken
Lyon, Matt
Jech, John
Moeller, Matt


Martin, Jerome.jpg


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Jerome Martin,” Hanford History Project, accessed July 15, 2024,