Interview with Dale Denham

Dublin Core


Interview with Dale Denham


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Nuclear weapons plants--Environmental aspects--Washington (State)--Hanford Site.
Nuclear weapons plants--Waste disposal--Environmental aspects--Washington (State)--Hanford Site.
Nuclear instruments & methods
Richland (Wash.)
Kennewick (Wash.)


An interview with Dale Denham 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

2016-05-24: 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


Laura Arata


Dale Denham


Washington State University - Tri-Cities


Northwest Public Television | Denham_Dale 

Laura ArataI feel ready. I think Dale feels ready. 

Dale DenhamYeah. Are you going to ask me some questions to begin with, or just-- 

ArataI sure am. 

Denham[LAUGHTER] We're here, huh? 

ArataIf we could just start by having you say your name, and then spell your last name for us, please? 

DenhamOkay. Dale Denham. D-E-N-H-A-M. I always let people know it's like the denim jeans. Can't forget me. [LAUGHTER] 

ArataThank you. My name's Laura Arata. It's December 12, 2013. We're conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So if we could just start, I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about when you came to Hanford, why you came to Hanford, and what you knew about it at the time. 

DenhamWell, maybe it's better if I tell you when I first came in 1947. 

Arata: Please do. 

Denham But as a young person, came with my family because my dad was invited to come up here and start a radio station. And Dad was in the radio business since the '20s. And his buddy says, boy, this is just a golden opportunity, and dad said, oh no. The war's over and this place is going to fold. Obviously, he was a bit wrong, but he had been through the Depression and all those kind of things. So we came. My sister and I would come up on the train and spend weeks, because they had a couple daughters. And they moved in in '47 and stayed here 'til '57. So the station today is KONA, but at that time it was KWIE. And it began in that period, and so we made lots of trips. But they lived in Kennewick, so I really didn't spend much time in Richland. They brought us out to see the barricade out here on Stevens, and the bypass to even get to the 300 Area. And at the time, their studios were being built, and so they were doing things in the Hanford House, which is today the Richland Red Lion. So I had some introduction to the Tri-City community. But I came as a graduate student, 1961, as part of a fellowship from the Atomic Energy Commission, which was in Health Physics. And it turns out I was in the first class of graduates of master's degree from the University of Washington. There were like ten of them, ten of us. We came and spent the summer here in '61. I got married that summer also. And we became acquainted with the site by--much like they did most of the engineers, they moved us around on site, kind of give us a familiarity with all the different aspects of health physics, which was radiation protection, basically, for the people and the environment. And so that was my introduction to the place. But while I was here, the opportunity to get a master's, because they didn't have a master's program at UW at the time, because we were the first class. And while we were here during the summer, a program opened up to get a master's by going back for the second year. So I went on back to University of Washington and was able to get my master's. Matter of fact, I was studying rheumatoid arthritic patients looking for ways to use the reactor there at the university to evaluate the gold in these patients, because gold was not a cure for the disease, but it could slow it down and at least make people so they could--so I worked with two individuals. I collected all their urine, because we were looking for activation techniques. And it took me most of the year because the opportunities were great to look to the future, but we didn't have all the technology yet. I was doing a lot of my work using a single channel analyzer and looking at different photo peaks, energy, gamma ray energies coming off of these radionuclides, because we're all full of sodium, and sodium has a very high energy activation product, sodium-24. And so that was a real issue. And I had to try different ways is to subtract that material, or that impact that we would see on the scans. But that was the beginning. And so I completed the degree. And then my wife had been born in Long Beach, California. Her grandmother was still down there. And so got the opportunity to go to Lawrence Livermore Laboratory--it was called Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at the time--in Livermore, California. So went down there and spent seven years--no, five years--and then came back up here. She developed some real allergy issues. And the kids were still young, small, a couple years old. So it was a good opportunity to come back. We knew what the area was like. We had spent the summer here, which is a tough time. And of course we remembered--I remembered from my childhood all the dust storms and the running out to grab the laundry to bring it in because it was getting dusty. But I just thoroughly enjoyed the sunshine. And my parents, Dad was from Baker City, Oregon, and mother was from Boise, Idaho. So it made sense, in one sense, that they might select to come here. But Mom didn't get along too well in the heat, and so this was not a favorite place. So that was probably part of the equation, too, that they chose not to even go any further, even though their friends were very successful here and sold out, and bought the station in Hood River and then retired, which is what they all did. So that was my introduction and coming to Hanford. And I served in a variety of departments--I mean, by name, but they all were basically radiation protection, health physics, mostly applied. In other words, I was dealing with how to take air samples, where to take air samples, how to take river samples, how to measure them, what to measure them for. I got into the environmental arena, which was really my long-term interest. And so I was involved in the late '60s in the water monitoring portion of the Hanford program, where I looked at the water in the schools, took water from the public schools, water from the wells, drinking water. We sampled water from the river directly. We monitored the river by passing it through detectors. And this was a period when most of the reactors were operating, so there was plenty of activity, and a real challenge to trace that. Where did it go? How was it going to impact the public? But I worked primarily in the 300 Area until I retired from Battelle in '95. Oh, by the way, that's who I came to work for, was Battelle. And I spent all my career up to that point with Battelle after I'd come back from Livermore. And I took the certification exam in health physics and became a certified health physicist, a diplomat of the American Board of Health Physics. I served on the board for that--certifying other individuals coming along. I taught some of the classes here. We started here when this was the graduate school, the graduate center, long before Washington State University became a part of the community. And so I had a lot of involvement in that arena. I just really enjoyed the field because it was broad enough that we could be concerned about x-rays and radiation that you would get externally from contamination, or get it on your body, in your body, so internal evaluation. But I was primarily interested in keeping the environment clean, which was--And I have to mention Herb Parker because he was really the father of the radiation protection, radiation safety here at the site. And Herb called me up one day--this was in the early '70s--and said, I've got an opportunity for you. I think that you would make an excellent candidate to make this move. And I said, well, I wasn't interested in moving. Well, he says, I think you should come over to my office and let's chat. Well, he had a job in an environmental organization called Radiation Management Corporation. He was a consultant to them, and they were in Philadelphia. And I'd always lived all my life on the west coast, so I wasn't very enthused. But I went, I listened. He sent me back for an interview. I went in December, just about this time, a horrible time to go back there. It was crummy weather. It was wet, dark, I couldn't see anything. But it was a little company, and they were about to grow with the nuclear industry to supply environmental monitoring support for the nuclear power reactors up and down the east coast. So I turned them down. But two years later I got another call and says, gosh, we really need you, and here's an opportunity. You better come. So by '74 I did take advantage, moved back there. And then I think it was Jimmy Carter that desired not to reprocess any fuel, and so the nuclear industry, the nuclear power industry dropped offwell, at least began its diminished increased places, increased sites, increased utilities going with nuclear. So that led to the need—we had too many people, grew fast, but then--And matter of fact, my original boss here, Bob Junkins by name, hired me in '67, and I worked with him for almost two years before I moved to the environmental. I was in the criticality safety, nuclear safety business in that time. And my whole role was to develop a criticality safety manual that we could use to audit and evaluate the users of nuclear material here on the site—Battelle's portion of the site. And that led me--then, with that environmental interest, I moved into the environmental monitoring portion in the late '60s. And that's what set me up for that. I went to Philadelphia, but I had to go find something else. And unfortunately, in that time period, I also got divorced back there in Philadelphia. And my children moved back to the west coast, to Bainbridge Island. So it was now, where do I go? Fortunately, there were lots of jobs. I didn't have any problem finding a job. But I chose to go back to Livermore because I was familiar with the territory and the people. And so I went back there. But it was only a couple of years, because I met a gal that I had dated in high school. And she ran into my sister, and my sister gave me an address. I wrote to her, and she called me up and says, what are you doing for Christmas? I said, I'm taking the train to go see my kids. Well, why don't you stop here and see me on the way in Salem? And we both went to Willamette University. That was where our degrees were from. And I'm still married to her today, 35 years. And we've had a great time here at Hanford. When I did retire, I movedwell, I helped--because she was Vice President of United Way. And so I took on the role of the listener as the United Way representative volunteer at the Reemployment Opportunity Center. This was 1995, when we had some 5,000 layoffs. I was part of that, only I wasn't a layoff. I took a voluntary retirement, early retirement. And through that I discovered that there were other positions available on the site, and Bechtel Hanford had come in as the environmental restoration contractor. And golly, I was involved in all that sort of stuff. So it was a perfect opportunity to send a noteI knew the head of the department from my health physics background and membershipand was offered that opportunity to go to work for them. So I spend another eight years with them. And then to finish my career, so to speak, I retired from them in '06, and then I got a call from Battelle, said, we're doing all these calculating the radiation risks of former atomic energy workers, and we really need some help. Could you do this for us? And that was nice because I did it at home. I would come to meetings with Battelle. And one of my close friends, the two of us kind of worked together, which was great, because we were working at home. I had to buy a new computer and all that because I needed access to much more sophisticated equipment than I had, because I was just a little email and that sort of thing. My exciting things that happened here, my work in the nuclear—criticality safety—that was one of my first papers, major papers, because while I was at Livermore I studied the transuranics, which meant the materials that were heavier than uranium, uranium, neptunium, plutonium, americium, curium and so on up the chain. And I got very familiar because I was working with a group of chemists in California as their radiation safety person, where they were trying to come up with these heavier elements. And so I got to know most of that material. And when I got up here and the criticality safety, because that was a concern too. We knew that some of these materials could go critical with the right conditions. So that gave me an opportunity to use that background that I had in knowing these materials, and then to put together, really, a summary. I evaluated the fire safety aspect, the explosion aspects, the radiation—internal as well as external—aspects. So that was one of my real highlights. And that came right at a time when I took the exam to become certified in health physics. The next the set of the exciting things were the working with the environmental, where I got involved with nuclear power reactors and in helping develop criteria for their environmental monitoring programs. You see, we went from Atomic Energy Commission, AEC, to ERDA, Energy Research and Development Administration. That was in '74. And then we became the Department of Energy, and that was about '77, '78. So I went through that period, so I was working for all three agencies, so to speak, just because one followed the other. I think my document that we finally issued on how to use environmental monitoringthat is, what techniques and so onwere recommended by what was called ERDA at that time, but became the DOE position for all the sites. And the way we handled that was, we went out as teams and visited Oak Ridge and Savannah River and Chicago. And we even went to some of the power reactors, or the early--not so much power, but the early development reactors, Idaho, testing, and checking out how they were doing things so that we could then look at a composite and gather the folks. We held a couple of workshops where we brought in folks from all these other sites and said, you know, here's what we see that ought to be the basic criteria. So that was a great opportunity to explore and see other sites. So I visited many of the DOE sites, Los Alamos and Livermore, as all part of that, too. So I had a wonderful time and experience in a whole variety of things, handling these transuranic materials that not a whole lot was known. And you came to know these things by working with them, working on developing shielding, because these materials also—not only external radiation but also neutron radiation, which you get primarily from accelerators, or from particular radionuclides that do give off neutrons as they fission. And so those were areas to explore and develop. But what a great place to have to have worked, to have had my time, and I really don't want to leave the community. We've enjoyed--and my wife, I thought, who really was--after she finished school at Willamette, she stayed there in Salem and went to work. And she's always been in the social services side of things. And she came here, and she headed up Girl Scouts, she headed up Red Cross, and then got involved with United Way. So we ended our careers here, so to speak, but a great place that we have enjoyed. And of course it's far different today than when I came 60 years ago to visit, because the agriculture and all those other things that have occurred as part of the site. 

ArataAll right. That was a wonderful overview. I'd like to back up for just a minute to when your father first came here to start this radio station. I know you said he lived in Kennewick, but-- 

DenhamNo, he didn't. It was my father's best buddy. Yeah. They both were in Portland radio stations. Dad, and his name was Clarence McCready, but we called him Mac. And he chose to come, and brought us along to come and see. But Dad refused to come and be a part of the team. Dean Mitchell's the name I can think of right now. He wasand Dean Mitchell, I think, is still in the community, I think he's still alive. And I believe he goes to Kennewick United Methodist Church over there. I hope to see him because I'm going to be speaking at that church here in a couple weeks, actually about three weeks, in January. But I know I linked up with him because I had a lot of pictures from all this development of the radio station that my familynot my own personal family, but our very close family friends. And we only celebrated Easter and Fourth of July with his family. So you can see, we would come up here and be up here, and in a good time of the year, spring. Summer was hot, but these were occasions. Yeah, so my family never did move up here. But they came to visit when I finally settled here in '67. 

ArataVisited. Okay. So do you recall any impressions of the community at that time from your visits, what it was like to be here? 

DenhamWell, the things I remember--and even as a graduate student, the rest of the guys--there were four of us came together--no, three of us. Three of us who had all gone to Willamette together--went to UW for our first year, and then all came here, and then went back to UW to complete that program--they all lived in Kennewick, but I lived here in Richland. I couldn't pass up the nickel each way bus. And I lived in on Gribble Street, which is now where Kadlec has taken over those what were two-story apartments and one-story fourplexes. And that's where I lived that summer in '61. And the bus came right down our street, hopped on for a nickel, and whether I went out to our areas or the 300 Area, because we spent one day a week during that time in the 300 Area in classes in the library, because that was an opportunity for us to learn more about the site, and about the profession and the field. So we had people tell us about instrumentation, told us about environment, told us about the various things that were related to radiation instrument development, and different kinds of survey instruments, and so on. And that was a nice part, because coming back a few years later--well, I left here in '62, finished my degree, and didn't come back 'til '67, so I was gone for five years. The bus system was still here, but the rates were different, and I wasn't using the bus then. And I went to work for Battelle, and my office was in the Federal Building. So I was able to walk to work. And I'm a busser, a walker, and I've been that all my life. I did that in Portland. So it was a logical step for me. The fact that I could get around--I was not much of a commercial--I didn't buy a lot of stuff. And so to this day we're not much consumers. And so it was great. There were a few places. I bowled, you know, I played tennis, golfed some, took advantage of the things that were available right here. I had a cousin--couple of cousins still in Baker City, Oregon, so we'd go down for weekends to go down and see them. And he was a dentist, so he took care of my dental needs early on. But once I settled here with my wife and family, it was no longer making those kind of trips for that purpose. We still had the friendship and relationship. I enjoyed just thewell, I guess I wouldn't say I enjoyed the heat, but yet I liked lots of sunshine, and the people. Enjoyed working with the people. And that was a tough part of retiring. And of course, I took care of part of that by volunteering over at the Reemployment Opportunities Center, which was over in Kennewick. And at that point we had moved out to the Village at Canyon Lakes. It was brand new, building that community and retirement. And so I thought, well, we'll get in on the ground floor. We'll be there and get acquainted, and so on. But then the opportunity with Bechtel, but clear out at the north end of the site. And after two years of that long commute, we moved back to Richland. But the opportunities here for my interests, and the opportunities on the job, because I didn't just stay right here, because I was working for Battelle, and we did a lot ofI suppose you would call it contract research because that was Battelle's primary activity. But yet it really took me to visit other sites and to see how we could improve what we were doing right here. And I think that that opportunity—I didn't have to go somewhere else. Yes, I did interview for jobs along the line, along the way during the time. I interviewed at Los Alamos. I interviewed at Rocky Flats and so on. But this was home, so to speak. And so it was a good place to stay. It wasn't—30,000 or so population. And the population of Richland, today I'm not sure what it is, but I don't think it's doubled in all this time. But the boundary where Yakima came in to the Columbia there was kind of the southern end of Richland. There was Richland Y and so on. But I lived essentially all my time within that confines. And of course now there's many homes and developments south, and yet still part of the incorporated portion of Richland. So yes, this was a delightful place, and it still is for me. 

ArataWe've heard lots of fun stories about card games and checkers games and different kinds of things going on, on these buses. Do you have any fun stories? 

DenhamWell, yes. I tell you, what I used the bus for was sleeping. Being a newlywed and having all these classes and riding the bus every day, I would often take a nap on the way home. And often I'd end up at the end of the bus. Rather than getting off at my stop, I would discover, oh, I missed the stop, so I got a little walk in. [LAUGHTER] But yeah, there were card games on the buses. I was not a bridge player, and that was one of the—I played at pinnacle and hearts. And we played on the job. My goodness, we kept our scores on the blackboard in the office. Yeah, we played hearts. And there were other games, I'm sure, but that's what I remember the most. And I remember, also, we were conscious of our walking hour, keeping track of our weight and all. So we would walk overafter lunch we'd walk over and check our weight at the medical, go weigh on the scales. And I was never a smoker, but one of the guys in the group, even the leader, was a heavy smoker. But one of the guys who was roughly my age--and matter of fact, he went back to grad school, and that opened the door for me to step in and take his job in the environmental in the late '60s. So that was ideal. And that was another thing. We were paying attention to those things that now the society is beginning to look at. So we looked for those kinds of things. I think the working environment was great. In my later years here, before I left Battelle, it was altogether different, because now the opportunities within Battelle were more in the research arena. And that wasn't my forte, it was not my capabilities, not my interest, in going out and trying to obtain contracts and so on. So I found it--and that'swhen the opportunity to retire early, I just took advantage of it. My wife had a good job, and so she became my sugar mama to take care of me, take care of us. And we had no children living here. Our children were all grown by then. And so our needs were different. But I missed the people. But yet I was interacting every day, because I was there usually half a day. But some days I'd be there all day. And I kept the hot water hot so I could make cocoa, or soups, or whatever people who were coming to find jobs and to look. We did mock interviews and all that sort of thing. So it was a continuation of that people interaction that I really enjoyed. And of course, when one does retire, a number of my friends have said the same thing. And yet today I don't know how I have time to work, because I'm plenty involved in the community. And so that's part of--my wife and I joined the Gideons, and so that's been one of our major activities in our retirement, that we've served as presidents of the local camps on a geographic basis, and also area directors. And we have a state convention coming up this next spring, so we're heavily involved in that. So we have enjoyed that aspect of life here. And we have a daughter in Olympia, and we have a sonwell, a daughter and family in Olympia and same in Portland. Otherwise the kids are south of Eugene and Cottage Grove, and then a son and family in Albuquerque. Neither of the sonsboth have PhDs—and neither are involved in the nuclear business. Both of them engineers. One basically what I would call awell, one's a civil engineer with water interests. And the other is involved in materials engineering, works for Ball Aerospace, so has a lot of involvement in things that I might have had an involvement in, but not from the nuclear standpoint. 

Denham: Yeah, the things I remember—like I say, we had activities with other families right here. We were involved in the church. We got involved in the church. I'm in a different church today, but that's where we raised our kids. So it was a good community environment. In terms of what else did I do, well, I think I mentioned I had the children, and we did things with them. We camped. And I wasn't a fisherman or a hunter, so those things weren't part of my interests here in the community. But I remember we would do the sledding and so on when the conditions were right, the snow and Carmichael Hill, because we lived not far from there, we'd walk over there, and swimming pool. Back in the very early days--and let me go back to that for just a moment. Because when we came, McNary Dam wasn't here. So we had to take a ferry to cross from or Oregon to Washington, or we had to take the Bridge of the Gods back, 40 miles out of Portland, and then take that route. And we'd usually come over Satus Pass and come into Kennewick that way. Today you can take Highway 12 and 14 in all the way to Vancouver on the Oregon side--I mean, on the Washington side, excuse me. So that was interesting because this was a free-flowing river. There weren't any dams in that area. And so riding that ferry in a fairly narrow portion of the river wasand these are one- or two-car type ferries. I mean, this wasn't a big ferry like you see out of Puget Sound. And it was difficult to reach the shore. Sometimes you'd get close and you'd have to back up and try again. And then I watched all the highways come in over the Horse Heavens. Because it used to be you could stay on the Oregon side and come around through Walla Walla that way. So it was a whole differentand it took longer. The roads weren't as nice. And so I watched theseveral times they've rebuilt the highway over the Horse Heavens. Because we have family in Portland, we go down there every month or two with grandkids. They're about to finishwell, the last one is in his senior year in high school, and the other's in college. And all the rest of our grandkids, except the ones in Albuquerque, are all over 21. So our involvement with them is a lot different than when they were younger. So yeah, it was a different place just because of the getting around. And we didn't have a public transit. We didn't have—in those early days right here. But we had the Hanford buses. And you can see the one down there by the Crehst Museum. And that's what I rode much of the time, up until when I chose my work with Battelle. By then, going out on the site, it was about $50 a month to ride the bus then. It was more expensive. And then I did go through some periods of spending time out on the site, where I'd spend a couple weeks for some activity, work-related, and I would end up being able to take a government car. And I worked in the Federal Building, so it was convenient. We had a motor pool there. So that’s some of the background. I don't know if there's other things that you were hoping to talk about, or remind me of. [LAUGHTER] 

ArataI think I just have couple more questions. One thing I wonder if you could talk about, obviously much of your career at Hanford spans the Cold War period. 

Denham: Mm-hm. 

Arata So of course security was a very important concern. Can you talk a little bit about how that impacted your career? 

DenhamWell, it certainly did. And I was fortunate in the sense that I had the Atomic Energy Commission fellowship. In order to get that and apply it at the University of Washington, I had to get security clearance. So I was cleared, and that happened when I went to Livermore. Right after I finished grad school, I arrived at Livermore. And because I had a clearance, I was assigned those facilities to be radiation safety person. I know that you know the name Ron Kathren, or have come across Ron Kathren. And Ron Kathren became my officemate there. He didn't have the clearance. So I got to be in places and work things that he wasn't able towell, he was eventually, I mean, he got the clearance also. And of course, late in my careerlike when I went to Philadelphia, I didn't need a clearance back there. And when I came back, yes, I had to get my clearance re-instituted in Livermore, because Livermore is still very much involved with weaponry, or at least the development of materials. And so yes, clearance. But fortunately, I didn't have an issue, and because I had had it really at the beginning when I went to grad school, that didn't impact me. And some of my site visits at Oak Ridge, I had to have special clearance to get into some of the places. One of the things I didn't mention, and I should, I got involved in the decommissioning. And of course, that was the activity with Bechtel Hanford. But the other thing I got involved in was what we call development of an emergency assessment resource manual. We called it HEARM, and they called—because I was working with some gals, too, that was my harem. But it was Hanford Emergency Assessment Resource Manual. Well, our sponsor at DOE headquarters began to see the utility of that at some of the other DOE sites. So we went to Livermore, we went to Los Alamos, we went to Oak Ridge, we went to Savannah River. We developed those same manuals for these other sites. And basically what it was was an identification of the--a safety assessment. And DOE was forcing all to look at the safety of their business. And if something went wrong, how bad could it be? So that's what this manual was, was to identify the facilities and the materials. It was structured originally about radiation, but it became clear that there were also hazardous chemicals and other materials that needed to be of concern. And if they had an explosion, if they had a venting, they had a situation, where would that stuff go? So we developed this. We looked at site boundaries. How far to the site boundary, in what directions, look at wind speeds, all of that. So we combined all of that into a manual so that we could use that here at Hanford, called the Unified Dose Assessment Center, UDAC. And that provided a tool so when an emergency occurred, we knew we had an indication of how bad it could be. We could flip to the page that was Building XYZ, and we could say, ah, this really is not likely to be any kind of an issue. Or just the opposite, that it was an ABC, it was the top priority, the most hazardous materials on the site handled in that building. And what were the projected, from the safety assessments, for the actual use of those facilities? And so that was an exciting kind of thing, because we got into sites where they had more security need than what I had to do for those. And so yes, we got into those. Matter of fact, some of the materials that we developed were basically classified information on how much material is in this building, where is this building relative to the site, and so on. So those kind of things we had to tone down, we had to talk about and find ways. And they became, essentially, not top secret, but at least they were less. And so we provided not only these manuals for right here, but also DOE headquarters got the same copies. So whenever something was going wrong, they're evaluating what's happening out here, or from Livermore, or from Sandy, or Savannah River, or one of the other sites. So yes, that was the emergency management aspect. And Battelle, that was one of the things that I moved from that development into working with theBattelle had a contract for the 60 nuclear power plants to do emergency exercises. And I even got involved with my wife with the Red Cross, because Red Cross would get involved in emergency exercises, especially for the supply system here. And I remember Mesa School was the first one. And so I got a couple of my health physics buddies, and we would go and be the consultants. Because the farmers would come in and say, well, what should I do? My cows are out there on this potentially contaminated ground. What do I need to do? This was just--these were what-if type exercises. So that was an aspect I guess I just had passed over and forgotten all about. So even had an involvement with my wife indirectly because of that. So with these nuclear sites, I got involved as an evaluator to go out either for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or DOE, and evaluate these exercises. So I was involved not in developing those exercises, but evaluating and being there on site. And also, as a result, I got to go to the Kennedy Space Center and involved in a couple of spacecraft launches that had nuclear materials. And so that was exciting, paid to go. And also got involved in many cancellations. You know, weather didn't turn out right, we'd get thunderstorms or a rain, and you'd have to wait it out for a few more days. Those sort of things. Galileo, I think, was the one major one that we were sending heat sources, radioactive sources into space, so if they were to have abortednot for reentry, but on the launch, that's why we were there, to take air samples, you know, we were teams spread out. So there's another aspect I'd forgotten about. [LAUGHTER] 

ArataVery cool. You had this multiplicity of great jobs, it sounds like, throughout the course of your career here. Is there anything that stands out as being the most challenging or the most rewarding? 

DenhamWell, I think the challenge came later in the career whenas I mentioned, that Battelle was going off in a research wing, and that wasn't where my expertise and my capabilities were. And so a challenge to—if I'm not going to stick around, what am I going to do? Because nuclear power was obviously diminishing with time, especially when you get up in the 90s, and so on. So that became one of the challenges, if I were to retire, what would I do? I was young enough, late '50s, I didn't need to retire that early. And the other side, the side as I shared, I think sort of the three or four major things that I was involved in that I very much enjoyed, oneand I haven't shared this directlyI was involved with Joe Soledad. And I don't know whether you've interviewed Joe, but I know Joe's been interviewed. I just don't know who were involved. But Joe was developing all the criteria to evaluate all these radionuclides that had been released here in Hanford, had been released at other sites, or could beweren't necessarily all released, but I mean, if they got into the environment and got into people, what kind of doses could those--Well, I was involved with Joe as my mentor. I developed the numbers that went in—in other words, I looked at the decay schemes of each of those radionuclides and then built the numbers that would go into the equations. I didn't develop the equations for how much got into the human body, but I developed if you had radioiodine, or you had strontium, or you had cesium, or you had plutonium, what could that mean inside the body? And so that was a great opportunity that I had developing those, because those became—and still used today—all that environmental pathway stuff that Joe had developed is still in use today, used by the EPA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Yeah, they've added more materials and modified things a bit. But the modifications are more related to, now, more knowledge about some of those decay schemes and so on, but that impact. So that was one of the exciting things. The criticality safety manual. I get the manual done, and I got to move on to something else, because once you've developed the manual, unless you're using it--yes, I was. I was out evaluating criticality safety. I was auditing, basically. Oh, that was, yeah, I could do it, but it was more fun to go out and get involved in the environmental monitoring, choosing which sample, where to sample, what to analyze those samples for, and then write the report to show what this means impact-wise for the site. Going from there, then, into developing what should an environmental monitoring program look like, either for a nuclear power plant or a place like Hanford. That was that exciting and thrilling, and I felt I made a contribution. And then to jump over into, now you understand that stuff, and now relate that to emergency preparedness and evaluating emergency preparedness. Did you take into account? I will have to say, because I was involved in a course, and I've forgotten what the course was called, but it was at the Nevada test site. And we were there--and I think it was only Hanford person there at the time. That's when I was involved in emergency preparedness. And this was a course to really walk us through scenarios and situations, and see the mistakes we could make. We could walk over a wire on the ground that we shouldn't have because it was live, or could've been live, and not recognizing that. You're taking an action for what you see in front of you, but then missing out on something that you shouldn't have done as part of that. And that became part of our evaluation, when we looked at mistakes they would make, not take an air sample, or take it where it shouldn't have been. You should have taken it over here instead of over there, you know, those kind of things. So was able to use all that background and material that I had had as part of my career. I feel like, yes, had I started over today, I think I would've probably gone the environmental, but more from an atmospheric and understanding weather. That was an interest as a kid. I've watchedthis is before televisionand I would pay attention to the thermometer and what was going on. Is it going to snow tomorrow, or that kind of thing. But otherwise, no, it was great. And the courses and the opportunities afforded by this diverse kind of a field, that when I came, and when I was a health physicist, I didn't know what a health physicist was, but I think I have a pretty good idea today. 

ArataSo obviously, a lot of my students now were born after the Cold War. 

Denham: Right. 

Arata: They don't really understand that time period. Is there anything you'd like for future generations who may be watching this video to know about what it was like to work during that time period and contribute to that effort? 

DenhamWell, obviously, one of the things, being here in Hanford, was because we had all these reactors operating, which meant that there was always contamination going into the river, contamination going into the ground. Reprocessing was occurring, but was stopped at a time period. So then we had toand of course, today we still hear about whether it's from the west side or else around the country. Even our own family ask questions. What about the leaking tanks? What does that mean? And from my perspective, I have an idea what that means. And I think I look at it in a lot different mindset, because I know that yes, it's of concern, and it should be. But on the other hand, it's not going to kill me. It's not going to give me a dose that I won't want to stay here, I won't want to live here. And because, like I said, in the older days, when all the reactors were operating and so on, we had a lot more radioactivity to deal with. But Joe's equation--Joe Soledad--those pathway formulas and equations and so on that we used, we proved with that that hey, yes, there is material out there. It's of low consequence to you and me as residents of the community. And I think that that was probably a kind of thing that wethe scientists, let's say, the science side--were not very successful in communicating that to the public. And I don't think we are today. Because I can remember one of my daughter's friends, when they had the different kinds of sweeteners, and they would say no, we're going to cut those off. And so when her dad worked in the grocery business, he could bring that stuff home, and no, I don't think we want to use that. Again, uninformed about those kind of things. And I think that's the aspect—that we get a bug, a thought of what an impact could be, and yet we don't know the whole story. And I know I tried, but on the other hand, that wasn't my role particularly. But I was aware. And I think that, looking today, we look at so many more things today in terms of hurtful environmental impact kinds of things. I'm thinking just the environmental movement, if you will, because our daughter-in-law is very much involved there, and her daughter is now in college and looking in that same arena. The other daughter-in-law down in New Mexico, that was one of her areas of interest. And she studied bugs and insects and that sort of thing. Today she's not using that, because she's really into health and doing private yoga and exercise training. But the Cold War meant that--well, that's where it was nice when I got to go the other sites, because that allowed me to kind of see, and to put all this together as an understanding of the whole package, and not just what's happening in Hanford or what's happening at Oak Ridge or whatever, to be able to realize that probably some choicesI mean, the making the choice here of Hanford, I think, was a wonderful choice. Choosing this remote location--it's not so remote today, but I think it was an excellentfrom all the material, all the information we knew at the time. And yet places like Savannah River, where you've got all kinds of groundwater and all kinds of those kind of issues, maybe that wasn't such a good place, where the ability of stuff to move would be greater than a place like this. And I think what we saw, and what I remember just from the public, my own families—our own families would ask questions, which was very reasonable. And I think the understanding—and we've been watchingI'm digressing for a second, but we've been watching the Presidential wives series on television, so we're going back over the history and seeing some of the things that were going on as this whole business developed in our lifetime, things that we didn't realize, because some was top secret, not shared. And of course, I was perfectly happy to work in a closed environment, where you didn't share everything you did. For someone today, I think that the question aspect of business, and for the future, is always question what you're doing, how can it impact the environment, how can it impact people, how can it impact you yourself? Cellphones, all kinds of things that we use and are in use daily, but do we really know what the long-term impacts of these devices are? I think for the moment we feel quite certain that we're not creating monster issues that become-- But I like the environmental movement, because I kind of put my life together around that, an interest in seeing that we're doing the right things to keep us safe, and yet not say, you can't do that. And of course, the environmental impact statement business. I was involved partly in that too, in helping develop those. I guess my last one that I was involved in was in Tennessee, for the Tennessee Valley Authority, because they were going wide with lots of nuclear. And that was in the '90s, as I recall, when I went down there and was involved. 

ArataIs there anything I haven't asked you about that you'd like to tell us about? Any other stories that stand out? 

DenhamWell, of course, we did have accidents. We had things thatyeah, I got involved in a cleanup in the 300 Area, where an underground pipe had broken. And this was americium, was a principal nuclide that had gotten into the ground. And we ended up digging that all up. But just chasing it, deciding where to sample, and digging up and then discovering, oh, the pipe is all corroded. So yes, everything that went down that drain. And so those kinds of things, I really enjoyed those, because you were evaluating a condition that was really an unknown. And I think that's part of what the environmental restoration contract--the Bechtel work that I was involved in, we were doing some of that, too, because we were making measurements and then determining, did those measurements give us what we need to know so that we can take the appropriate steps for remediation? And so I think that aspect, so to speak, of research piece might have been--if I were to start again, I might be more interested in research. But at the time, I was more interested in what we need to know so that we can take the right steps to move forward. I think that those are my observations. I was an enthusiastic worker. I just loved the opportunity and the people to work with. And we did a lot of group things. You know, I can remember back in the old days, Ron Kathren and I would have an equation on the blackboard we were trying to solve, and then leave it up there for a while with getting more information to make things fit. You took the information you had. And I was successful, probably published about, I don't know, 50 different papers in Health Physics Journal. And I also was involved in the Society for Radiological Protection in the British Isles. I gave two different presentations over there in the '80s and '90s, which is always nice to go and experience others. I had even looked at that as a possible exchange. 

Denham: And as a result of those visits, I got invited to go to the Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and work on an environmental plan with folks from all over the world. And we had interpreters, because we had Russians, and we had Canadians, and we had French and Germans. And so on—all that was nice. And they paid my way, and I got to spend--matter of fact, I made two trips in the same year on that activity. I had a third one, but the Department of Energy wouldn't allow me to go on the third one. So that adds to your enjoyment, your understanding and working with people who have come from different places, and yet have similar issues and problems, and how are you addressing—especially when we're trying to write a manual, an international manual that would be used wherever, in developing countries as well as advanced countries and so on, to protect people in the environment. 

ArataIs there anything else at all? 

DenhamNot that's coming to me at this point. [LAUGHTER] I'm just delighted to have had this opportunity to share with you, even though it's very uncoordinated. [LAUGHTER] I certainly rambled. 

ArataNo, that was wonderful. You gave us some great details. That’s always exciting for us to hear about. And I want to thank you so much for sharing with us. We really appreciate you taking time out. 

DenhamWell, Laura, it was a pleasure sharing with you and getting to know you. I wish you well in your 

Arata: Thank you. 

Denham: --future work and finishing your PhD. I never got there. 



Bit Rate/Frequency

5261 kbps

Hanford Sites

300 area.
Bechtel Hanford

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site


Names Mentioned

Parker, Herb
Kathren, Ron
Soldat, Joe
Carter, Jimmy
Junkins, Bob
McCreedy, Clarence
Mitchell, Dean


Denham, Dale.jpg


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