Interview with James Anderson

Dublin Core


Interview with James Anderson


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Nuclear reactors
Civil defense
Civil defense drills


James Anderson moved to Richland, Washington in 1944 as a child. James worked on the Hanford Site from 1962-2012.

An interview conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by Mission Support Alliance on behalf of 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.




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 the US Department of Energy collection.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Robert Franklin


James Anderson


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Tom Hungate: We are rolling.

Franklin: Okay. My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with James Anderson on March 14, 2017. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with Jim about his experiences working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?

James Anderson: James Daniel Anderson. J-A-M-E-S, D-A-N-I-E-L, A-N-D-E-R-S-O-N.

Franklin: Great, thank you, Jim. And so tell me how and why you came to the Hanford Site?

Anderson: Okay. I was born in Denver. And when I was in my fourth year, my dad worked for DuPont, which was Remington Arms back there, and they transferred him out here to this new secret project.

Franklin: What year would this have been?

Anderson: That would’ve been ’44, early ’44.

Franklin: Okay, so you were born in 1940?

Anderson: I was born in ’39, actually. I turned five after we got here.

Franklin: Okay, sure, sure.

Anderson: So. And my dad was a machinist. He came to Hanford making the first fuels that went to B Reactor. I remember this story, he’s told it many a time, but he hated machining uranium, because it was hard in spots and it was soft in spots. So you could gouge deeply or you might not cut enough. So the filings would go on the floor. Back then, they didn’t have protective clothing then. It was just, do the work. He and another guy that worked there got some uranium filings stuck in the soles of their shoes. So they went to the movies one night. On the way to the movies, they were looking at their feet and they were sparking. That was from the uranium filings that was embedded in their shoes. Uranium is somewhat pyrophoric. So they learned early on about that.

Franklin: Sorry, pyrophoric, what is that exactly?

Anderson: It’s burnable, basically. And it can sometimes catch fire on its own.

Franklin: Oh, wow. I guess that’s what makes it such a good fuel.

Anderson: Well, when I was in grade school, I knew I wanted to be a chemist. So we used to make pyrophoric materials: firecrackers, bombs, rockets, and things like that. So I’m somewhat familiar with that. Down at the Richland Library, you could get books on it. They had them there. They’d give you the formulas and everything. Being a kid, I used to go to the pharmacist and get my chemicals. When we’d go on vacation, like to Denver or Seattle or something, they had the chemical companies there, I’d go down and I’d get whatever I needed. Nobody asked me, questioned me or anything. I just did it. So we used to make gunpowder and stuff like that. I even made, from an Erector Set, a rocket that would go around in a circle. We had chemical fuses, so that we knew about how long it would take for it to self-ignite. And it didn’t go. So I went there and I put some more potassium permanganate on it, and it took off. The exhaust hit my shirt, and needless to say, I was on fire for a short period of time.

Franklin: Wow.

Anderson: That wasn’t so bad, but going home, Mom did not like that. So, I had a good lecture and so forth. [LAUGHTER] But—go ahead.

Franklin: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, you go ahead.

Anderson: But I always enjoyed that. When I was a kid, Richland looked like a battlefield. There was no grass, only trees where there had been orchards. When the wind blew, I mean, they used to say, on a clear day, you can see the house across the street. That was pretty much true. And that stuff was so fine, it would go in the windowsills and just settle. They also called them termination winds. Because a lot of ladies came to meet their husbands that had been working here, and after one of those storms, they’d say, honey, I’m leaving. If you want to stay married, you’re coming with me. So that happened.

But we lived at the hotel down here in Richland until our house was ready, and then we moved in. We were a few days later than our neighbors; we were in a B house. So in 1957 or thereabouts when they sold the town, they had first priority and of course they bought the house. So we had to move and find another house. So that was very interesting.

My boyfriend and I would crawl under the porches and stuff, and we would find spiders galore, especially the ones with the red hourglass. So we used to play with those, you know. And of course our parents always told us, no. But one of those black widows, when we were playing across the street from where I lived, it was still wild out there; there wasn’t grass or anything, and one of them crawled up my leg. I felt it, and I thought, uh-oh, I’m in trouble. So I thought, well, if I jump up and down as hard as I can, it’ll fall out. And it did. And I never played with them after that.

But it was funny, my mother would get a stick that looked like, as a kid, about ten-foot long, and she’d get the spider on the end of it, and she’d walk across the street where she was going to kill it. As she was walking, the spider would crawl on the stick towards her. The closer it got, the faster she went. [LAUGHTER] And then when she got there, the spider was no more.

But it was fun for kids in those days. And in fact, the streets were none. They were just dirt. G-W was dirt. So it was kind of interesting, you know. And in summer when it was real hot and real dry, that stuff was very powdery. I can remember walking to the grocery store and coming back, and in the inside of my pant legs were covered with that dust. So it was fun. I enjoyed that.

We used to go down by Fred Meyer and that was a swamp back then. I don’t know if you guys knew that or not, but they got a pump house down there, too, and they used to—but there were frogs galore, polliwogs, cattails, you name it. It was a good place for boys to play, and we did. And I can remember, we’d take these home, and they’d change into frogs, obviously. And then we’d let them loose, and a lot of them would bury themselves in the flower gardens. I can remember my dad in the spring hoeing around the bushes and so forth, and every so often, out would come a frog. [LAUGHTER] But that was fun, just to go down there and play and stuff.

Most people didn’t even lock their doors. I mean, everybody had Q clearances. I don’t know if they were called Q clearances when I was a kid. I remember this place was so hush-hush, I never knew what my dad did. Even after they announced the bomb had been dropped. I can remember, he never said anything about his job or what he did. And when I, years later, when I went to work at Hanford, I got to go visit him where he worked. So I got to learn what he did. He was in the water plant.

Franklin: Was he still working at Hanford when you started at Hanford?

Anderson: Oh, yeah. He retired from N Reactor.

Franklin: Okay. When your father started, you said early on he started as a fuels fabrication for B Reactor, and what area was he working out of then?

Anderson: That was 300 Area.

Franklin: Okay, and how long did he do that for?

Anderson: Oh, not very long. He hated it, and so he transferred out to B Reactor. He was out at B Reactor when they had their startup problems. And then he was there when they solved the problem and away they went. DuPont always over-designed, as far as I know, their work that they did. Of course, they were told so many tubes for the reactor, and they made about twice as many. So when they—I think it was Enrico Fermi went into the room—with the slide rule, you know, we didn’t have computers—and he determined what it was, and he came up with the term “barns.” So he discovered what it was and then they filled all the rest of the tubes up and away they went. That was an exciting time. Dad remembers when that happened.

Franklin: And what did he do at B Reactor?

Anderson: He was in the water plant. They would pump the water out of the river, clean it up, and pass it through the reactor. From there, it would go into cooling or whatever and then eventually it would go back into the river.

I can remember—now this is aside from that, but the Columbia River flows over some uranium fields. I don’t know if you knew that. I think they’re up in Canada. But because of all the reactors on the river, and they cleaned it up to run it through, there was more uranium in the water coming into the Site than there was leaving the Site.

Franklin: Hmm.

Anderson: And the place he worked, I’ll tell you, it was hot. It was steam as well as the water purification. He always loved a hot house. And of course, none of the rest of us in the family really enjoyed that. [LAUGHTER] But when it got down to 90 or 80, that was starting to get cold. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Wow.

Anderson: Yeah, he was—

Franklin: I guess he must’ve liked summers in Richland without air conditioning.

Anderson: Well, in fact, when we came we had no air conditioning. Eventually we got swamp coolers. You could leave the front door open and cool the house down. Humidity back then was something like 5%. Of course, as they put in the crops and stuff up the valley, then the humidity went up and they weren’t quite as efficient anymore. But I can remember when we put our first one in. Oh, that felt so good.

Franklin: Yeah, makes a big difference, just water evaporation makes a big difference. So you—what type of Alphabet house did your family move into?

Anderson: We moved into a B house.

Franklin: Okay. That’s the two-story or a one-story?

Anderson: It’s a one-story duplex. And back then, in the basement, they had a little room, if you will, for coal. So the company would supply you with the coal. Whenever you wanted it, you’d call them up and say, I want some coal, and they’d bring it to you. And then you’d have to stoke the furnace and so forth. Later on a lot of them put in an automatic feed into the furnace. Once in a while, those would catch fire. Sometimes that coal would make a gas in there and it would blow up. The door, of course, would swing open when it would. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: It sounds really dangerous.

Anderson: It sounds it, but it wasn’t that bad. But a lot of people got rid of coal when they sold the homes and stuff. And then they did whatever they wanted, electrical baseboards and so forth.

Franklin: What was your overall impression of the Alphabet houses?

Anderson: Well, they are all basically look-alikes. I mean, you may have an A and a B and stuff close together, or a C or whatever. But when you get down to it, one section of the block could be the same as the other side of the block. This is stories I’ve heard, a lot of the men—especially the men—would come home from having a party down at the tavern or whatever, and since most people didn’t lock the doors, they would just go inside, because they knew each house was the same. They’d go and start to get ready for bed, and of course when they discovered that the wife was not his—[LAUGHTER] they immediately left. So.

Franklin: What about the quality of construction or how it was like to live in an Alphabet house? What were your impressions on that?

Anderson: Actually, the construction for the Alphabet houses was pretty high, I think. They used good wood. Now, they didn’t put a lot of insulation in a lot of houses. And so a lot of people had to come back and add insulation. I have a Q house now. It just had a foil strip between the sheetrock and the wall and that was the insulation. Supposedly, it would reflect it. So when I bought the house, I had to add insulation to it.

Franklin: It says here that DuPont grouped workers together from different sites they were transferred from, so that your father or mother knew a lot of their neighbors when they moved to Richland.

Anderson: Yes, in fact, I lived on the south end of town, and everybody around where I lived was from Denver.

Franklin: Oh.

Anderson: And so they did that because it made it kind of feel like home.

Franklin: Sure, just some semblance of familiarity or, you know.

Anderson: Yes. What was across from the Uptown district, there were a lot of people there from Salt Lake, because that was another DuPont site. They used to call that Little Salt Lake. [LAUGHTER] My dad had a friend that he worked with back in Colorado, and he worked up here as well. He came up here. And those two were friends, best friends, for 77 years.

Franklin: Wow.

Anderson: So my dad died first, and so he was—my dad died at 92 and his buddy died a couple years later.

Franklin: Why do you think your family decided to stay after World War II?

Anderson: Well, actually, the benefits, you know. Your homes, to begin with, were free. And if you wanted your house painted or whatever, you could do that. So there was a lot of benefits to stay. You didn’t have to pay rent and stuff like that. So it was nice. Once you made friends, and of course, where we lived, it was from Colorado area, then a lot of people didn’t want to stay. There were some that left. I’ll be honest. They wanted to go back where their relatives were or whatever. I’d say at least half of them came back. [LAUGHTER] They thought this was a better place.

Franklin: Was your family from Colorado originally?

Anderson: Yes. My dad was born in Colorado and so was my mother.

Franklin: So growing up, you went to all of the Richland area schools, right? Lewis and Clark, Carmichael and then Columbia High, right?

Anderson: Yes. In fact—just a second—there was—you know, we’d go to school, and we’d see somebody new, it was always, where are you from? There was something like a handful of kids that were from this area. By the time I graduated from high school, we had over 1,000 there. I’d guess just about half—I mean, not half—about a handful or so in number were actually born here.

I belong to the Rambling Rovers right now which is an old-timers group. The school that’s still out at Hanford—I mean, it’s just a shell, but—eventually, the town got so big and stuff, they used it for a grade school rather than the high school.

So, yeah, it was fun. The only problem is they opened Chief Jo up the same time as we had Carmichael. We used to play each other in basketball. They had the all-stars, if you will, in their school. When we’d play them, we’d lose by tons of points. When we got to the high school, on the starting basketball team, four were from Chief Jo; one from Carmichael. Originally, when they built Carmichael, they were originally planning on putting a pool underneath the basketball court. That never materialized.

Franklin: What do you remember about civil defense in school?

Anderson: Yes. We did have some civil defense activities. The main thing I really remember was all around town were these sirens. They always tested at the same time each month. I don’t remember exactly, but it seemed to me it was like the last day of the month.

Franklin: And these were evacuation sirens, or air raid?

Anderson: Either. They would wail or they could go straight. And those were loud. I mean, loud. In back of Fred Meyer, up on the hill there, was the one that was closest to our house. But then they took all of them down, and it was normal, I guess you’d say, again.

Franklin: Do you remember doing duck-and-cover?

Anderson: Yes.

Franklin: And can you describe that? Like, what would happen in the classroom and what was that to protect against?

Anderson: Well, I can remember—you’d crawl underneath a desk, so that falling debris and stuff would not have as great a chance to hurt you. The biggest thing I hated in grade school was kindergarten. They had mats, and you had to take a rest period during kindergarten. You know, I gave up naps like when I was two or so. And you go back to school and they wanted you to lay on the gym floor on those mats. That was horrible. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: That was worse than the duck-and-cover?

Anderson: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: So you eventually graduated high school, yeah?

Anderson: Yeah.

Franklin: As a Columbia High Bomber.

Anderson: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: And you went to WSU.

Anderson: Yes, I did.

Franklin: And what did you go for?

Anderson: Well, when I went to Wazzu, I knew, as I said earlier, that I wanted to be a chemist. So I went up there and I took the chemistry courses. For a couple years, I took nuclear chemistry and radio chemistry. There were some funny stories on that, like my first year up there—and I hadn’t worked at Hanford yet and didn’t know what hot meant. Hot meant radioactive out here. So somebody went to get a piece of glassware, and they said, don’t touch it, it’s hot. He thought it was radioactive, and he just dropped it on the floor. [LAUGHTER] So that did happen. That was funny. We even had a couple—well, we had a reactor up there. I don’t know if you knew that or not.

Franklin: Yeah.

Anderson: But we, for instance, took gold foil and irradiated it as one of our projects and we’d have to go back and determine its half life and so on. We did that to calibrate our instruments, things like that. And then our senior year, we had radiochemistry, which is more like theoretical physics or something like that.

Our instructor—I always got a kick out of him—he’d give us an exam. He’d have about ten questions on it, and we’d have an hour to do it in, you know. Pretty soon he’d say, how many are halfway through the exam? No hands. Eventually he’d get down to, how many got one done? And he’d get no hands. And he’d say, well, okay, let’s make this a take-home test. And you’d take it home, and you spent the whole weekend doing it. I mean—[LAUGHTER]

And then we had to—in the one where we would have all the instrumentation and so forth and did all of our experiments, we had to do longhand procedures. That would be like 10, 15, 20 pages long. Every week, we had to do one. Sometimes we’d laugh and joke that, you know, the further they could throw them up a step, the better the grade. But most of them were really more interested in why you didn’t get the correct result. So your error portion of the write-up was very important and critical. But I enjoyed chemistry up there. And of course, after school, there were a lot of things you could do with chemistry.

Franklin: Such as?

Anderson: Oh, this was a guy down the hall. He and I were in the same class, but he made some ammonium triiodide, and he painted it on the rubber tips of the seats in the toilet. And they would dry, and then somebody like at 2:00 in the morning would have to go in there and sit, and it’d blow up. And sometimes he’d squirt it in the key locks. You’d put your key in there, and the friction would set it off.

Franklin: [LAUGHTER] It wasn’t like a large explosion, right?

Anderson: No.

Franklin: Just kind of like a little—but enough, probably to startle somebody.

Anderson: Oh, especially in the morning, when you’re still asleep.

Franklin: Oh, wow.

Anderson: But yeah. And I tried to make some rockets there, and I set one off in the room. The ceiling was all speckled.

Franklin: Oh, wow. You must’ve liked to have a lot of fun, huh?

Anderson: Oh, it was fun, yeah. I enjoyed it up there.

Franklin: And so when did you graduate?

Anderson: Graduated in ’62.

Franklin: ’62, okay, and then you started at Hanford Labs.

Anderson: Right. Actually, I went up to the Seattle World’s Fair up there. Then I came back and went to work. So it was in June of ’62 that I started down here. I was in the tech grad program, which started out at the 300 Area for me. You were interviewed, and depending upon what your choice was would depend on where you started work. But I started work in 300 Area. The PRTR Reactor was there. I worked in the water lab. I also worked out at the 100-K Area, and they had a water lab out there. So I had to substitute for the guy that was responsible for those when he’d go on vacation or whatever. So I’d spend half a day at PRTR and the other half of the day at K. I’d pick up the car down at the Federal Building and check it out, and I’d have it all day for my activities.

Franklin: And what was—what did PRTR stand for?

Anderson: Plutonium Recycle Test Reactor. The one big thing I remember about that, it was—it used heavy water for the moderator and so forth. But there were jugs—and I mean jugs—of heavy water lining the hallways throughout that whole reactor building. I mean. And that stuff is very expensive.

Franklin: What was the job of that reactor? What did it do?

Anderson: It was supposed to determine how you can recycle plutonium in a reactor. Rather than enriching uranium, or some other technique. So it was real nice that way, but they did—I can’t remember exactly what the mistake was in there, but they got it all contaminated. [LAUGHTER] So it didn’t last much longer.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: They came out with the FFTF and stuff like that, and a lot of people—I had a father-in-law back then that was a heating and ventilating engineer, and he—DOE kept chiding Battelle down there to get going and get that reactor going. They had to send out the prints and stuff like that to the commercial reactor manufacturers and get their input so that we could demonstrate something that they were interested in. Oftentimes, he said, the requests were 180 degrees apart. [LAUGHTER] So it really slowed them down to do that. They finally gave it to Westinghouse, who finished it.

Franklin: So you said you worked at PRTR and then in the water lab.

Anderson: Yeah, they had a water lab in PRTR. They’d take samples of the reactor effluence and stuff like that.

Franklin: And do what with it?

Anderson: Analyze it to see if there’s radiation in it, if there’s any cross-contamination, or if there’s impurities in it. Because sometimes impurities can corrode or whatever. So you want to make sure those are taken care of.

Franklin: And so how long did you work this kind of split-shift between PRTR and the water lab?

Anderson: Well, I worked in the water lab at PRTR the whole time.

Franklin: Oh, okay, sorry.

Anderson: That’s okay. But, yeah, I did that—he went on vacation three times or so, so I probably had a month’s work there.

Franklin: And what other jobs did you have out at Hanford?

Anderson: Oh, I had a chance to work at B Reactor, as a matter of fact. I interviewed out there. The manager out there made it sound like utopia, you know? You’re going to do this, you’re going to write these reports, and your name’s going to be out there in blinking lights. He didn’t say that, but he made it sound grand and glorious. And I thought—I just had a gut feeling, don’t go to work there. Smart move, because they shut it down.

But so I went to 234-5 Building, which is the plutonium building. I had three main jobs there. The first one was in the Process Laboratory. There, I got to handle plutonium. That’s quite a thrill. Then we did a lot of analysis for operations so that they could control the process and so forth. Then, I was asked up to do the carbon machine. I tore it apart, and I was getting ready to put it back together and make some modifications.

The shift manager at Dash-5, he ended up with diabetes. And so they had to remove him from the shift for a period of time while he got that under control. So they sent me down there to take his place. Well, I never had worked with union before. Now, I don’t know if you guys have or not, but I had to make a transfer from a tank to one of the cribs outside. So I couldn’t find the operator, so I did it. Well, I got my grievance, and I lost that one, obviously. I’ve had a couple other grievances, too, and I won those. [LAUGHTER] But that was interesting, to do that.

So I was working shift work doing that. We had to make the buttons, the plutonium buttons. We’d get the plutonium feed material from either PUREX or REDOX. And then we’d run it through the plant. We had a screw system there and you could backflow the gasses over and stuff like that to come up with your product. We ended up with plutonium fluoride. And then we’d have a crucible that we’d put that stuff in, and we’d add a little iodine and calcium and heat it up and then the reaction would take place. The plutonium would go to the bottom into a little, I guess you’d call it, kind of like a little cup in the bottom, so it would all be in there. Now, this is something that I had never thought of until I was in the burial grounds, but those crucibles were made out of ceramic material. They were manufactured by Coors. Coors beer. They were, and I guess they still are, one of the top qualified manufacturers of that material.

Franklin: Interesting.

Anderson: So that stuff back then was a classified secret and so forth. So we had a lot of waste from Coors in Colorado, which is non-rad, go to the burial grounds because it was classified. So if a lot of people think, you know, everything out there is rad, well, that’s not so. But, yeah, we did a lot with that.

And then from there, I went down to the Research Laboratory. I had to make plutonium chloride material for Rocky Flats. I have no idea what they did with it. It was one of those things, you know, here it is, we give it to them, and we don’t talk about it.

Franklin: Don’t ask too many questions?

Anderson: Right. But we used phosgene gas, and we used these in cylinders. You’d heat it up and you’d pass the gas through it, and it would change the oxide to the chloride. Now, phosgene gas is very poisonous. And that used to be one of those trench gases they had during, what was it, the First World War and stuff like that. And it’s supposed to smell, and it does smell like freshly mown hay. You don’t want to breathe it, that’s for sure. But every so often, a whiff would come by. I did have a couple slight smells of it.

Franklin: Did it make you sick?

Anderson: No.

Franklin: Oh.

Anderson: It wasn’t that concentrated, I guess I’d say.

Franklin: Was it a neural agent? Is that what it does? And how does plutonium chloride differ—is it like—it’s not a liquid—is it solid or powder? What kind of form is it?

Anderson: It’s a powder.

Franklin: It’s a powder, okay.

Anderson: Chloride’s got more atoms in it—not atoms—neutrons and protons than fluoride does. So it’s a lot different from it. Now, the thing that I had a—I didn’t have a problem with it, but it was my first time in dealing with kg quantities of plutonium. We had holes in the hood so we could put these canisters in there. I had something like, what, 20kgs of plutonium in there. And I’m sitting there, thinking, you know, I hope those critical mass people know what they’re talking about. [LAUGHTER] Because, you know, you think, you’re okay, as long as you don’t do something. But if you drop it, what do you do?

And that led to other questions, because eventually when I was in operations, I got to have all the combinations and stuff for the vaults that stored plutonium. You could only have two people go in a vault at once. That’s because we are contained of water—“we are contained of water”? Our body has a lot of water in it. So that’s a good moderator, so you don’t want too many people going around. And then of course the cans are the size of a tuna fish can and they had them on posts in there in the safe. Go ahead.

Franklin: I’m sorry, I’m just curious about this water thing. What role would the water play around plutonium?

Anderson: Neutrons. It moderates the neutrons.

Franklin: Okay, so how would—wait, so, you could start a chain reaction then—

Anderson: Yes.

Franklin: --with water in the—oh, okay.

Anderson: Yeah, and you didn’t want that.

Franklin: No. You usually—well, you only want it when it’s intentional.

Anderson: Yeah, like in a reactor or whatever. Now, one other thing that was interesting is they had a criticality shortly before I went over there at Dash-5. So we didn’t have a way to recycle plutonium. And so a lot of plutonium went into storage. Not just in the vaults, because we ran out of that. We had igloos on the other side of West Area. There were seven igloos there and we stored plutonium in there. Periodically, when I was on shift, taking that supervisor’s place, then we would go out there and we’d check it and see what’s going on. In one place, in one of the igloos—these were left over from the Army, by the way—

Franklin: Yeah, I’m sorry, when you say igloo, what kind of structure are you referring to?

Anderson: It’s basically a metal building that’s in an arch shape. It’s not square-shaped—

Franklin: Oh, like a Quonset hut.

Anderson: Yeah, like a Quonset hut. But it’s covered with dirt.

Franklin: So kind of like either built into a side or—it kind of blends in—that’s so it’s insulated, right?

Anderson: Well, yeah, but you know the military was out here for a long time and they kept ammo and stuff in there. So you wanted them to be pretty well-protected.

Franklin: Sure.

Anderson: And then the front of it, for instance, was made out of concrete.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: And there’s a door in there and so on. We went to radiation monitoring to get some support. They were not accommodating, let’s put it that way. So I and two operators went out there, and we found that there was some liquid organic material that was packaged in there. Apparently, it had fizzed, and it had come up and eaten its way through the plastic barrier, and then it just kind of rolled onto the floor. Then it went all the way over into the gutter. That was pretty high in plutonium, let’s put it that way. The mice had gotten in there and tracked it all over.

Franklin: Oooh.

Anderson: And their droppings were hot. And I and another guy got contaminated in there. You had to wear two pairs of rubber gloves and then you had to wear a thick latex glove on top of that. And the moment you touched that organic, it would go right through. So you started peeling the gloves off.

Franklin: Wow. You mean it would eat right through the glove?

Anderson: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: Wow.

Anderson: So, two of us went back with a very minimal count on our hands, and radiation monitoring raised a fit on it. And I said, well, we asked you, but you wouldn’t take it. So from that time on, we had monitors out there.

Franklin: What happened to the rats? Were their bodies found, or did they somehow maybe go further up in the food chain, or--?

Anderson: No, we never found a rat or mouse.

Franklin: Just the tracks and the droppings?

Anderson: Mm-hmm, mainly the droppings. And I got an idea that stuff killed them. I mean, if it goes right through gloves…

Franklin: Yeah. Wow.

Anderson: So, in fact, years later, after I retired and I went back to work out there, I had somebody call me up, and we went out there to look where all those had been and stuff, because they’ve all been removed. There’s no igloos out there anymore.

Franklin: And what—was there any trace of them, or any trace of the accident out there at that point?

Anderson: No. It’d been decontaminated.

Franklin: And where exactly was this?

Anderson: It’s west of West Area. There’s an Army Loop Road that goes in back of West Area. And it was on the other side of the Army Loop Road and there was a fence around it.

Franklin: Is that right up against the mountain then? Or--?

Anderson: No, it’s flat out there.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Anderson: When you go on the highway, the public highway, and you go out there and you can see some of the buildings and stuff. If you look close, you’ll see where there had been some—I don’t want to say buildings, but some foxholes or something like that that the military had done. It was just in back of that, is where it was.

Franklin: Interesting. And so, after the research lab in 234-5-Z, where did you go from there?

Anderson: I went to PUREX. First job I had at PUREX was in operations. There was the main supervisor and then he had two that supported him. I hired in over there as one of those. The building was divided into the west side and the east side for the two. I had the head end which was where the fuel dissolution occurred, where we had the uranium facilities outside, the liquid uranium, because we didn’t make solids back then. And then we also had the stack and so forth out back. So all that was something I had to get familiar with.

Franklin: I’m sorry, what was the stack?

Anderson: Oh, it’s a 200-foot chimney, I guess you’d call it, and that way whenever you dissolved or whatever and you had off-gassing and so forth, it’d go out that 200-foot stack. And that gas would go through a glass filter.  That way, you didn’t have radiation going through except the radiation that was in a gaseous form, because nothing will stop that, pretty much. And iodine was one that would go out that way.

Now, speaking of stacks, when they built B and T Plant, they did not have filters on them. The stack was 200—all those stacks are about 200 feet tall. So when they dissolved on the old buildings, because they didn’t have filters and stuff, they had to do it when the wind was proper. And then, after a while, of course, the machinery and stuff in the plant would corrode a little bit, so you could get dust particles and whatever coming out of the stack. And there were times when—I wasn’t working out there, then, but I was told that they had to put on booties when the bus was out there to walk into the building, and then they took them off. Because the particulates out there were bad. PUREX had some of that, to a certain extent, because their first step going up into the building was about even with the asphalt. So you know something had been covered.

Franklin: Were B and T retrofitted with the filters after?

Anderson: Yes, only theirs were sand filters.

Franklin: Oh, okay. How did the glass filter—I imagine it wasn’t a sheet of glass.

Anderson: Oh, no, it was kind of like insulation in your house, only it was beaucoup thick. I don’t remember how thick it was, but sometimes chemicals would hang up on it, because they’d be in particulate form. And because PUREX was a nitrate facility—well, all of them were nitrate facilities, because the bulk of the materials would be soluble in the nitrate form. So it would catch, like, sodium nitrate or something like that. Our filters over there, when I was working over there, started to plug, so we had to add another bay for filtration. You still let it go over the old one, because you wanted to use it up as much as you can, and then go up into the new one.

Franklin: How would those be cleaned, or would they?

Anderson: They weren’t.

Franklin: Oh, okay. What would they do, just collapse the stack and—like break the stack down?

Anderson: Oh, no, we just added on to the filter system.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Anderson: At PUREX, that’s all we did.

Franklin: Interesting.

Anderson: And at B and T, that was the sand filter. So they added some HEPA filters to them later on.

Franklin: Hmm. And so what—how long did you work as an operation supervisor at PUREX?

Anderson: Oh, probably a year or so. The laboratory manager came down and asked for me to go to work in the laboratory. We talked about it and so forth, and he said there was a pay raise in it. So, you know. I went down there and I went on D shift as a shift supervisor in the laboratory.

Franklin: In which—at PUREX?

Anderson: The PUREX Process Laboratory. So there I had about ten people working for me in the laboratory. And operations would take their samples, and we had a dumbwaiter that went down to the sample floor, and they’d stick the samples on there and bring it up to the lab, and then we’d analyze it.

Franklin: And what would you be analyzing for?

Anderson: Well, for instance, in the feed, we would be analyzing for the uranium, plutonium and neptunium, because those were the products. You want to know, if you start out with, say, one pound of plutonium, that you end up with a pound at the end. You don’t want it to go out to the Tank Farms or whatever. So that’s one of the things. The other thing is you strip the fission products away from it and so forth so you’re cleaning it up as it goes through the plant. So that was very important. And if they had plant problems or something like that, we might get special samples. And I can remember one sample that went out to one of the cribs for the off-gas system. Apparently it bubbled over or something, because it was pretty yellow when we got it, plus it was pretty hot, in terms of radiation. So, you know, you have to tell them what’s going on and then they’ll take care of it.

We eventually—well, I had three jobs there, actually. I did that and then I went to day shift as a day shift supervisor, because when our manager left, our day shift supervisor was bumped up to manager, so I took his job. And then later on, the research chemist that was there, he left and got another job offsite. So I took his job. [LAUGHTER] I did that—I worked in that lab—oh, well, counting the tech grad program and so forth, I probably worked in that lab six years to eight years, somewhere in that timeframe.

Franklin: At the PUREX lab.

Anderson: PUREX Process, yeah. And eventually, you know, while I was working there, waste management was the buzz word. That was the new thing. So B Plant became the center point for that. So we started getting set up to also analyze B Plant samples. They’d have to bring them to us.

Franklin: Sorry, when you say waste management was the new buzz word, you mean, like, there was a new recognition of the waste products being generated at Hanford, or—

Anderson: Yes.

Franklin: How did that change from what had been happening before? What was this new focus and where did it come from?

Anderson: Well, I don’t know where all of it came from, but the main reason was to keep track of that and to try to separate some of the higher beta gamma emitters which could assist you in high level waste determinations and things like that. Now, high level waste is a unique word. And transuranic is a unique word. Transuranic basically means if it’s greater than uranium in the periodic chart, it’s transuranic. So that waste—eventually, not at the beginning—went down to New Mexico and to their caverns.

Franklin: Into Carlsbad.

Anderson: And then the high level waste means that it’s the first cycle waste from processing fuels. So the bulk of the beta gamma products are in there.

Franklin: And early on, that had not been—before the PUREX process and REDOX were—some of that waste had just been processed a bit but then dumped, right?

Anderson: Well, it was separated from the transuranics and then it was neutralized and put out in the Tank Farms.

Franklin: Right, but it was still high level waste in the Tank Farms?

Anderson: Not necessarily.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: [LAUGHTER] See, it has to be from the first cycle waste. You run the fuels through, and on the first cycle waste, you separate the high level waste from the transuranics and uranics, as far as that goes. So anything separated after that is not high level waste. Now, for instance, and this may sound funny, at FFTF, they had some reactor trees that were in the reactor and they got contaminated—activated from the neutrons. Heating steel and stuff like that, it’ll absorb it, and you get cobalt-60 and all sorts of stuff. Well, that stuff, you know, could read—and I’m making this number up—say, 100,000 rad, okay? That’s low level waste. The intensity has nothing to do with what it is.

Franklin: That was going to be my next question. So high level waste, you said, is the product after the first pass.

Anderson: Right.

Franklin: So even if you strip out the uranics and transuranics, that waste could still be hot, but it would not be high level waste.

Anderson: Exactly.

Franklin: Okay, so that’s a term that refers to the product of a specific state in time, not the level of contamination or radiation level of the actual item.

Anderson: Same thing with the spent fuel, you know. Spent fuel, you think of it being in the reactor for a period of time so that it burns up the uranium-235 or whatever. In this case, it doesn’t really matter, as far as how long it’s been irradiated. If you put it in the reactor for five minutes, it’s been irradiated.

Franklin: So, it’s spent fuel in that sense.

Anderson: Yeah, and it might be cold enough to touch, but that doesn’t get rid of it as spent fuel. See, some of these definitions are, I guess you’d say they’re politically driven.

Franklin: Yeah, as someone who comes from a history background and not a nuclear chemistry background, the use of the term “high level waste” brings out something else—doesn’t seem to be the best descriptor for this specific—you know, if you were to say, maybe, first pass waste. Because “high level” makes you think that it’s important waste, not necessarily that it’s just the waste from the first run through the—

Anderson: Well, it is important, because in the spent fuel, you know, when you separate that out, you’re going to have mixed fission products that are hotsie-totsie.

Franklin: Is that a technical term?

Anderson: No, that’s [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Sorry.

Anderson: That’s a good question.

Franklin: Couldn’t resist.

Anderson: But no. For instance, at B Plant, they would recover the cesium and the strontium. And they would send us over some cesium in, say, a 100-pound pig for shielding. Well, you’d have a half-an-mL of cesium in there, which is a strong gamma. So in order for us to play with that—I shouldn’t use the term “play”—but to do the analytic analysis and so forth. We’d have to get a pipe that was, say, ten feet long, and put it through the handle so that the two people that were carrying that 100-pound pig around were minimizing their exposure.

Franklin: Sure.

Anderson: Because even through that 100-pound pig, it was pretty hot.

Franklin: Wow.

Anderson: So, yeah. Now, strontium’s not quite so bad, because it’s a beta emitter.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: But there’s still both heat. And of course they added the facilities over at B Plant to encapsulate those materials. If you went over, they’d look almost like standard fuel elements or something, and they glowed blue.

Franklin: Was it that—what’s that type of radiation?

Anderson: Cherenkov.

Franklin: Cherenkov radiation.

Anderson: Right.

Franklin: Sorry, when you’re saying B Plant, you mean B Reactor.

Anderson: No. B Plant.

Franklin: B Plant, okay, and what is B Plant?

Anderson: B Plant was the first—T Plant was the first separation facility to separate plutonium from spent fuels. It was a precipitation process.

Franklin: That’s with the cribs and the pools, right, with the constant chemical refining—or separation of the plutonium.

Anderson: Right. They precipitated it and then went on with it.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: And recovered it. So, yeah, that was very important.

Franklin: And how does B Plant differ?

Anderson: It’s almost the same as T Plant. T Plant was the first one built, so they made it a little bit different so they could do more research or studies or whatever with it than B.

Franklin: But it was still one of those long canyon buildings.

Anderson: Oh, yeah. They’re roughly, what, three football fields long or something like that. I mean, they’re huge.

Franklin: Where was that located?

Anderson: B Plant was probably a mile away from PUREX.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: And T Plant was probably a mile away, more or less, from Dash-5, the plutonium building.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: I wouldn’t be 100%.

Franklin: Sure, I understand.

Anderson: A mile, I mean.

Franklin: So we talked a bit about high level waste and that kind of specific definition, and you’d started to talk about spent fuels and, I think, maybe the problem with that terminology, or how that terminology could cause issues or something. I wonder if we could go back to that.

Anderson: Okay. Issues how?

Franklin: Well, I don’t know, you started to mention that spent fuel referred to a specific process.

Anderson: Oh, yeah. It’s just like “high level waste” or whatever else. If it was in a reactor for a short period of time—maybe it’s touchable, you know, whatever—but it’s still “spent fuel.” So you’ve got to treat it like spent fuel, and it has to go to a geologic repository and all that stuff.

Franklin: Oh, okay, I see, I see. So it’s a very large, all-encompassing definition that doesn’t necessarily tell you how long it was in the reactor and how much of the uranium has been processed and things like that.

Anderson: Right, because if you leave it in the reactor for a shorter period of time, versus longer, you’d come out with fuels-grade plutonium. If you leave it in longer than that, you end up with reactor-grade plutonium. One is more amenable to nuclear devices.

Franklin: Which one is that?

Anderson: The—what’d I call it?

Franklin: You said there was fuel and reactor grade.

Anderson: Yeah, fuel grade.

Franklin: Fuel grade.

Anderson: Not fuel grade, it’s—well, yeah, I guess that works, fuel grade. But it’s not reactor grade. I mean, it’s one that you can use in bombs. [LAUGHTER] Weapons grade, that’s what it is, weapons grade.

Franklin: So there’s weapons grade and reactor grade.

Anderson: Yes.

Franklin: Okay. When did you start work on the thorium campaign?

Anderson: Oh, we had two of them here. One of them was a short period just to demonstrate that we could do it. And then the next one was to demonstrate that we could meet the requirements that were set upon us.

Franklin: And that was for the Navy, right? For the Navy reactors?

Anderson: For Rick Rickover.

Franklin: Yeah, Admiral Rickover.

Anderson: And I’ll say this, whenever he spoke, you jumped.

Franklin: Why?

Anderson: I mean, he had the power. When he said something, you did it. There was no ifs, ands or buts. Now, the thorium campaign—and actually if we had thorium reactors, that might be another topic. We never had those out there. Well, I guess we did, because we did irradiate some. But Rickover wanted some uranium-233, so that’s what we made. Because thorium, when you irradiate it, will go up to uranium-233, which is also fissile. You can make bombs. It’s weapons grade, or again, if you overdo it, it could be non-weapons grade.

But we had to recalibrate the laboratory in order to handle that material. You used the same chemicals, basically, but you have to use them in a different way, and we had to analyze it a different way. I became, since I was the research chemist there—we had to have large samples of the product so we could analyze for all the impurities and so forth that they wanted. Consequently, we had a cabinet that we had in the building—in the laboratory, that could handle kg quantities of uranium-233. I had some critical mass bottles, which is product bottles that they used down in operations. When we accumulated enough 233, I would fill one of those jugs. I put a little plastic mixer in the bottom and put it on a magnetic plate, and then we’d mix it up and so forth after we put it together. And then I had to take enough sample out of there, because it was product—just like we did down below—and analyze that and make sure it met all the requirements.

Franklin: What is the advantage for using thorium instead of uranium or plutonium for the reactor? Why the push for thorium?

Anderson: Well, Rickover wanted it. He wanted it for the Navy.

Franklin: And why? What’s the advantage to using thorium?

Anderson: Well, you have impurity of uranium-232 in there. You could make fuels for submarine reactors or whatever. If you did that, you had to have pretty clean separated materials, because that 232 is a very hard gamma. It would go from gamma to gamma to gamma. So you would have more than enough coming from it. So if you kept it long enough, you’d have something that could probably be lethal. So it was kind of its own self-control.

Franklin: In what way?

Anderson: It’d be lethal.

Franklin: The product would? Or the—

Anderson: The product would, because the uranium-232 is decaying into these hot daughters.

Franklin: Oh, okay, okay. How is thorium made?

Anderson: Thorium is in the earth.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: So it’s a natural element. And then when you throw a neutron into it, it makes—thorium-232 and you add a neutron becomes thorium-233, and when it decays to uranium-233.

Franklin: Oh, okay, okay.

Anderson: So it’s kind of like uranium-238, getting a neutron and making Pu-239.

Franklin: Okay. And how long did you work on these thorium campaigns?

Anderson: Oh, they were very short. I think it was probably around six months long, something like that. The demo was just a short period of time. I don’t know, weeks, maybe, at the most. But the other one was a lot longer.

Franklin: And then you mentioned right around this time that waste management started to become kind of a hot issue. Maybe hot’s not the best word to use, but it started gaining a lot of attention. So you moved to waste management, right, from PUREX.

Anderson: Yes, I transferred. Also, I went to an engineering group because they made more money—back then, they made more money than a chemist. But yes. And there, boy, I’ll tell you, I was at B Plant, which was the operations facility. I wrote monthly reports, management reports, I wrote two of those every month. I mean, one of each. And then I wrote quarterly reports for burial grounds, gas emissions, and liquid discharges. Then I also wrote the Tank Farm reports. And so, I had to be involved with a lot of that. And the funny thing is, my boss called me into his office after I’d done that for a few years. He says, guess what? I got a proposition for you. I says, oh, what’s that? He says, well, it’s one you ought to say yes to. And so, he said, engineering wants your job, and wants you to go along with it. So, I transferred from operations to engineering. That’s how I got involved in the engineering aspect.

Franklin: Of waste management.

Anderson: Yeah.

Franklin: So how long did you work as a waste management engineer?

Anderson: Oh, from 1971, about, until 2012, I guess.

Franklin: Wow. That’s quite a long time. What were some of the—can you describe kind of your work as a waste management engineer? What did you do out there and what significant accomplishments or setbacks did you have?

Anderson: Well, we had, for instance, with the double-shell tanks, one of the A Farm tanks—not, let’s see, AX. AY. 102-AY, I think it was. I could be off on that, but—we had to analyze the material that went in there and keep it below a certain concentration of sodium and so on to keep it in a good, safe condition. And then the other tanks, we had to keep track of the material that went in there. For instance, we had one tank that tended to get a lot of the first cycle waste, and we had to make sure that the fissile material in there was according to par. So we had requirements and so forth.

When we went out to the liquid discharges to the ground, for instance, you had to make those as low as you could. I remember, DOE asked me to tell them what the—after they ran it through a process and cleaned up the discharge quite a bit. They asked me to tell them what it was going to be like in 20 years. I said, well, here’s what we put in and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So, you’re not going to see much change out in the crib, because it’s already so contaminated. So they came back and said, well, forget the old stuff; just do the new stuff. [LAUGHTER] So that’s what we did. But sometimes the operation would have a problem with it and it would discharge some radioactive materials into the environment.

Franklin: From the tank to the—

Anderson: No, from the building.

Franklin: Oh, from the building to the environment. So not from the building to the tank, but—

Anderson: Now, over at one of the ponds, they put up scarecrows to keep the ducks and stuff out. They got used to that, so then they started with a shotgun effect. It was an air gun or something. That worked for a while, but then they got used to that. So finally they had to put a net over it. So, yeah, Mother Nature’ll get used to most anything.

Franklin: Yeah.

Anderson: So, that was a problem.

Franklin: What about the emissions from the Tank Farms? I wonder if you could talk about that.

Anderson: We never really noticed a lot of emissions from the Tank Farms when I was working in it. I remember a lot of the tanks did not have filters on them. In the middle of winter, because they’re liquid tanks, you’re going to have high humidity coming out the breather, so there was what looked like steam coming out. Somebody in DOE saw that. So we had to hook everything up to an exhaust system. But we never really had much of a problem unless liquid burped out of a tank or whatever.

Franklin: Did that happen?

Anderson: Yes, it did, in some of those farms, and it was pretty hot. In fact, one of them was so hot that, rightly so, the manager over that covered it with some soil so it wouldn’t get airborne and so forth after it was on the ground. So, I remember they called me up, and I had to go out to the building and we put in a concrete burial box into the trench. We had to have it such that they could scoop up that material and go over and dump it into the concrete box, so we could tell the public that it had been contained.

But I remember going to work at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I worked until noon or something like that. My boss said, how long have you been out here? And I told him, and he says, well, go home. [LAUGHTER] But that happened every so often. Not a lot, but. And there’s some stories I put in my Tank Farm—not my Tank Farm; my burial ground report. They used to transfer sometimes over ground, and they still do.

Franklin: What do you mean transfer? Oh, transfer waste.

Anderson: Waste, overground instead of underground. On REDOX, it’s a half a mile away from the S Farm complex, so they could read it over there, which is quite a distance away. So they had to rush over there and pump cold water through it and get the readings down.

Franklin: Pump cold water through--?

Anderson: Through the transfer line.

Franklin: Oh, okay. Half mile transfer line seems—

Anderson: No, that wasn’t the transfer line. The Tank Farm is over here, and REDOX is over here. They can read it over at REDOX.

Franklin: Oh, they can read—okay, I see, I see.

Anderson: Yeah. Now, what we did, when I was in engineering there, is we would calculate the volume of liquid that would be in a pipe when you’re transferring. You could transfer from East Area to West Area, which is a few miles. But you had to calculate how much was going to be in the lines. So when you transferred, you would look at the drop in the tank, and you’d look at the rise in the other tank, and there’s going to be a delay because of what’s being held up into the piping. So, we had to do that.

One time, the liquid went down real fast, and it went up real slow in the receiving tank. We had to shut it off and find out what’s what. We could take pictures inside the tanks and stuff like that, so we went in. Well, the solid material in the tank that we were removing the liquid from had an annulus of solids around it. So instead of being the full diameter of the tank that we were pumping out, it was the inside. They didn’t match up, because a small radius of waste, versus the tank, which is the full radius. So we had a lot of troubles with stuff like that. We used to take a lot of pictures in the Tank Farms.

Franklin: How would you take a picture of the inside of the tank?

Anderson: You get a rigid pipe, if you will, and then you hook the camera up to it. And you can remotely set the frames down there and the flash. Then you can hold it or support it, whatever, and rotate it. So as it goes around in a circle, you’ll get pictures of it. The other thing that we did was put gas—you’d put the camera, wrap it in plastic so it won’t get contaminated—but you can’t do that with the lens. That would distort and stuff. So you had air being blown over the lens to keep it free and clean.

Franklin: Wow.

Anderson: So you had little pieces of instrument pipe, I guess you’d say, that would do that.

Franklin: Kind of spritz air across it?

Anderson: But we did that in the casings, too, in the burial grounds.

Franklin: And the radiation in the tank wouldn’t contaminate the film or any of the mechanical components of the camera or anything like that?

Anderson: No, because they’re encased in that plastic.

Franklin: And so then the camera was then safe to work with, too, once you unwrapped the plastic and everything.

Anderson: Right.

Franklin: That’s right, that’s really interesting.

Anderson: We had almost a full-time photographer out there that did that. A lot of those were his ideas.

Franklin: Wow. That’s quite something.

Anderson: Now, I wrote a history book on the Tank Farms.

Franklin: For DOE or just in general?

Anderson: Just in general. So I wrote the document, and 90% of it or more is tables of what went where and all that sort of stuff. From Tank A to Tank B and to Tank C and so on.

Franklin: And did you do this as a private citizen? Did you do it while you were working out there, or--?

Anderson: Oh, I did it out there.

Franklin: Oh, okay, okay.

Anderson: See, I was in waste management, and I had all those different projects: I had the Tank Farms, the burial grounds, the cribs, ponds and ditches, and the gas emissions. The environmental group said, well, I’m doing their work. [LAUGHTER] So I lost all those reports except for the burial grounds. Which is fine, because there was more work in the burial grounds to do than the other.

But I enjoyed the writing that history book. But as I went around the building, there was umpteen secretaries. Back then, no computers, you know, for us. So I’d say, you want to do some work for me? Sure! And I’d show them those tables, and—no! So it took me a long time to get them typed up.

And then it was decided that it was too sensitive a material. So they wouldn’t let me publish it, but I could make operational copies. John Glenn, you know, the astronaut and senator and stuff, he was at a meeting, and I wasn’t there, so this is purely secondhand or more—but there was a Battelle document that was in the same category. They’d done the work on it, but they didn’t think they should publish it. So, he found out about that and so he asked the people there, he says, so what other documents are you hiding? They said, Anderson’s document. So I had 30 days to publish it. [LAUGHTER]

That’s how it got published. Which is okay, but it didn’t have the scrutiny it should’ve had. But I put a cover letter on it that showed that. I had a lot of projects there. You do that. I had to look at the inventory—or the MUF—they called it the MUF back then: Material Unaccounted For—at Dash-5.

Franklin: As in, radioactive material?

Anderson: As in plutonium. Yeah. Because when you got kg quantities of stuff, you’re never going to be down to the gnat’s eyebrow. But I was asked to make a report on that, and I did. Since most of it was buried and so forth, we’ll probably never know how good the numbers were.

Franklin: Right, some of it made it into the waste stream, right, in some form or another.

Anderson: Right, and sometimes it might not even have existed to begin with.

Franklin: Jillian wrote some things for me to ask you about here. So I’m just going to kind of go down the list, if that’s all right with you. If we’ve already covered it, please feel free to tell me that. She had on here, Tank Farms and emissions from Tank Farms.

Anderson: Oh, we went through that, because—

Franklin: Right, right.

Anderson: They didn’t have HEPAs and so on.

Franklin: What about waste generator requirements?

Anderson: That’s on radioactive solid waste. We couldn’t do an audit, but we could do assessments. One of the requirements that DOE put on us was that you’re to check and find out what’s going on. So that was in DOE Order 5820, I think it was. So we set up a program, and I used to visit all the DOE sites that sent us radioactive waste. They could be colleges, they could be other research laboratories, and so forth. Once a year, I and another guy and sometimes a couple more would go to do the different generating sites and verify that they’re indeed meeting our requirements for disposal.

We would actually look at the waste. Not just say, yea verily and bless it. We had to go in. And we found some interesting things in some of that. We found a Coke bottle—Coke can, I guess it was, in a radioactive waste. That’s not supposed to be in there, you know. And then down at 300 Area, we found a wooden box that had the janitor’s materials in it. Why would that be in there? Well, he didn’t know what to do with it.

Franklin: When in doubt, put it in the garbage, right?

Anderson: That’s right. So we had some oddball stuff like that. One of the biggest problems we had was lead. Because they came out with hazardous requirements as well as radioactive requirements. Well, lead, if you do the test on it, the laboratory test, it’s a hazardous material. I remember we had a lot of people in one of the laboratories that said, well, I’ve been using it to prop my laboratory door open for 20 years and it hasn’t killed me yet.

Franklin: You’re talking about, what? Like, just a piece of lead? Like a lead doorstop or something?

Anderson: No, just a chunk—a lead brick.

Franklin: Just a lead brick.

Anderson: Just a plain old lead brick.

Franklin: Where would one get a lead brick?

Anderson: Oh, out at Hanford, they’re everywhere.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: I mean, you use them for shielding, mainly.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: So, yeah, you get them everywhere.

Franklin: Of course, now that would be almost unheard of, right, to just have lead bricks on the floor as doorstops.

Anderson: Right. And we had lead glass, too.

Franklin: Right.

Anderson: Leaded glass. So we took some leaded glass and analyzed it. It’s also hazardous. It meets the—or fails the test, or whatever you want to call it.

Franklin: Sure.

Anderson: We even went over to—it wasn’t Macy’s then, but it was the people that owned that facility before. We got some Steuben glass. That is the most crystal clear glass I think there is, but it’s high in lead. So the problem is, for instance, if you like wine, you may not want to leave it in there too long. We even called Steuben up, and they said, oh, yeah, we know it.

Franklin: Wow. Another thing here is concern about hydrogen explosions.

Anderson: We had that in the burial grounds as well as the Tank Farms. Radioactive materials can decay and ionize other things—organics, for instance—and tear them apart. So you can generate hydrogen. So, you don’t want that to build up in your, say, a waste drum of solid waste. So, we had to come up with some techniques to use so that we could mitigate any chance of hydrogen buildup in a waste system. For instance, we ended up with catalyst beads that we put in solid waste in a screen. We screened it and put it together so it’d be on top. That’s where hydrogen likes to go and stuff. So then we also put clips, vent clips, on the side of the drum that would be good enough to allow hydrogen to weep out, but it wouldn’t be good enough to let the plutonium out. So we did all these different things.

Franklin: Did you ever have a hydrogen explosion?

Anderson: No.

Franklin: Okay. So this was just a concern based on the probability, but not an actual event.

Anderson: That’s correct.

Franklin: Do you know of any hydrogen explosion in a waste tank?

Anderson: Not in a waste tank, but that reactor back east did have hydrogen in it.

Franklin: Which--? Three Mile?

Anderson: Three Mile Island, yeah.

Franklin: Mm. I see. So another bullet here is trenches for reactors.

Anderson: Okay! Now, we started this a long time ago, but the Navy has reactors in subs and they also have them in, oh, the flat tops.

Franklin: The aircraft carriers.

Anderson: Aircraft carriers.

Franklin: Oh, so this is the burial grounds for the reactors.

Anderson: Right. So they come from the shipyard over on the west side of the state, and then they put them on a barge because they’re so heavy. They bring them up the Columbia and then they bring them to the dock just south of 300 Area. Is that right? Yeah, I think that’s right. And then they transport it on a vehicle that has multi, multi tires. Then they travel at about five miles an hour or so and take it out to the burial grounds. So we have all those reactors out there. If you look at them, the outside of it is the hull from the sub, for instance. And then they put a plate on the front and back and—

Franklin: How did that start?

Anderson: Well, the Navy—well, we had the treaty with Russia. What was it? SALT Treaty?

Franklin: Strategic Arms Limitation?

Anderson: And so Russia had to know how many missiles were available in the military. So when they’re in dock and they’re [unknown] they leave the missile ports open so satellites that go over can look in and say, ha, they’re clean. And they can still count them in the burial grounds, even though there’s nothing there except the reactor. But we have to meet that. That’s politics. I won’t try to second guess that.

Franklin: Sure. That’s fine.


Franklin: There’s a place for politics.

Anderson: Now, the old reactors out along the Columbia River, there was a lot of talk about putting those in the burial ground, too. There’s all sorts of techniques. Originally, they were going to bring them, but they decided to let them decay a while and then maybe bring them over, I don’t know.

Franklin: Or who knows? Maybe they’ll become part of the National Park someday.

Anderson: Could be.

Franklin: And then the last one here is something I’m familiar with, Environmental Impact Statements.

Anderson: [LAUGHTER] We wrote our first burial Environmental Impact Statement in the early ‘70s, I think it was.

Franklin: Right, that would’ve been right after the creation of the EPA.

Anderson: And so we did that and then later on, Battelle had to do them. So then we did a pre-report, or—I don’t want to call it a pre-report. A report that had the information in it, and let Battelle run with it. So we worked on a lot of those, too. But that would include, again, burial grounds—or it depends what the EIS is on. But if it was on the burial grounds. One of them was on high level waste; I remember that, and Tank Farms, I think it was. So, yeah.

Franklin: So the EISs, then, covered the different waste management activities that were going on out at Hanford?

Anderson: Yes.

Franklin: And so what kind of work did that take to put together and EIS for high level waste or for Tank Farm remediation?

Anderson: It took months. You had to estimate what was going to happen and how it was, and then you had to look at different scenarios. But we couldn’t say what the final scenario was, or the conclusion.

Franklin: Just because you didn’t know, or--?

Anderson: No, that was Battelle’s problem. Let them decide what’s what.

Franklin: Did you find yourself spending a lot of time doing EIS work?

Anderson: Whenever they happened, yeah. Otherwise it was kind of not there. I mean, we had to obey by them. Once they were issued, we had to meet their requirements.

Franklin: Sure, sure. So from the early ‘70s, then, and you said you retired for good in 2012, where was most of your work centered?

Anderson: From about 1971 on, it was in the burial grounds.

Franklin: Okay, so the 200 Area burial grounds.

Anderson: Burial grounds.

Franklin: It says here that you retired in 1996.

Anderson: I physically retired in ’96, and then they called me back and I worked until 2012. So I almost worked 50 years.

Franklin: Wow. How did things change for you, beginning in the late ‘80s after the production shutdown? Did you find your job changed? Or did the outlook of your coworkers or the bosses of the Site change?

Anderson: Actually, we had more work because of the inspections we had to do and things like that. So it didn’t cut the work.

Franklin: Just got busier for waste management?

Anderson: Yeah. I mean, the requirements got more and more, so we had that. Now, that doesn’t include the ERDF, because I never worked on the ERDF.

Franklin: Sure. Were you involved in any way with the vitrification plant or that type of waste management?

Anderson: Not much, no. I can’t say much about that. They did make a vault out there that they took Tank Farm waste and added concrete to. That didn’t work.

Franklin: You’re talking about—no, you’re not talking about BWIP, are you?

Anderson: No, BWIP is another deal. It’s over by one of the A Farm complexes.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Anderson: But they were taking Tank Farm waste and trying to show that they could put it in a vault and solidify it. But—I never followed it completely, but I don’t think it ever lived up to its expectations.

Franklin: As in cost expectations, or as in safety—

Anderson: As in meeting the environmental requirements.

Franklin: Okay. I’m wondering, just quickly if we could go back in time a bit. Do you remember President Kennedy’s visit?

Anderson: Yeah.


Anderson: To Kennedy’s visit?

Tom Hungate: Yup.

Franklin: Yeah, yeah, just—I wonder if you could tell me about that.

Anderson: Well, I had to work. [LAUGHTER] But I was at PUREX when that happened. We had a door that the chemicals could come into the plant through. It was looking north towards the N Reactor. I can remember the cars going crazy out there and coming back the same way. So that’s all I could visually see, was what the traffic was going to and from. But, no, I wasn’t out there so I couldn’t say much on that.

Franklin: Okay. When did your father retire from Hanford?

Anderson: In the ‘60s.

Franklin: Oh, okay.

Anderson: And they called him back and he worked a few more times, 2,000 hours or whatever it was, and finally my mom said, that’s enough. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Where did your parents move after the B house was sold?

Anderson: Oh, they bought another B house about three or four blocks away from that one.

Franklin: Oh, okay. And did they live there then, for the rest of their lives?

Anderson: Yes. They lived on one side for a while and then they moved over to the other side and lived on the other side.

Franklin: Did they rent out the other side?

Anderson: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: So I was just wondering, is there anything we haven’t mentioned in this interview that you’d like to talk about?

Anderson: Well, depends, but it seems to me, like, for instance, the burial requirements—and a lot of places were that way—but I searched and I searched, and I finally found the original burial requirement. That was in an RWP and it was about that long.

Franklin: Sorry, what’s an RWP?

Anderson: Radioactive Work Procedure.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: And there was a paragraph in it that was for the burial grounds. That was it. As time progressed—that was in the ‘40s, and as time progressed, they became more and more complicated and so forth because we had new requirements to meet. Then in probably the ‘80s, RCRA came in. So hazardous chemicals was also part of the problem. So you had to keep rad and hazardous and meet both requirements.

Franklin: In the burial grounds.

Anderson: In the burial grounds. The funny thing is, the first one I wrote was in the ‘70s. DOE said, we want you to put the sanitary landfill in it, too, so it covers not only the rad burial grounds but the sanitary landfill, which is the one in between East Area and the Wye Barricade. So I put that in there and we had to meet the requirements for that place in that document. I had to divide it up into the rad section and into the sanitary. So I issued it, and then DOE come back and says, what do you got this in there for, the sanitary? I said, because you told me to. And they said, well, take it out. [LAUGHTER] So they took it out. Or I took it out, because I had to rewrite it. And I was in on a lot of the rewrites after that. The documents got so thick and so forth, it was almost a fulltime job just to get that done. So that was probably something that was very important. The paper trail is not complete as far as I know. It took me a couple, three years to find the original one.

Franklin: This report from the ‘40s.

Anderson: Yeah.

Franklin: And where was that? Or where does this appear in?

Anderson: Well, I don’t know where it is, but an engineer had it and he had squirrelled it away. I found out through word-of-mouth and so forth where I might find it, and lo and behold, I finally did. But a lot of that early stuff—

Franklin: Was it a Hanford-generated report?

Anderson: Mm-hmm.

Franklin: Okay.

Anderson: It’s got a number and everything on it. So but that was interesting. In talking to some of the people—because the second half of—not second half; last third or so of the report I put together on the burial grounds—I interviewed the people that were involved in making the burial grounds and got a lot of good information on that.

Franklin: You mean people that were involved in the early—

Anderson: In the early East and West burial grounds.

Franklin: And so you were kind of doing your own oral histories.

Anderson: Well, that was for my document that I put together.

Franklin: Well, sure.

Anderson: It’s about that thick or whatever.


View interview on Youtube.

Hanford Sites

B Reactor
N Reactor
PRTR (Plutonium Recycle Test Reactor)
300 Area
100-K Area
FFTF (Fast Flux Test Facility)
234-5 Building
T Plant
B Plant
200 Area Burial Grounds

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site



Anderson, James.jpg


“Interview with James Anderson,” Hanford History Project, accessed October 28, 2021,