Interview with Del Ballard
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.
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Del Ballard: I’m not accustomed to this, so you get what you get.
Douglas O’Reagan: All the better, all the better. Sometimes we get some rehearsed answers, that is fine. But all the better if somebody gives me something that they haven’t exactly honed their exact phrasing on.
Ballard: We just put together one for the BRMA history—history of BRMA. That was all written out, so it was—but I’m amazed at how much insistence they have at no corrections, no—[LAUGHTER] Pretty trying.
O’Reagan: Okay, great. So let’s start off here. First of all, would you please pronounce and spell your name for us?
Ballard: Well, my first name is Delbert L. Ballard. Leo for center. D-E-L-B-E-R-T, B-A-L-L-A-R-D. And I go by Del, commonly.
O’Reagan: All right, thank you. My name is Douglas O’Reagan. I’m conducting an oral history interview here on February 18th, 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with Mr. Ballard about his experiences working on the Hanford site, living in this community. First of all, can you start us off just—walk us through your life in sort of a brief term before you came to this area.
Ballard: Well, I was raised on a dryland wheat farm in Montana, so I know what work is all about. And I was a student in a little high school that was only seven of us in our graduating class. So I was sort of a country boy, and went to college at Montana State University. And I graduated from there in 1951. Just prior to that, the General Electric Company, of course, had been there to do interviews. They were scoping for—recruiting for engineers and I was a civil engineer graduate. There was other recruiters through, too. I had an offer from a San Francisco shipyard, and another from the Soil Conservation Service in Montana. But I wanted to get a job with GE. So I’d had the interview, but no really positive award or recognition that they were going to give me an offer. They were interviewing a large number of people. So graduation day came around and I still hadn’t gotten a letter from GE. But the mail came that morning, and lo and behold, there it was. So I was really pleased at that. So my initial job right out of college was coming to Hanford and working for General Electric Company as a rotational training—in the rotational training program. They had hired that year, the previous year, actually ’49, ’50 and ’51, they had hired about 300 or 350 tech grads. And I was one of the later ones getting here; I didn’t get here until July. So most of the good jobs were assigned. But in the rotational training program, my first assignment was a rather mundane assignment to the transportation department. Next one was a more interesting job with the inspection department. That was over in the shipyard in Bremerton. At that time, Hanford was undergoing I believed what they called the Korean expansion. The Korean War was underway and in full force at that time when I got out of school. As a matter of fact, I thought I was going to be drafted, but I tried to enlist and—I’m diverting here a little bit, but—tried to enlist in the Air Force to be a pilot, but my eyes weren’t good enough, so I got rejected for that. [LAUGHTER] So when I knew that the GE job was a deferred job, I thought, well, that’s an alternate I’d just as soon pursue. So anyway when I got here on the rotational training program, that’s what it was. Individuals were assigned to different locations for training purposes and for filling job needs. The second assignment was, as I said, inspection department in the shipyard in Bremerton. At that time, they were fabricating—the shipyard was fabricating the biological shield blocks for the C Reactor. It was one of the expansion efforts at Hanford, increasing the production capacity. So that was an interesting job over there at the shipyard doing inspection and learning a lot about inspection techniques and components and so forth. Another month after that, I was rotating around the Seattle area inspecting other components that were being manufactured for the C Reactor. C Reactor, as you know, was the one that was built right alongside of the B Reactor out at Hanford. It started up in ’53, I believe. But out of the rotational training program, I was assigned into construction area out in the 300 Area. They were fabricating laboratories for building the laboratories out there. Radiochemistry, radiometallurgy, pile tech, machine shop, and a library at that area of the Hanford—300 Area was just under construction. So I got assigned to help in the field engineering in that job. It was an interesting project. I learned a lot there in that job. And from there I went into other project engineering work, including in later years, the K Reactors were under construction and I was involved in laying up the graphite of that reactor, K East Reactors. I stayed in project engineering with GE all my life—or all my employment time was with GE. They left here in ’64. Yeah, Battelle came in ’65. Two of the projects that I followed after K Reactors, one of them was the critical mass lab in the 300 Area, which was a facility for evaluating critical shapes and sizes for plutonium missiles. It was a research job, research facility. That project was a lump sum construction and plant forces for the completion of putting the process equipment in. The next job I had was the High Temperature Lattice Test reactor in the 300 Area. That’s a reactor that probably hasn’t gotten much publicity. It was a small graphite reactor. But that was a job I was very proud of, because I was the sole project engineering function at the time. The design was done by an organization that was just brought on as GE was being phased out. It was the Vitro Engineering Company. They had a detailed design of the job, and the construction was done lump sum, and then J. Jones did the reactor installation. I can tell quite a bit of detail about that reactor, if you’re interesting. [LAUGHTER] But it was an experimental facility also for evaluating different lattice spacings for graphite moderator reactors. It was electrically heated—it operated up at 1,000 degrees centigrade, so that graphite, looking through the peepholes in the reactor, you could see white hot graphite, which is sort of an interesting thing to see. But that project was not large in comparison to today’s funding levels. But it was a three- to four-million-dollar project. I finished the job and closed it out with less than $200 left on the books and no overrun. [LAUGHTER] So I got a commendation for that job, which I was quite proud of. But from there, then I diverted into other project engineering jobs. One was in Idaho Falls. We had a test facility over there, putting in test loops in the engineering test reactor. That was closer to reactor operations type work. We had to modify an operating reactor. But that was some of my interesting project years before I got into jobs later on, which was the FFTF and the FMEF. Fuels and Materials Exam Facility. I always make the statement that every project, or every job that I worked on up until the FFTF was completed and put into operation. Every project after FFTF was shut down and closed down before it was completed. [LAUGHTER] So that was kind of a breaking point for me. Hanford, of course, reached its peak in production, and I can talk something about that as far as reactor operations is concerned. But I wasn’t really in operations, I was in engineering, and had jobs all over the Project. So I never was tied down to one location. It was interesting. So I had an interesting career in a lot of different projects. I enjoyed my work, and had a good time and a good married life and I can go into that, too, if you wish.
O’Reagan: So you say you were with GE this whole time? You didn’t switch over to different contractors as they came in?
Ballard: Well, yes—no. I just with GE until they left.
O’Reagan: I see.
Ballard: And then Battelle came in ’65. So I was with Battelle for ’65 until ’70 when Westinghouse took over the Breeder Program. Initially, Westinghouse was just brought in for the Fast Flux Test Reactor, to manage that. And I happened to be working on a development job. That’s one I haven’t mentioned yet. [LAUGHTER] When Westinghouse came in, I was assigned—that was my first manager job. I had a group, or a section in the 321 Building in the 300 Area, and a job which was identified as the hydraulic core mockup. And we designed, built and operated models to evaluate the design configuration for the FFTF. So we built water models to look at a lot of different features: the reactor vessel arrangement, and the core arrangement and the structure. And the inlet planning and outlet planning. We built several models. The two biggest ones were the inlet model, which evaluated the sodium distribution in the inlet planning and feeding characteristics for the fuels channels. I worked on that job for seven years. And then during that time, of course, FFTF came under construction. Our group actually influenced the design which was being done by Westinghouse back east. There was a lot of the features in the arrangements and shapes of the vessel and the flow distribution and the core that was determined by that hydraulic core mockup test facility. Then when they started putting the reactor together, I was assigned to construction out in 400 Area. I spent the whole year inside the reactor vessel, helping the engineer put the parts together. One of our humorous comments about FFTF was, from our perspective was FFTF, do you know what that stands for? Yeah, it sounds for feel, file, to fit. [LAUGHTER] Fill all the tight tolerances and all the arrangements necessary to make everything fit and throw it together. It was well-engineered and well-designed, but it was still—engineering problems had to be resolved in the field. So that was another interesting project. Following that, then I spent seven years on the FMEF, the Fuels and Materials Exam Facility, designing and coordinating the design—the management of the design, which was done by an off-plant architect engineer. And there, again, that was a project that was not completed. It was shut down when the Breeder Program was curtailed. So, following that, I could go into more details where we did for various and sundry work, but it was all toward the new mission for the Hanford site, which was cleanup, starting in that field in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I retired, officially, in ’89. But I worked consulting for four years after that. So my career actually spanned from 1951 to 1994.
O’Reagan: How disappointing was it when FFTF got canceled?
Ballard: Pardon me?
O’Reagan: Was it disappointing when FFTF got canceled?
Ballard: It was very discouraging, yes, that they were going to close it down. When they drilled a hole in the core support structure, like drilling a hole in my heart. [LAUGHTER] Matter of fact, I’ve got some pictures to show that I was the last person in the FFTF vessel before they closed it up and started it filling it with sodium. Matter of fact, after that closure—after the photograph that I have, I’ll be happy to show you—they had an accident with the fuel charging machine which went up to the top of the travel and the upper limits which failed and it dropped down on the core and broke some of the components that I was so—[LAUGHTER]—proud of getting installed properly. Core support structure. And we had to go in there and do some repairs. But then I, after that, I left the FFTF and went to work on the design of the FMEF. [SIGH]
O’Reagan: Did life sort of change day-to-day when you switched these contractors? How different was it working for these different companies?
Ballard: The only change that I could see was the difference of the color of the paycheck. [LAUGHTER] As a matter of fact, when we transferred from—let’s see if I can remember which contract that was—was it GE to Battelle or Battelle to Westinghouse? I don’t remember, but the end of that day, we were terminated and I happened to be at a party down in one of the local pubs which I didn’t very often frequent. But somebody said, who do you work for? And I said, at the moment I’m unemployed. Because that was the day we left one contractor and started with the next one. But the transitions were quite smooth, I would say. I mean, of course, policies changed and your managers changed. At one time, in a two-year period when Westinghouse came in, I think I had 13 different first level and second level managers above me change without in those two-year period. So there was a lot of personnel changes. But a lot of us working closer to the ground floor, there was very little change.
O’Reagan: So, let’s back up a moment. What were your first impressions of Hanford and the area?
Ballard: Well, I came here in the summer—it was in July. I got here on July 3rd of 1951. I was assigned to the barracks out in North Richland—women’s barracks as a matter of fact. That’s when all the dormitory rooms were filled up in Richland for the men’s dorms. So I was assigned out there for my quarters. The next day, I learned that you didn’t have to drive the buses around, you could ride the city buses or the plant buses. Plant buses, to ride to the area was five cents, and city buses, I don’t remember whether they were five cents or free. I rode that bus the next day that I went to work, and it was 105 degrees that day. And I thought, my lord, what have I gotten myself into? [LAUGHTER] This is horrible temperature! But I was young and willing to accept anything that came my way, so I guess I didn’t think it was too serious a problem.
O’Reagan: How aware were you of the mission of Hanford before you came here?
Ballard: Very little, probably. I knew that it was working on the war effort, but at that time, nobody really—well, yeah, I guess it was known they were producing plutonium or weapons for atomic weapons, but as far as the details concerned, I knew very little. As any engineer—young man right out of college might be. Because I didn’t know what the plant—the structure was. But they gave—they told us and we got the information from the co-workers and the other students. It was quite interesting, because all the youngsters that were working, everybody—not the majority of people, but a large percentage of them—were fresh graduates. The older bunch were the 30- and 35-year-olds working on the site. That’s when I met my wife shortly after that in ’53. But we were married in ’53. But I met her in ’52 at a social that was put on by YWCA, Young Women’s—YWCA organization. They had church-sponsored dinners one night a week and that’s where we met. So we’ve been married for 62 years now.
O’Reagan: Were there a lot of those sort of social events?
Ballard: A lot of those that happened. As a matter of fact, the organization—I was the third set that the president and the secretary of that organization got married. [LAUGHTER] She was the secretary when I was the president of the organization. [LAUGHTER] Which was sort of comical, I guess.
O’Reagan: What sort of things did you and your wife do in your spare time in the ‘50s and ‘60s?
Ballard: Well, I guess bridge playing was one, and social events. We went—there was—they had a group that she was involved in called the Fireside Group that had functions and went camping and things like that. But we played a lot of bridge then.
O’Reagan: Where did you live?
Ballard: Well, I was living in the dormitories, of course, when we were married. I lived in North Richland in the women’s barracks for a short time until the rooms became available in the dormitories in Richland. That’s where I was living when we got married. Of course, housing was another whole story. You had to put your name on a list to get a house. They were all assigned by the government. All the housing was, of course, controlled and owned by the government. So you had to get your name on the waiting list to get a house. We were fortunate; we got a duplex, a C house up on Wright Avenue. I got that assigned in less than a month before we were married. So when we were married, we had a two-bedroom duplex house up there available. That’s where we moved in and lived there until 1957 when the government decided to disperse the property. They started selling vacant lots in 1957. We were a junior tenant in the duplex, so we couldn’t make an offer on the duplex. The senior tenants had the right to buy the duplex. So I was quite aggressive in my ownership philosophy, decided to buy a lot. We purchased the lot on Newcomer, the first property that was sold. And we built a house. I started building in March of 1958. As a matter of fact, we built—our house was the third privately built house in Richland. We had a house and were living in it before Richland was incorporated. They incorporated the city in July of ’58. That was of course the second official designation as a corporation because Richland, of course was a corporation—I mean an incorporated city before the government took it over in ’43. We built that house and I have pictures that I brought of the fact it was one of the first ones in Richland. And we’re still living in the same house. I don’t know what that says, but [LAUGHTER] I guess stability for one thing.
O’Reagan: Were you involved in local politics at all?
Ballard: In what?
O’Reagan: In local politics at all?
Ballard; No, not really. They asked me a few times if I wouldn’t run for the city council, but I never did. No, I’m not a politician. I didn’t want to get involved in that.
O’Reagan: So you described a number of different jobs you were doing over the first two decades or so that you were here? Could you walk us through, at least for one of those, what was sort of an average work day like?
Ballard: Well, let me see. There was one—I guess all of them were similar in a lot of respects. I was doing—on those jobs, I was doing project engineering. And that meant the coordination of, and the I guess you’d call it management, although there was, of course, the organization like GE, there’s so many levels of management that comes through that it’s a little hard to say you managed it, because you have so much supervision and overhead actions that are taken on a project, for example. But on most projects, the engineer—the project engineer would write the project proposal based on what the technical department would have as input for a required facility, for example. Like the high temperature lattice test reactor, the physics department had specified the programs that they were involved in would want to look in more detail at the lattice spacing in graphite reactors, for example. So they would write a document which would specify what their objective was and what their basic criteria was for that facility. And project people would issue—maybe take that and issue an order for another group to do the detailed process—conceptual design, or do it themselves. We’d do it sometimes on small projects. We had projects all the way from modify one laboratory all the way up to a whole facility. So it’s hard to describe the same process for all of them. But it was office work, engineering work. Some of the times I was in a design group where we actually doing detailed design work. But most of my work was in the project engineering field where we were seeing the work done by others. Or specifying details or managing the people that were doing the detailed design work. But it was office work, and of course when construction started, that’s when the project engineers were more in control, because they were directing the contractors as far as the field work was concerned. It was always an interesting job, an interesting challenge, I thought, preparing contract bid packages. Office work, lots of times the projects were out in the field, of course, out in the Area. We’d drive government cars to go to work. That was an advantage. Of course being in engineering rather than operations where you had more control of your time from the standpoint of individual management. Because we’d use government cars for transportation. We didn’t have computers in the early stages, obviously. When they came out with DSIs, Don’t Say It In Writing, that was a big move, too. [LAUGHTER] But certainly a lot of progress and a lot of technology changes over the years.
O’Reagan: How much were security or classification a part of your work?
Ballard: Well, it was certainly in overview all the time. All the documents, if a job had classified work on it, you had to get the documents classified, and follow the restrictions for those particular elements or documents, whatever’s involved. Most of the time, of course, construction was not too rigidly controlled or administered, I guess. In later years, because the, for example, research work was not really high classified. Most—a lot of it wasn’t. But it was something that was always there. Of course the badging was always—I remember one time incident I had which was funny—rather humorous. I was in a meeting out in one of the hundred areas, in a back room in some building and we were having a discussion. All of the sudden a door burst open and two patrolmen came in and said, where’s Del Ballard?! I’m over here. [LAUGHTER] Hey, come with me! They took me by the arms and whisked me outside and outside the badge house. I said, what’s going on? What’s the problem? They said, you don’t have a badge! I said, what do you mean I don’t got a badge. I looked at it and it was somebody else’s badge—name on it. They had given me the wrong badge! [LAUGHTER] So they were, I guess, vigilant in their control. But some of the times you thought it was a little overreach. It was always there, that’s for sure.
O’Reagan: You mentioned a couple jobs not necessarily at Hanford—I think you said Idaho Falls at one point, or other locations around?
Ballard: Yes, we had a project—I guess I sort of skipped over that—in the Engineering Test Reactor in Idaho Falls. The fuels people here—research people—wanted to do some testing in the Engineering Test Reactor with certain issues or problems that they were trying to develop from the fuel technology. So we put in two high pressure loops over there. Again, I was the project person on it. I didn’t do the design work, I did the procurement and the construction management. Philips Petroleum was the operating contractor over there at the Engineering Test Reactor. So I went over there and saw that those loops were completed and put in place and in operation. It was in 1958. I spent, well, most of that year over there, back and forth. My wife was really unhappy, because that was the year that we had started our house. So I had—coming home on weekends and trying to keep that sorted out. Because we had a foreman working with the carpenters building the house. So it was kind of stressful for her. Yeah, and then I had to go back for the next year after that for some cleanup work on the project. It was another project that was managed by Hanford, but installing a reactor over there.
O’Reagan: I’m curious how sort of insular Hanford was, versus how much it was common for people to get advice from outside of the Area, or to travel to different facilities and learn what they were doing, or share what you were doing with others?
Ballard: Well, I think that’s probably more prevalent in the technical field than it is in the construction area. Yeah, there certainly was in a nuclear complex, there was—and we did have travels. I did visit some other sites. Occasionally the laboratories on some of the projects we had. But most of that was done by the technical department, not the engineering department.
O’Reagan: How much has the community changed, and in any particular ways during the time you’ve lived here?
Ballard: Well, it’s gone from a small community to a much higher-traffic area than it used to be. But the people say it’s still pretty mild. Of course I’ve traveled to Los Angeles quite a bit; I had relatives in Los Angeles. And I’d grow accustomed to that mainly down there too. But it’s still—the Tri-Cities is still a nice place to live, I think. It doesn’t have a lot of the big city hubbub that other places do, but it certainly has changed a lot from what it was when I came. My wife came in 1944. Of course that was when it was sand and dust piles and no trees and no grass. It was a lot like that when I came, too, although it was developing. But the first few years that the Manhattan Project workers were here, they had some pretty rough goes. Of course the government would operate a city was an entirely different situation than we have now with private ownership and private management of the company—or local management of the company there. When the government operated the city, it was—you’ve heard these stories before, I know. Even lightbulbs were changed by the employees of the government. [LAUGHTER] So that was a big change. But when we got married we were renting from the government but as soon as they sold the houses we built our own and were on our own. So we’ve lived pretty much as a private city in all of our married life. So that hasn’t been a major change.
O’Reagan: Anything else—nothing else in particular I’m fishing for here—did anything else come to mind, as far as changes in, I don’t know, spirit of work at Hanford or changes in the communities?
Ballard: Well, the government management of the Hanford site has certainly undergone lots of changes, much as our society has, I think, over the last 50 years. When GE operated the plant, I felt and a lot of us felt that the program was defined in general in scope and the contractor was given a block of money and there they went. They did the job. They didn’t have the oversight or the detail management or the daily exchange as much with the government, I think, as they do now. I think that’s been a change in philosophy or change in detail of management more. A lot of it is because the public’s been more closely involved. Like the different committees that are involved in the oversight with the DoE that they didn’t have at that time. Of course when the Manhattan Project started, it was even further away than that. Nobody outside the Project knew what was being done. They were building the atomic bomb and nobody knew was done except the organization involved in it. Now, anything the government does it’s public knowledge and has 100 different reviews over a period of a decade before they get anything done. [LAUGHTER]
O’Reagan: Of course all these decades we’re talking about here are during the Cold War, and nuclear weapons are wrapped up in a lot of that and nuclear power. Was that ever something that was on your mind, or that were you aware of? Or was that just something that was going on far away?
Ballard: No, I think the Cold War and the conflict with Russia was well-known because of all the cautions and concerns about the atomic weapons and people—during the crisis that peaked in the early ‘60s and we were in hard conflict with Russia. A lot of concern about what might happen. It was a different era and there was a lot of awareness of the potential that there could be a nuclear conflict.
O’Reagan: Did it ever impact your life, or your wife’s life more or less directly?
Ballard: Well, I don’t think we—we thought we were protected, we thought we had the national security to take care of it. And I guess we didn’t really worry about it—it was something you didn’t really dwell on, I don’t think. Although they told the students and the kids—some people did build bomb shelters. My neighbor, Dr. Petty, they had one at their house under the lawn in the front yard. When they built the house, they put in a bomb shelter.
Ballard: Nobody knew about it but them, but I knew about it. [LAUGHTER]
O’Reagan: Did you ever see the inside of the shelter?
Ballard: I never was in it, no. But I know it’s there.
O’Reagan: Let’s see. So I guess we’ve sort of covered this. Could you describe the ways in which security and or secrecy at Hanford impacted your work?
Ballard: Well, I guess from the work that I did in the engineering specifications and drawings and documents that related to projects, we had to worry about the classification on them. You had to worry about the access—access to different projects at different facilities. Of course you had to have the right clearance. So it was a restraint on work in some respects. But it wasn’t a major impact, I don’t think.
O’Reagan: In more recent years—well I guess I don’t know how long—you’ve been working with the B Reactor Museum Association and other groups interested in the history of the local community. Can you tell me how you got involved with that and sort of the history of that?
Ballard: Sure can. I retired in ’89. And then as I said, I went back to work on a part-time basis. But during that period, the Environmental Impact Statements had been written, and the mission at Hanford was changing from production to cleanup. All the documents and all the philosophy that was being disseminated was, we were going to tear everything down and dispose of everything in the Project. I was the representative to the Tri-City Technical Council. It was a group of only local affiliate—all local agent—sections or groups from the technical society’s engineering—civil, mechanical, electrical, nuclear, women’s organizations—all the technical organizations had what they called a Tri-City Technical Council. And we met monthly and addressed the issues for technology dissemination or issues that might affect the community from what we might recommend or so forth. From that group, we learned—we knew what the DoE was getting into, transition-wise into the cleanup of the site. They were going to tear everything down. And we said, well, we don’t want that to happen to some of these historic facilities. The B Reactor, for example, was the world’s first production reactor. And it was very consequential from the history, both of our nation and the world, as far as that. And also the kick-off for nuclear power. So we said, we ought to do something about that. So we formed a committee. I was one of the people of that committee. And we met in July of 1990, was our first meeting. We talked about an organization and how we might form a group that would lead toward the preservation of B Reactor. We decided to form an association. So we had an attorney draw up our bylaws and we formed an organization called the B Reactor Museum Association. We got our state corporate action—I forget what word they use to describe the initiation of the organization in January of 1991. But I consider the organization being formed in 1990. And our objective was to educate the public about the historical significance of B, and to do what we could to preserve the reactor, to see that it was preserved. To gain access and to develop exhibits and so forth for the exhibits. So that was where we started, was way back in 1990. And all during the decade of the ‘90s, we were meeting and fighting with the Department of Energy because they had milestones after milestones that were established on the cleanup and disposal of all the reactors. B was put into the list later on, but it was always on the list for cocooning, as all the reactors would be. We got those milestones extended over the years. And finally, with persuasion and meeting with legislators, Sid Morris and I met with Sid Morris and—I don’t remember the year now, but it was one of the first times that he was sympathetic for the theme that we preserve the historical relic. And of course, later on Doc Hastings. We had many meetings and persuasions with all the legislators. Of course, Cantwell and Murray got on board over the years. It later progressed into the fact that we want to have a study to see if the Parks Service could preserve it. One time during the late ‘70s, I believe it was, several people thought that the REACH would be the only chance of preserving the B Reactor. They would be the ones that would sponsor the tours and provide for the access and so forth. I said, no, I said, I don’t believe that. I said, I think we want to get the Parks Service involved because I don’t know that even the REACH is going to have the muscle to do it. So we got meetings with the legislators and we got a study authorized for the Parks Service study. That was after two or three years of trials and tribulations. It was finally approved. When the Parks Service first came out—you’re probably aware of the fact that they didn’t have—they just had Los Alamos as the sole main site for the park. And we said, that would never sell. It had to include all the sites: Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Hanford. So they revised their study and made it a three-site park. It was eventually approved and then later legislation—Doc Hastings and Cantwell got the park legislation authorized. BRMA of course has been involved—has been the agency chipping at their heels all the way through all this. [LAUGHTER] We finally got credit for it. For many years, they didn’t really recognize BRMA as the organization that made it happen, but I think we had an awful lot to do with what made it happen.
O’Reagan: Were you ever associated with any of the other local history-related groups?
Ballard: Well, yes. We were affiliated with the CREHST museum. We worked with them and the REACH also. But we were the ones that were pushing—BRMA—the B Reactor specifically. We still have a lot of partnerships. We had memorandums of understanding with DoE and the CREHST and with—I guess we don’t have one with the REACH but we still meet with them. Matter of fact, they’re working on this new exhibit for the Cold War exhibit. Of course they’ve got—there’s four of us from BRMA that are on those meetings, but there’s a lot of other community leaders involved, too, obviously. And that was what happened is we were the—BRMA was the organization that was in the trenches early on. But later on, the whole community and the region and the legislators all got on board. So there was a lot of emphasis and support for getting it preserved and getting it converted, or made into a national historic park. Have you seen the plaque out there at B Reactor that says we’re the ones that initiated the plan to preserve it. So, yeah, I’m quite proud of that. I was one of the founding members of the organization.
O’Reagan: Why did it matter to you?
Ballard: Well, it’s important, I think, to preserve the history. It’s a significant part of the nation’s history. And if it’s going to be educational for the—a good place for the students, the young kids to come up and learn what the nuclear industry’s all about. I still say—and I’ve said for twenty years—that—I don’t know how many years down the road it’s going to be, but I think nuclear power’s going to be a major source of energy. Commercial electrical as well as all the other fields—medical and research. It still has an important place to play in our total nation’s history, I think. And we need to know how it started and what problems it caused. Let’s not generate those again.
O’Reagan: What would you—
Ballard: So that’s the story that’s going to be told in the park, and I think a lot of people—that’s some of the emphasis. People come out and see the comments in the paper, all the negative comments. Well, that’s true, but the story’s still there and needs to be told.
O’Reagan: What would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford or living in Richland during the Cold War?
Ballard: Well, I don’t know. It was a challenge, I guess. The success—I’m glad that we developed the bomb rather than Hitler. Like how Fermi said, he said when he was working on fission in Italy in the late ‘30s—the 1930s, yes. He always said he was eternally grateful that he didn’t learn how to control fission then. He said if he had have, Hitler would have started the war with them, rather than us ending the war with them. So I think they need to know what the conditions were at the time that the Manhattan Project was built and what the world was undergoing at the time.
O’Reagan: What else should I be asking about? What else is there that we should discuss?
Ballard: I don’t know! I think I pretty well spilled everything I know. Unless—I don’t know. I could mention about my—as you know, I was not here during the Manhattan Project. It was over when I came in 1951. My wife and her family was a different story. They came with DuPont in 1944. So her dad was a DuPont employee and he came out here at that time and saw the conditions in employment problems that they had at that time. He was a machinist and had actually directed the tech shops out there for many years. So he probably—that family has more history of the Manhattan Project than I do. Mine is just history. It was—I’ve had an interesting career and I guess I’ve enjoyed it here and it’s been a wonderful place to live. I think it will continue to be if we have people that keep our city from growing into something that it shouldn’t be. [LAUGHTER] But I guess I don’t have any new subjects to talk about unless you have new questions.
O’Reagan: I think—that’s my list for now, but thank you so much for being here.
Ballard: Well, it’s been a pleasure.
O’Reagan: All right, great.
Tom Hungate: I had a question.
Hungate: One of the jobs you had—you had a wide variety of jobs; all of them sound fascinating to me.
Ballard: Oh, they’re interesting, yes.
Hungate: One caught my ear, because I’ve seen these. Tell me what it was like when you said you worked on the K Reactors to lay—you said you were laying up the block. Tell—describe what that process was.
Ballard: Well, I wasn’t involved in that deeply as a lot of the fellows were. I can’t remember his name right now, but the primary engineer that had the graphite technology. That graphite was machined in the 101 Building. Well, actually the old reactor’s was in the old 101 Building in White Bluffs. They built a new building, the 2101 Building in the 200 East Area which was specifically for the graphite machining and layup—test layups. Those blocks were built to very tight tolerances. The graphite came in in square blocks from the manufacturers and they had to be machined to the final configuration. Those tolerances were very, very tight, like plus or minus two mils or five mils at the most. The blocks were basically four-and-three-quarters inches by four-and-three-quarters inches by 40-some inches long—the main block. After they were machined to very close tolerances, they were test stacked in the 2101 Building, laid up ten tiers to be sure that the tolerances of the assembly were precise. And from there they were packaged on pallets in sequence that they would go in, in reverse sequence, so when they took them off they were ready to be stacked up. And then they were shipped—brought into the reactor vessel, lowered down into the open process area in the center part of the core and pulled off the pallets and just stacked, piece by piece. There’s pictures available that you see of the old reactors. There may be some of K Reactors too, I don’t know, but show inside the reactors when they’re laying up with the blocks. Of course everybody’s in whites. Your cleanliness control’s very important. And of course, obviously, sequence was very, very important, to have all the blocks in there. But from my perspective, I just watched—I wasn’t doing the work, I was just part of the process that was putting them in there. It was very closely controlled and very temperature controlled—well, no, I don’t know about the temperature. The building was under limited temperature control. But the cleanliness was strictly controlled, and the workers of course had been assigned with each pallet that came in, they knew where it went and how it was to be laid. But that was the same process that was used in all the reactors for graphite layup. But that’s amazing, the way they built those things. You have all the penetrations, like—I can’t give you the numbers. K Reactors were bigger than the old original reactor. The original reactor had 2,004 process tubes. You probably all know the story of that, too. [LAUGHTER] But what I started to say was, the alignment of the holes in the blocks, of course, had to line up with the holes of the penetrations of front and rear faces precisely when they put them in. So it was like putting a watch together on a 40-foot-square [LAUGHTER]—40-foot cube. Very precise work.
O’Reagan: Were there any mistakes?
O’Reagan: Did you ever see any mistakes?
Ballard: Well, no, but if there were they were corrected as they went, because they had two or three levels of inspection verified that they were going in properly. There may have been some, I don’t know. I was not in direct control of that job. I was more on the K Reactor, I just was in oversight. I don’t remember what my position was at that time, but—the B Reactor, for example, you know what happened there when they started it up? It died because of the xenon poison. They didn’t have enough neutron flux levels to override that poisoning effect. That’s when they had to add the additional fuel channels outside the original 1,500 that they had that the physicist said was adequate to drive the reactor. So that was an interesting job. They had to—the later reactors, they had more knowledge of what the requirements were. So the design wasn’t—it didn’t create a problem on initial startup like B Reactor did.
O’Reagan: We were trying to outline or highlight—what sort of innovations came out of Hanford, what sort of inventions did you see—what new knowledge or techniques did you see created at Hanford?
Ballard: Well, there again, you need to talk to the physicists and chemists and people that were in the fuel design areas. There were so many changes made to the fuel designs. They went from—of course these were only applicable to the graphite reactors the modern fuel originally were eight inches long when the distortion that occurred in the graphite, that was because of the structure change due to the radiation in the graphite. The channels were distorted to the point where some were so crooked that the eight-inch channel—the fuel wouldn’t go through the channel. SO they went to four-inch people—four-inch long fuel assemblies in some of those bad channels. And then of course another knowledge was the design of fuel assembly, you went from strictly external core where they just had an annulus of water around the outside cooling the fuel assembly. It went to a center core; they had internal cooling—a flow channel through the center of the element. But as far as the physics of the elements, they went from totally natural uranium, originally 238, all naturally derived with 0.7% 235. They went to some enrichment in the reactors to increase the power level. But there was physics changes all along, as far as being able to control and just knowledge of impurities and what the effects were in the nuclear physical—the physics involved in the reactor. But of course, then the Breeder Program, we didn’t talk about that. There’s a lot of advancements made there. FFTF was a marvelous machine and it produced a lot of new information from greener technology. That FFTF was—I spent ten years on development—seven on development and three on construction, so. But I wasn’t—I’m not a physicist and wasn’t into the technology as much as the people—I was more into construction, design and construction.
O’Reagan: A lot of knowledge there, too, that you—hands-on knowledge.
Ballard: Well, I always pride myself on being able to fix problems. We had a lot of things on assembly or putting the stuff together that just—problems or interferences or arrangements that weren’t thought of in design that we were able to resolve in the field, and that’s why I got into—I’ve been building houses for Habitat now for the last 15 years. [LAUGHTER] It’s a little different from putting reactors together, but I get a lot of comments from the instruction people in Habitat. This is not a reactor; we don’t need to have those tolerances. [LAUGHTER] But I say if you make it right, it looks a lot nicer and it goes together better.
O’Reagan: All right, I guess that’s the list of questions I’ve got. I guess we’ll end it once again.
Ballard: Okay, well, appreciate.
View interview on Youtube.
K East Reactor
FFTF (Fast Flux Test Facility)
FMEF (Fuels and Materials Exam Facility)
200 East Area