Interview with Tom Marceau

Dublin Core


Interview with Tom Marceau


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Historic preservation
Conservation and restoration


Tom Marceau moved to Richland, Washington in 1993. Tom worked on the Hanford Site from 1993-2016 doing historical preservation and archaeological work.

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


Tom Marceau


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Robert Franklin: All right. My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Thomas Marceau on February 13th, 2017. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Tom about his experiences working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?

Tom Marceau: Yes. Thomas E. Marceau. M-A-R-C-E-A-U.

Franklin: And Thomas, T-H-O-?

Marceau: T-H-O-M-A-S. I didn’t know we got down to that level of detail. Dude!

Franklin: Yeah, we’re official. So with that out of the way, Tom, tell me how and why you came to the Hanford Site.

Marceau: Ah! How and why I came to the Hanford Site. I was out of work [LAUGHTER] back in 1993. I had just been—I’d lost my job from the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office due to budget cutting. I had known a lot of people across the country, because I had been involved in the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers. Friends put my name out, and one of those places was a project in Bend, Oregon. Through that job in Bend, Oregon, I met some more people. And basically, that job put me in a position when Bechtel got the contract for the Hanford Site cleanup, I was their only archaeologist. Of 30,000 employees, they had one full-time archaeologist; that was me. And they transferred me up here to begin working on and setting up the Environmental Restoration Contract, the ERC contract, that brought Bechtel to the Hanford Site in 1994. So I’ve been here from the beginning of the Bechtel contract. My job was to set up the cultural resources program and get it running for Bechtel on the Hanford Site.

Franklin: And so the cultural resources program was part of this environmental—

Marceau: Yes. The cultural resources program was part of the environmental program. We had the ecological and biological folks, the archaeologist, as well; regulatory groups for all of the environmental regulations, waste management—we’re all part of a large environmental regulatory group for Bechtel.

Franklin: So a lot of your work, then, I’d guess, was probably concerning NEPA activities—National Environmental Preservation Act?

Marceau: Protection Act. National Environmental—oh, actually it’s Policy Act. Yeah, we did NEPA. But more of the work we did was under the NHPA, the National Historic Preservation Act.

Franklin: So can you just talk me through kind of some of the work you did for Bechtel as the only archaeologist?

Marceau: For here in the Hanford Site?

Franklin: Yes.

Marceau: Yes. Basically, my job was to protect 11,000 years of prehistory while the Site was in the process of cleaning up 50 years of nuclear weapons production. Basically, that meant working with the projects to site the location for where the infrastructure would be located for the cleanup projects, where the lay-down areas would be, where the storage areas might be, where the borrow areas might be located, how the machinery would be laid out, and where the construction crews would be. All of that was conducted in consultation with biological and cultural program staff to make sure that we weren’t doing damage to things that we were trying to protect while we were cleaning up the Site.

So the work was primarily to go out in the field prior to the project, to look at the lay of the land, look at where the project was going to take place. Of course, do the surface inventories to locate archaeological materials or cultural materials. And to advise the project on the location of these resources and what we thought was good to do to avoid or minimize impact to those resources.

So a lot of negotiation with project managers and with schedulers and with all the people who had to make a project run. We had to make sure that we fit our protective efforts into the project schedule. It was very obvious that the contract was set up to clean up the Hanford Site. And our job, then, was to facilitate cleanup and also protect the cultural resources at the same time. So there are lots of times where we had good working relationships; there’s lots of times we just came to loggerheads. It really depended on the specific program manager.

Franklin: Can you give me an example of each of those?

Marceau: We would have a project where we needed to walk-downs of certain buildings, and Project Manager A, for example, was not keen on this idea of outside folks coming into the building. Or didn’t see the need for what we were doing, because we were “holding up” his project by taking his staff and his time to do a walk-down of a building that he didn’t understand the need for. The job, in that situation, was to work with that manager to get him to appreciate what the requirements were, why we were doing it, what the legal basis for that activity was, and to help build him up to be part of the team to work with us. The other example of that is we would have Project Manager B who understood what the process was, was interested in the site’s history or the site’s resources, and helped us do things we could not do ourselves.

In terms of what we did, there was no funding for what we did. So in this particular interview, we’re talking here about walk-downs and walkthroughs over buildings to acquire historic materials—there was no mandate for that. We had a legal document that said we had to do it, but there was no funding for that, there was no work package for that. The environmental group were the only people who were pushing this, because everyone else had to pay for it. If I had to do a survey in Building 313, then the Building 313 manager had to take time from his guys to put them out there. So we had environmental protection, radiological protection—his workers there that were with us. I mean, it was a big deal; you don’t just get up and walk into a building. You have to have the team assembled, you have to have the manager’s approval, you have to have all the necessary folks lined up. And that meant that someone someplace else had to alter their schedule to allow us to get in to do work. So it wasn’t always very easy to get into some of these buildings.

Just getting the attempt set up often took months, just working with program managers. Every time we had a new shift in project managers—and for a while the Bechtel contract seemed to be the place where people came to retire from Bechtel. We had many managers here over the 22 years that I worked for Bechtel that would come a year, a year and a half, and retire. And then someone else would come, and he’d work two, two and a half years and retire. We seem to recycle through a lot of top guys in the ERC contract. And that was true of the Washington Closure contract as well. But every time you’d get a new guy at the top of the chain, you have to start working with that individual again to essentially establish all the groundwork and explain the program and get them to understand what it was we were doing and why we did it. That was all of cultural resource work as well as the building walkthroughs.

Franklin: Wow. What could somebody who was on your side—say, a project manager who supports your interests—what could they help you do that you might not have gotten during a normal walkthrough?

Marceau: They would have folks on the team who had worked in the building. See, we always tried to put together a team on a walkthrough that included at least one individual who was a subject matter expert in that building, who had worked in that building for a number of years. And that was primarily to help us understand what we were looking at. So if you had a good program manager, he knew the folks to look for. He understood the composition of the team. He would help us put together folks who were interested in what we were doing.

And that’s a big difference from the guy who had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into his obligation to fund our activity, who would often put people on the task who literally could care less about what they were doing. So you got a good guy, you’re going to get access to a lot of different places. Other guys are going to tell you, oh, no, you can’t go into that area. We’re dressed in anti-Cs, but oh, no, you can’t visit these areas. Or we don’t have the time. I can only give you 40 minutes for a building, you know, like Plutonium Finishing Plant, that might take you days to go through. So those are the kind of things that you would get both on the good and the bad side. A guy who wanted to help you could really do a lot. And a guy who wanted to stonewall the effort was totally free to do that.

Again, there was no budget for this activity. There was no program for this activity. There was only a signed legal document that said as part of cleaning up the Hanford Site, DOE and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Washington State Historic Preservation officer agree that these things should take place. Try and get that implemented when there is no funding for this, and people sometimes don’t see the need for this. Well, we’re taking the funds away from our guys who are actually doing the work to let you go in there and collect some artifacts. You know, that doesn’t always sit well with some people who are looking at schedules.

Franklin: Do you find that that is a common situation throughout the world of cultural resources, that mandates are often left unfunded?

Marceau: Absolutely. I’ve been doing historic preservation work since 1980, when I started in the Wyoming State Historic Preservation office. The first thing I had to do after I set up the program from the State of Wyoming was then go out to the industrial/commercial industries and sell it. We had major mining going on in Wyoming—coal mining. We had major energy development—gas and oil wells. And none of those guys had been told before that there was a cultural resource requirement that preceded their work. Try selling cultural resource preservation to the Wyoming Cattlemen’s Association or to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Associations when you are just being grilled incessantly about, why are we doing this? Why do we have to do this? Why do we have to pay for this?

So this has been a part of cultural resource management since it became public archaeology back in 1974 with the Moss-Bennett bill. And the activity became the responsibility of the project proponent to pay for it. So right from the get-go there’s been pushback on the part of the folks who are paying for these projects, because they see this now as another regulatory burden, if that’s your point of view. If you are interested in the environment, then you are less likely to say, I don’t want that done; you’re likely to get people out there to do it.

So for the last 35, 36 years in this industry, doing public archaeology, I’ve seen the spectrum from people who are really interested and want to be there themselves, to folks who could care less and will do everything they can to stop you from doing your job. That attitude was here on the Hanford Site as well.

Franklin: How would you often—what tools and methods and information would you use to find out some of that 11,000 years of history at the Hanford Site? Kind of describe your toolkit to me.

Marceau: Toolkit consists of two things. One of them is the published literature. Published, meaning it’s in the academic press or it’s in the released public press, or also it’s in the gray literature, which are all the cultural resource reports that are filed but are not published. As part of the regulatory program, you have to produce a report, but seldom do you have funding to publish those reports. So there’s a great deal of literature that you would use.

When I first came here in 1994, the first thing I did is convince my manager that he should set up a contract so I could pay PNNL—a cultural resource program lead—to give me a guided tour of the Hanford Site. So for one week, that’s all I did was went out with Jim Chatters, who had headed the program for PNNL beginning in 1987, and got an on-the-ground introduction to the archaeology of where it should be. That was critical, because I came from the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Montana; I had never worked riverine locations. I didn’t know what a riverine site looked like; I didn’t know what a fishing camp looked like, et cetera, et cetera. Totally different types of sites here in the basin than there are in Wyoming or Montana, or even back east where I worked in New York and Massachusetts—New England states. You’ve got to learn.

So you do book-learning, you do literature reviews, and then you find people that can help you. That means going out and actually walking the ground, seeing for yourself what’s out there, touching the artifacts, and understanding how it’s distributed across the land, what the cultural systems were, what the subsistence system was, what the settlement patterns were. You have to learn that both academically and in-person by walking the areas. That’s kind of your toolkit.

Franklin: Hm. How did you present this information to different project managers when there was going to be a conflict with the location of a project or an activity with a historic resource? How would you bring that to people?

Marceau: We generally tried to work with the project as part of the project development team, when things really got moving. It took a couple of years for Bechtel to get beyond the planning stages to the actual execution of work. We insisted, through my managers in the environmental section, that we became part of the planning teams. The best way to ensure that you integrate your work with what other people need to do is get on the planning team. That was an instance, again, of the difference between a good project manager and a not-so-good project manager, their willingness to let you sit down and become part of the planning team. If you work with the project, you can generally get them to understand that. There’s lots of one-on-one discussions, there’s lots of times I would go and give a discussion to the managers and the workers on the importance of the area they were working in. The prehistoric history of that piece of ground relative to the grounds around us, give an overview of the prehistory of the Hanford Site. Develop context so the project workers and the project managers could understand that this activity on this piece of land was connected to a much broader piece of prehistory in terms of how Native Americans used this land area. So there was lots of education, there was lots of discussions. There was lots of bringing people out and showing them the areas.

Part of the specific project was, we always did a walk-down of the project areas. So the archaeologists and biologists and the construction crews and the foremen and everyone would go out as a small group. And we would actually walk down the entire project area. We would have gone out—the cultural staff and the biological staff—a couple days or so earlier to get our own take of the land and locate resources and what might be out there. And then the group meeting was to discuss with them, here’s a resource here, here’s a resource there, here’s where you want to put your infrastructure. If you want to maintain the integrity of these resources, if you move this particular element 100 meters, 200 meters, then we’re fine. If you don’t move it, then we’re going to start looking at mitigations and discussions, and we’re going to get into the 106 process, and that could take anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more.

So the discussion was generally in terms of on the ground, where you can put your materials and your crews and what was on the ground. And activities that would follow, in terms of what we would need to do to mitigate. So we were explain the difference between a major impact to a very significant archaeological resource, or a minor impact to a non-significant resource. So we tried to work with them in terms of how this might affect their schedule and their budget.

Franklin: Oh. Can you—sorry, excuse me. Do you have any examples of when a major resource was going to be threatened by a project and there was some sort of mitigation or maybe even creative mitigation that happened to—you know, avoid the impact of that?

Marceau: I can give you two examples. One was a concrete result, and one was a precedent-setting result.

Franklin: Great.

Marceau: We were doing work—or we were doing work cleaning up on the Lewis Canal in the 100-F area. And at the exit of the canal where it drew into the Columbia River, we had discovered and archaeological resource. Brand new site, hadn’t been discovered before. We, as part of the project survey, were the ones that found this location. It turned out to be a site with a 3,000-year history. That project allowed us to do 33 test pits and excavation—it’s the biggest excavation I’ve conducted on the Hanford Site.

But we learned so much from that excavation. We had tribal involvement; we had tribal workers out there with us. We had people who had always wanted to do archaeology; we would let them come out and, supervised, do some work as well. It was a learning experience for a lot of people on how archaeology is done and what the importance of it was. That demonstrated to a lot of folks—this was 2000, so it wasn’t that long after we had been actually doing very intensive remedial actions. Demonstrated to folks that we could do major archaeological work on a very important site and not interfere with their projects. We worked it so that we began in February; their project was going to begin in August. We were done by early July. But we had worked with the project to understand their schedule; they understood our schedule. We sequenced everything out. Everything worked perfectly.

There was another example in which we were going to be working with cemeteries. There are five ethnohistorically known cemeteries on the Hanford Site, which means that people know about these locations.

Franklin: And are these—sorry to interrupt—are these Native or Euro-American?

Marceau: Yes, these are Native American cemeteries. There are five Native American cemeteries on the Hanford Site which have been posted and marked. They were marked in the ‘70s when the Wanapum people were finally allowed to come onto the Site and mark the cemeteries. Because that was their biggest concern, was, please don’t disturb our dead, please don’t disturb our ancestors. So they allowed them to come out in the ‘70s and they actually marked the cemetery areas. We were going to be doing work in 100-K—major contamination areas for overflows on 118-K1 and 118-K2 trenches and cribs. Downslope of those areas was one of these known, posted cemeteries.

We anticipated that we might have to do something with the bodies that were in that cemetery. We had no idea how deep the surface contamination was and how close to the river it had spread, because, again, we’re talking sites up here where the waste site was, the river’s down here, and you have this slope. All the water’s going to be moving downhill towards the river. So we determined that we should have a policy for how we would deal with contaminated human remains. This was the touchiest issue that I’ve ever worked on in my entire 44 years as an archaeologist, is working with Native American communities here. It took us a year and a half, several major workshops, to work out a policy on what we would do with contaminated human remains, this being their most sacred and most important cultural resource, their ancestors.

It worked out very well. It became a model that DOE exported to other sites. It’s been a model that I have suggested could be used by any site that has radiological areas that need to be exhumed or need to be cleaned up where human remains might be present. And it became a very good model for how to work with the tribes on getting something done that initially they did not want to even discuss. It took me a good chunk of that year and a half just to get everyone down on the table to talk about this. I would say probably six months’ worth of negotiations before the year and a half really began on the work was to work with the Native American communities to say, we really need to talk about the potential for contaminated human remains. Very, very touchy subject. But something that you could work with and something that you could get done.

Franklin: Well, so, what was the policy that was eventually worked out?

Marceau: The policy basically is that we would train Native Americans so that they could enter contamination zones. They would then be the ones who would box up and remove the human remains. We got DOE to issue a policy out of the headquarters that said that human remains would never be considered radiological waste. That was another first for this particular project, was to get word from headquarters that they were not going to treat human remains as contaminated waste. Imagine how horrible that would have been to the Native American community, to see their ancestors put into ERDF, or put into some regulated contamination storage area. Was not going to happen. DC issued a policy saying that they understood the importance of human remains and they would never be considered contaminated waste to be disposed of. That helped a lot. I kind of lost the train of thought right there, so you can edit this one.

Franklin: That’s okay. Did—ah. [LAUGHTER] Did that policy actually go into effect then?

Marceau: Oh, the policy. Yes, the policy went into effect. It was initially attached as a stipulation to the 100-K area for pump-and-treat remedial action project. So that’s where it sits in terms of where it is in the administrative record. But that policy became the policy site-wide for DOE for how to handle contaminated human remains. So while it started with a specific project, it became incorporated into the cultural resource management plan that DOE has for sitewide treatment of human remains.

Franklin: Great. Sorry, I’ve been writing some questions occasionally. How did you—knowing that relations between tribal governments and tribal members and the US government are often strained due to long historical precedent, how did you approach—as the archaeologist and kind of responsible, on the front lines of identifying and helping mitigate impacts on prehistory, Native American remains, how did you approach tribes and how did you form this working relationship with them? I just was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your interactions with tribal groups.

Marceau: Yeah. I took my role as the liaison between the Native American community and the Hanford Site projects for Bechtel and Washington Closure and MSA very seriously. It is a government-to-government relationship. I’m not a government official. The thing that I did is I worked at the personal level. I made it a point to get to know the Native Americans that I was going to be working with.

Very first time, I had only been here a couple months in 1994, and I went to my very first meeting with tribal peoples. And I was sitting there, doing what a good white guy should do, just kind of sit and listen. And at some point, something was said and I offered an opinion. And one of the Wanapum folks who were there just kind of looked at me, and said, who are you, and why should I listen to anything you have to say? Immediately, struck me with there are things here that—I am not in Wyoming anymore. See, I had done this with the Northern Arapaho and with the North River Shoshone and with some of the Lakota bands when I worked in Wyoming. Following that same model, I realized that I’ve got to start all over again here with the Plateau tribes. I’d never worked with any of these guys.

Right after that meeting, I sought out that individual and I offered to take him to lunch. And we sat down and we sat for an hour, and we had a very good exchange between ourselves of who I am and what my interests were, and who he was and what his interests were. And we built up a good start of a relationship right off the bat.

I followed that model pretty much with all the people that I’ve worked with in the Native American community since that time. I attend their ceremonies, I go to their feasts, I go to their funerals, I work with their kids, I give talks in their communities. I made a very strong effort to become personally involved with the communities I was working with. So I could both represent them to the contracting and the construction communities that I work with, and so that I could represent the construction communities to them on a much more personal basis. So my particular bent was to get to know the guys I was going to work with and work out relationships with them. And that spilled over into our professional working relationship.

Now, there’s nothing more stark than going to a meeting and talking to one of the guys you’re working with and having a great friendly conversation and then you sit down at the business table and he’s taking your ass apart. You know? Because we all have a job to do. He’s representing his interests; I’m representing my interest, and we need to negotiate. Regardless of our friendship outside of that meeting, you still have to conduct business. But you know when you’ve got the friendship over here, conducting those negotiations in the business room is a lot different. It’s a lot easier. It makes things happen better.

Franklin: Hmm. I was wondering if you could talk about your efforts to help create or get pieces for the Hanford Collection.

Marceau: Now, we’re coming to it. I thought the talk would be all about that. [LAUGHTER]

Franklin: Well, I figured, you know, for context.

Marceau: You need—no, it’s good. The context is good. We could go on forever on a lot of these things. The original impetus for creating the Hanford Collection derived from the Programmatic Agreement. One of the stipulations that we wrote into the agreement was that DOE would go looking for artifacts from the Manhattan Project and the Cold War in order to retain physical traces of the past.

As an archaeologist, there is no stronger link to the past that you can have than touching the artifact. I’ve had in my hands pieces of stone that people used to make a living over 11,000 years ago. Projectile point that someone hunted with, I’m now holding in my hand over 11,000 years later. That’s an immediate personal touch to the past. Artifacts allow us to physically experience the past through the objects. We’re right there, we’re looking at it, we’re touching it, we’re examining it. All kinds of things can come up. So we understood the importance of coming away from the Hanford Site with materials to interpret the Site in the future years to come.

That being said, we began doing our work on a volunteer basis, which means that my salary was paid to do cultural resource work, and if I could write part of my task for that year as looking for artifacts, then I could be paid some of my time to look for artifacts. It still meant getting together with the business folks and the building owners and the other guys who were controlling the buildings in order to get in there. But we started, and we were taking out materials. Before taking the major effort, there was a workshop that was held that set up the criteria by which artifacts would be selected.

That was a workshop that had representatives from the history of science, history of technology, archivists, curators, conservators, were all part of this work group that set out the criteria for how we would select artifacts. Things made uniquely on the Hanford Site; can’t find this anyplace else because Hanford had to invent it in order to use that particular tool or that object. Things associated with very important personnel or items with people that were really important. Fermi was here onsite. We have some artifacts and some materials that relate to his physics or him being here. So, important persons. Dr. Parker, with all the work that they did on—pioneering work in personal—forgetting the word right now, but nuclear medicine and radiation detection and radiation health physics and health science, a lot of which started here. Things that they created, and relating to that, we would collect. The actual instruments that were used were really critical. Things that reflected everyday life, not only for the workers, in their business hours, but in their personal hours at Hanford Construction Camp became a source of a lot of period materials on people’s lives. Things that explained how this all worked. Native American materials that might be there as well in relation to the historic materials. So the criteria were set up to help us focus on what to collect.

The effort began slowly and on an as-we-could basis, which is what happens when you don’t have a task that’s identified or funded; it’s not in your work order, it’s not in your yearly planning other than, yeah, if you can fit this in, remember, you’ve got to collect artifacts.

Franklin: Do you know about what year that started?

Marceau: We started in 1979—I’m sorry, not 1979—1997. A little bit of inversion there. We started in ’97. The Programmatic Agreement was signed in ’96 and we started collecting artifacts in ’97. We collected them for 17 years until mid-December of 2014, is when we actually ended that effort.

Sometimes we’d go in with a team of folks. There’s only one time that we actually did at as a project. Bechtel managed to secure funding for the central Plateau for the 200 Area when Bechtel still had that area. And we put together and effort where we had a team effort, including a professional photographer who came with us and did perspective corrected black-and-white photographs of these artifacts in place in some of the building interiors. But it was a project that took place in the summer of 2000 where we did a two-month effort to go through all of the chemical processing plants and support facilities for the chemical processing plants.

Obviously, we couldn’t get into a lot of areas. Some of those plants were still in production—PUREX was still in production at the time. Not in ’84, but—some places we could get into better than others. But that was the only time we had an actual project that was set up, funded and scheduled to do searching for artifacts. Almost anytime else, it was who I could talk to on the phone and line up an opportunity to get into a building.

That changed in 2010 when Department of Energy finally appointed a program manager specific for curation activities. Formed a program in MSA specific to curation and gave it a budget and a task to do. That’s where you see, at the end of this, the last four years where all the loose ends got tied up that had been sitting, begging for something to happen for at least 17 years.

Franklin: So really, then, from ’97 until 2010, it was kind of like a semi-volunteer effort, or, it wasn’t an official task; it was where it could be worked in.

Marceau: Where it could be worked in. One of the things that we learned from this is we did not completely understand the aspect of how they demolish a building. We thought if we put down in the Programmatic Agreement, prior to any decommissioning, demolition or demobilization activities, a cultural resource survey walkthrough had to be done, that we would get into buildings when artifacts and materials were still there.

Turns out that buildings are actually cleaned out in the step they call going cold and dark. So looking at the legal requirement, those who didn’t think it was a big issue say, well, we’re not ready for you guys, because we’re not demolishing the building yet. Other people would say, yeah, we should have this as part of the project. Because what we found out was if you wait until the point where we were in the process, buildings were largely cold and dark, which meant they had been stripped out.

Did lots of surveys inside buildings by flashlight with absolutely nothing left in those buildings, because their point of view was, this says before decommissioning activities take place. Well, that means starting to take the building down and planning for its demolition. We really should have been at this step here in the process, which is where they start closing the facility, shutting off power and putting it cold an dark. Because that’s when they start stripping everything out of the building.

We tried, once we discovered that, to change that, to get into that process, but we were never successful. Even DOE, the program manager for DOE could not get that change made. So once that kind of became known, again, that this spectrum of building managers was such that we started getting into buildings earlier, or we’d come up to another cold and dark empty building. So that process, again, was working with people, trying to get them to understand the importance of what we’re doing.

And a lot of folks at the time would say, well, you’ve got the CREHST Museum; they’ve got stuff down there. You don’t need any more stuff. It was one of those how much stuff do you kind of need discussions that you had to have with people. Well, we’re not just trying to fill CREHST; we’re trying to put together a permanent repository. And, oh, by the way, one of the ideas is that people all across the nation, maybe people all across the world at some point, might be interested in the Hanford artifacts. So we need more than just, you know, ten things we can put on the shelf.

Franklin: What role did CREHST serve, vis-à-vis the Hanford Collection?

Marceau: CREHST was part of the collecting team. CREHST was the official repository. If things came off Site, that’s where they would go. CREHST was our conservator for these items. They did take care of some of these items that needed to be stabilized. Some of them looked pretty ragged, but I can’t imagine how much more ragged they would look if CREHST conservators hadn’t been involved in at least arresting some of that effort. They played a big part—they were the experts on my team in terms of handling artifacts, treating artifacts, and conserving artifacts. That was a very critical role that we had when you stop to consider a lot of what we’re dealing here is with metallic machineries: it’s going to rust. Paper needed to be conserved. There were some organic materials that were collected. You know, there’s all kinds of people you need on your teams. For me, CREHST was a vital link in that activity. Not to mention, they kept records. They were the ones who filled out the individual form for each artifact. They were the ones who did the research into what the artifacts were. They were the ones who put together the systems that the databases that we still use now for how you track and view these artifacts. So, I see CREHST as a very integral part to the program that we conducted.

Franklin: Does this way that this collection takes shape kind of influence how many artifacts there are versus the archives section? Because the archive section seems to be definitely not complete as per documenting the archival activity of many of these buildings. It seems to be rather, kind of, gathering what was left over in many cases.

Marceau: Right, right. We seldom had an archivist on our teams. The file cabinets, as we discovered, were often one of the first things that went. Offices and office equipment disappeared because they could be reused. So when they started taking building—planning to take a building down, one of the first things they’d do is they’d empty the offices. All of the materials in file cabinets was tossed, as far as we know. I should say, for the record, I don’t know what happened to most of that materials in the filing cabinets.

I do know that at one point, I went into N Reactor, well before the demolition phase began and I noticed all the offices and all the file cabinets and all the stuff that was there. By the time we actually got into N Reactor to do our review, none of those offices existed the way I had seen them first.

Once we began to understand—again, this is us learning this process, too, over a multiple-year period. Once we began to learn that any time we came across file cabinets, we would just stat packing them up and tagging the file cabinet and taking the records. Because we didn’t know what was in there; we weren’t archivists. And we didn’t know how long those materials were going to last before they disappeared.

So our policy became, collect what you can when you see it, and at some point in time there an archivist will be hired, and he or she’s responsibility will be to go through all that accumulated material and decide what’s important and what’s not, what to shred and what to keep. Our job became one of simply collecting the materials before we saw them disappear.

Franklin: Interesting. And then so what—when CREHST closed down, what did—how did the program transition, then? Can you kind of walk us through that endpoint of your tenure at MSA and also kind of the CREHST Museum closing?

Marceau: Yeah, the CREHST Museum’s closing was unfortunate. As a board of directors member for CREHST, I was one of the team advocating for the retention of CREHST together with the Hanford REACH. I saw—I felt that they could perform unique functions. At the time, the missions were entirely different. Where all the stuff that CREHST had from the Manhattan Project was going to go became very much of a concern. Because the REACH said that they were not going to curate it. They weren’t a collector; they were an exhibition organization whose job was to exhibit materials, not store and collect and curate materials. So, a lot of panic going through everyone in terms of CREHST is closing, the REACH is opening. Okay, we understood that, but we were hoping they might stay.

The resulting activity is that all those actions fell to MSA, and the curation program found itself in a position to have to take on the tasks and responsibilities that had been performed prior to that by CREHST. Our first thought was to get a subcontract together and get people who understood what the roles CREHST had done: a conservator, a curator, a database manager, those kind of folks. Get them back through contract work. That was the impetus for the contract that is now held by Washington State University Tri-Cities, was to provide the expertise that CREHST had supplied to our program that no longer existed.

Our particular policy, in-house at MSA, was to declare that everyone that we’re not conservators, we are not going to try and maintain these artifacts. We’re not going to try to enhance these artifacts. We’re not really going to do anything but store these artifacts until we get a permanent repository and professional staff through subcontract. And that’s kind of the way this whole process ended in terms of my involvement, is we then handed it off to WSU and I retired.


Franklin: Great.

Marceau: Waiting for the right moment!

Franklin: Right, yeah. Well, that’s good not to leave it—better to leave it—

Marceau: Yeah, I could have left at the point that CREHST left, and it was like—I have no idea what would’ve happened then.

Franklin: What was your greatest triumph on doing cultural resources work at the Hanford Site, and what would you say was your greatest pitfall or disappointment?

Marceau: Believe it or not, the greatest triumph, I’m going to go back to the contaminated human remains discussion, and working out a policy for something that is so touchy, and so non-discussed with whites that I can’t help but see that as something that is an extraordinary accomplishment. I don’t take credit for it. I was the lead on the effort. But, man, we had all kinds of people show up and contribute to that. We had elders from all the tribes come in. We had some incredibly gut-wrenching discussions at those meetings. I kept the notes for that. I will tell you quite frankly there are large portions of those discussions that would never make public discussion, public notes. That was just from the get-go. We’re going to discuss things here that are going to stay here, and I will write this up in a manner that presents our findings and our task of coming up with the policy. But we’re not going to get into some of the heart-wrenching discussions that took place about human remains and attitudes towards human remains and ancestors. So I see that as an incredible activity.

The worst was that, in terms of what I see for the Manhattan Project and the Cold War, is that we were never able to move our timing to get into more buildings when they were still full of materials. We have a nice collection. We have a good collection. I’m not going to use the word nice; people tend to use that both plus and minus ways. We have a very good collection that represents the Hanford Site. But I’m totally convinced we could have gotten much more had we had the opportunity to go through a lot of these buildings when the machinery was still inside of it.

The other—there’s another thing that—we did come up with a how to deal with contaminated artifacts policy for historic materials. We got together and put the museum scenario together—what we called the museum scenario—which laid out the risk to people collecting artifacts, people handling artifacts, and to the public for materials. And we were working on the issue of—the blowback we got so often was—these things are contaminated and you’re never going to get them out. The fact that we even put together a plan that said these are considerations you can have, here’s the legal basis and regulations for radiological materials from DOE and other agencies that deal with radiological materials. And we had the subject matter experts from Dade Moeller and from the onsite contractors all involved in putting this policy together.

The managers still wouldn’t accept the risk. There are lots of items sitting there that I know went away that if someone had said, we can decontaminate that, or, it's not going to cost that much, or you know what, we don't care about the internal, we’ve done a radiological examination of this particular machinery and yes, there’s some radiation, but it’s residual and it’s on the inside of the machinery. We’ll close the machine, seal it, and we can still have the machine out there. A lot of the things that we’ve proposed on how to get—you know, not deadly contaminated materials; I understand those aren’t coming out—but getting mildly contaminated things, or things that had been in a contamination area, CA, could come out with a little extra effort. Projects just didn’t want to pay that. It wasn’t funded. Decon wasn’t funded. Their job was to demolish and destroy, not to preserve.

So there are multiple things like that where we had items in the 300 Area that a contractor declared the entire 300 Area beryllium contaminated. Beryllium can be decontaminated by warm water and light detergent. We had things in those buildings that are unique because they were made in those buildings to make the fuel elements that went into the first line of the reactors and end reactors, for example. Whole complete refusal to undertake even simple washing to decon materials so that we could get them out. Beryllium contamination. But it’s difficult working on the Hanford Site because you have radiological issues and you have chemical issues, and you have people who are just opposed to what it is you’re trying to do.

So, yeah, best things, worst things. Not being able to get over that psychological hurdle that these things are not going to kill people. And the ones that are, yeah, we’ll photograph them, we’ll document them in place, and that’s where they’ll stay. I understand that; I still do. We were—part of our recommendations when coming out of a building was what would stay in place because we couldn’t get it out. Contamination was one issue.

The size and weight of some of these artifacts is another issue that made them have to stay in location. Can show you pictures of the vaults that they would have used in the FMEF building, Fields, Material and Examination Facility, for pellet fuels and mixed fuels. Incredible door. But it weighs about eight tons. You aren’t going to get that.

But here’s an example of the technology of the vaults in which they held plutonium advancing through the years. You compare that to the 213-J and –K facilities that were dug out into Gable Mountain and the doors that were put on those vaults where the actual plutonium that was going down to Los Alamos was stored, as opposed to where medicinal fuels and tracers for radiological medicines might have been stored. And you’re going from a door like this to a door like that. I mean, just phenomenal changes in just the technology. Which is something that we always tried to get, was changes in technology through time. Radiation detection devices. Something as common as telephones change through time. We try and make sure that we picked up the sequence of materials as that technology changed through time.

Franklin: Cool. Did you ever meet resistance from other local or national—other cultural resources people or archaeologists when you would attend other conferences or share your work? Did you ever kind of meet that fear of radiation from other people working in the cultural resources field?

Marceau: There was the slight jokes at the bar where people would put a stool between you or something like that as a joke when they find out you work on the Hanford Site. I explain this to people this way: DOE needed a lot of money to clean up the Hanford Site. They mounted an incredible public relations campaign to tell the world how contaminated Hanford was. So they always ended up with the lion’s share of DOE’s money for site cleanup. They did. It’s a reality. The problem was, in spreading that message so hard and so often, the public picked up on it. And the public is convinced that Hanford is the most contaminated site on earth, because DOE sold it with those words. Hanford is the most contaminated place on earth. You have to deal with that legacy. Now that you’ve created it, you have to deal with it.

I would tell people, were you to come to the Hanford Site and see 580 square miles of Hanford, of which maybe 10 to 15 square miles had been touched by nuclear production, you would see how open and how untouched and how natural the remaining 570 square miles is. You can come and have picnics and bring kids, and it’s a great place to interpret and we ought to be doing that in the future. But the public perception promoted by DOE’s own selling of the project to get money is that it’s the most contaminated place on earth. So, it’s difficult to live that reputation down. As an archaeologist who has worked all across the country, you come across that attitude fairly often.

Franklin: We talked a bit about the indigenous peoples of the Site and then the Manhattan Project and the production era, but did you have any—what about the resources of those—the intermediate people of the towns that were evicted? Did you ever come across—were there any major projects, or was that ever a collecting focus for you or for DOE, to preserve that history of the displaced people—displaced Euro-Americans of the area?

Marceau: Mm-hm, yeah.  Yeah. The Department of Energy’s policy on artifacts on the Hanford Site, prehistoric and historic artifacts, is that they ought to be left in place.

Franklin: Okay.

Marceau: So there are surveys. Anytime we did a project where there was historic resources, of course, we recorded the historic resource and evaluated them in the same way we did the prehistoric resources. There were major pump-and-treat projects in the area between D Reactor and H Reactor, which is the principal location of most of the irrigated agriculture on the Hanford Site. Hundreds and hundreds of farmsteads out there; they’ve all been recorded and looked at. But there was no effort made to form a collection of pre-Hanford materials and artifacts, because DOE’s policy is to leave these items in place.

There was a collection made prior—I can’t remember the date; now I want to say sometime in the ‘70s—where a lot of the materials from that area ended up in the museum in Ephrata, Washington as a pioneer museum on agricultural materials and equipment from the mid-20th, early 20th century. So there is a public exhibition of Hanford materials, but it’s not in Hanford; it’s in Ephrata, Washington. So the policy was basically to record, understand, and get people to avoid those as much as we tried to avoid the prehistoric resources. But there was no collection policy.

Prehistoric items were only collected when we did an excavation, because part of the excavation is to give a full report of that site which you just destroyed. Without collecting the artifacts, bringing them back to the laboratory and doing a full analysis on those artifacts, you’re not doing justice to that site that you have just obliterated from the face of the earth. So the only time prehistoric artifacts were collected was part of excavation activities. So the general policy was to observe it where it is, record it, document it, map it, photograph it, and walk away.

Franklin: Were there any excavation sites on Euro-American—I don’t know what to call that—

Marceau: Farmsteads, homesteads.

Franklin: Farmsteads, homesteads.

Marceau: Yes, at least two that I could recall that were done at homestead sites because they were the subject of activities that put them in the remedial action zone, and there they were.

Franklin: Hmm. What do you see as the future of cultural resources management at Hanford, broadly, and in this community?

Marceau: I think, as we move into the future, there ought to be two things done. We need to promote the cultural resource base here and preserve it. And I think one of the better ways to do that is to allow people to come in and see some of these resources. That is something that would take a good deal of discussion to allow for. But tourism of cultural resources is not something that’s unheard of. There are all kinds of places across the United States, across the world, where you can go visit an archaeological site. Pompeii, for example, you know, something that people use as a destination spot to go see. I would like to work out a situation where people become more aware of what’s here.

I do tours on the buses a lot of times and a lot of it directed at Native American resources, not so much Manhattan Project, Cold War. I always try to leave the people on the bus with a better understanding of this landscape from the Native American point of view. So they don’t see it as Europeans when they leave. They see it as Europeans and they see it at somewhat of a Native American light, what this area means to the tribal folks in terms of their history and their locations, their mythology, their ceremonial locations.

I believe that we could work with the community on the Hanford Site to promote sound visitation of some of these locations, to provide people with a better understanding of the 11,000-year history of how people have lived here on the Hanford Site. Again, that’s something that’s going to take a lot of work. The general prevailing attitude towards Native American sites is that you don’t talk about them, you don’t show them. Well, that works in terms of some preservation, but it also means you’re not discussing these things with people. You’re not taking advantage to help people understand why it is that you would prefer leaving them alone to excavating them, for example.

Franklin: Mm. Thank you. Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to mention?

Marceau: I think we’ve done a pretty good round of talk here.

Franklin: Okay, great.

Marceau: Back and forth.

Franklin: Well, thank you so much, Tom. I really appreciate your openness about the cultural resources management and your time on the Hanford Site.

Marceau: Okay, cool.

Franklin: All right.

View interview on Youtube.

Hanford Sites

313 Building
100-K Area
N Reactor
FMEF (Fields, Material and Examination Facility)
D Reactor
H Reactor

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site



Marceau, Tom.jpg


“Interview with Tom Marceau,” Hanford History Project, accessed December 1, 2021,