Interview with Pete Jackson

Dublin Core


Interview with Pete Jackson


Hanford (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Hanford Nuclear Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)


An interview with Pete Jackson conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Mission Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item."

Date Modified

2016-04-22: Metadata v1 created – [RG]

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bauman, Robert


Jackson. Pete


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Northwest Public Television | Jackson_Pete

Woman One: Get them all fixed and I’ll submit them, and they would get paid to run.

Man one: And we're about to roll now. Okay. Whenever you are ready.

Robert Bauman: Okay. All right. I think we're ready to get started.

Pete Jackson: Okay.

Bauman: So if we could start first by just having you say your name and spell it for us.

Jackson: My name is Pete Jackson, J-A-C-K-S-O-N.

Bauman: Great. Thank you. My name is Robert Bauman. Today's date is October 30th of 2013, and we're conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. So I wonder if we could start by having you talk about how you came here, what brought you to Hanford, and when you arrived.

Jackson: Well, I came to Hanford after living and growing up in Spokane, and serving in the Navy. I came here February 7, 1951.

Bauman: And what brought you here? Why did you—what brought you to Hanford?

Jackson: Oh, the interviews that we had had at WSU, WSC at that time.

Bauman: So you were a student at Washington State College?

Jackson: Yes.

Bauman: And what were you majoring in?

Jackson: Major was mechanical engineering.

Bauman: Okay. And so what sort of job did you have, then, once you arrived in 1951?

Jackson: Well, I didn't have a clearance. So to wait for the Q clearance took a while. And I was working in a program where they were updating the standards that they use. Down in the old 762 Building.

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] And standards for a what? What sort of standards were they?

Jackson: Oh, standards on how to do various and sundry tasks. I guess that'd be the best way to put it.

Bauman: Did you know much about Hanford before you came here?

Jackson: Oh, not much. You know, I grew up in Spokane, so we were familiar with Hanford. And I spent time in Japan when I was there with the Navy, and did get in and saw the destruction in Nagasaki, which was tremendous. And then after the Navy let me go, I decided to come to WSU and to take up studies.

Bauman: Mm-hm. What were your first impressions of the area, here, when you arrived?

Jackson: [LAUGHTER] Sagebrush, sand, and lots of wind. But I can't remember the facility--I think it was about 7,000 people. But it was interesting.

Bauman: What sort of housing did you have when you first arrived?

Jackson: Well, the housing was dormitory, and I lived in M2, which we called the old men's society. And later, other tech grads were in W21, which was down in the women's section of the dorms on Lee and Stevens, I think it is. Where Albertson's sits right now.

Bauman: So did you know some other people here when you arrived?

Jackson: I knew a few, yes.

Bauman: Other people from WSU?

Jackson: Yes, yes.

Bauman: And then so how long did you stay in the dorms?

Jackson: Well, they opened up the Bower Day housing on Jadwin. And I made myself unpopular with the guy who was renting these, because they wouldn't rent them to any single people. And so after months of talking to him, they finally decided, well, we'll open it up to single people. So four of us guys went into one down there on 1766 Jadwin. And we enjoyed that life much better, because we didn't have to eat out every night, and that sort of thing. We could do some of our own cooking, and see what we wanted to do, and it was good companionship. These were four engineers.

Bauman: Yeah. And how long were you in the Bower Day home, then?

Jackson: Huh. Let's see, I've got to try and remember that. Probably until about 1953. It might have been more than that. I don't recall exactly how long it was.

Bauman: And what was Richland like at the time, as a community?

Jackson: Well, it was just a little small town. There wasn't much of anything to do except work, work, work. And we did a lot of running around, going to Seattle to plays, and stuff like this. And I got into the Desert Ski Club. I was a charter member of that organization, and helped it get established. We had the dorm club, and we had another club called Racketeers. Then, let's see. I got married in 1954--no, '56, and moved into a little B house.

Bauman: And so who were the other gentlemen that you shared the Bower Day home with, do you know?

Jackson: Okay, one was Corwin Bonham, who was a friend from WSU. Let's see. There was a little Japanese fellow, and what was his name? I can't recall.

Bauman: That's all right.

Jackson: And Hal Stievers was the third one. And that's about it. Dick Asai was the Japanese fellow.

Bauman: Hmm. So you mentioned the clubs, the ski club, and--

Jackson: Yes.

Bauman: So were those sort of the primary ways of entertainment?

Jackson: Yeah, right. The dorm club was people who lived in the dorms, and we’d would get together and have dances, and parties, and out-of-town escapes, and what-have-you like that, whereas the ski club was primarily for skiing. The most local spot was Spout Springs down here. We also went to others around in the mountains, and even down as far as Sun Valley.

Bauman: So how did you and your wife meet, then?

Jackson: Well, she was also working here, and was in the dorm. So, she was a secretary.

Bauman: So you mentioned your first job when you came in 1951, before you got your clearance, was updating standards. Once you got your clearance, then, where did you go from there?

Jackson: Oh, they sent me out to a mechanical development group in what they called it that time White Bluffs. And White Bluffs was just some buildings they had thrown together. The only real building there, I think, is a high school which is still there. And we did mechanical development for the 100 Area reactors.

Bauman: So could you describe that a little bit? By mechanical development, sort of what sort of task would that include?

Jackson: Yeah, sure. Well, you know these reactors were not all that old at that time, and so we kept upgrading them with different projects of sorts to make them better, more reliable, safer. And also, one great big job was project 558, I think, was the number of it. And that was to upgrade the power level, which originally was something like 165 megawatts. And when we got through with it, some of the reactors were running over 3,000. So we upped the production substantially by that project, which includes revamping a lot of the components. We put more water through the reactors, and we took—well they have safety systems. The first safety system was horizontal rods, and we had to replace all the horizontal rods, because they went into a thimble through the graphite pile. And so in the process then, we had to take the thimble out, because otherwise they would probably melt down. And then we had to have a seal on these tubes that we put in, and instead of having a round tube, we had an oblong tube. So it would roll along, because the graphite had grown considerably, and to pass through the reactor was getting to the point where some of those rods were difficult to get through. I think there were--I think maybe nine control rods in the pile. I think that was the number. And then we replaced the thimbles that were in the second safety system, which was the vertical safety rods. And they were just a boron poison rod that would drop in from the vertical overhead. And they would just freely drop. And they also had thimbles which had to be removed. These were just an aluminum tube, vertical in the reactor core. And we made, then--because here, we had to move that in the atmosphere as the reactor would escape to the building—we had to make seals on those and I worked a lot on the seals for the vertical safety rods to seal the atmosphere in the reactor from the atmosphere in the building. And there were--I can't remember the number of those—probably some 20 or something like that. And we made seals that would seal the rod even as it fell. And then the third safety system was we built a hopper that would sit around this vertical rod, and it contained boron containing steel balls, like ball bearings. And if something went that far to where you had to drop that, the third safety system was kind of the last. We'd drop those balls into the carbon core. Which, as you can imagine, getting those out was a big chore. And we did work on that process some. C Reactor, when they built that one, they put valves on the bottom of the vertical safety rod openings, so that they could vacuum—I think it was vacuum—the darn balls out of it. They had a vacuum system to vacuum them out, and then a ball separator to catch the real hot ones. Because if—the core was built by pieces of graphite, 4 and 3/8 I think they were, square with this hole in them. And the hole would be for the process tubes. And then the holes coming in from the side were for the horizontal safety rods, and then they had holes down through for verticals, which was for the vertical rods. And the pieces of graphite had one corner cut off, I think it was. And if you dropped the balls into that graphite chamber, some of them would get back into that thing, and maybe the next time you had to vacuum them out, they would just be screaming hot radioactively. So we built a ball separator that you could run these millions of balls through and kick out the hot ones. So there was a lot of work on that one.

Bauman: Yeah, sounds like it.

Jackson: It was a real big project. They did reactor at a time through B, D, F, DR, H, and I think maybe some with C.

Bauman: Hmm. So did you work out at all those different reactors, then, during that process?

Jackson: Yeah, right. Well, yes. We worked on each individual reactor, but we had offices--well, it started out in White Bluffs, and then they built a new building in D, 1703 D. We had offices there.

Bauman: So when you were doing this work at the reactor, did you have to wear special equipment, safety equipment?

Jackson: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

Bauman: What sorts of things did you have to wear?

Jackson: Well, you took off your clothes, your outer clothes, and hang them up. Then you'd put on two pair of white coveralls. You'd put on shoe covers, probably a couple pair of them. And if there was to be anything wet, you'd put rubbers on over the top of that. Then you'd put on a hood fastened under your chin. So we were pretty well covered up, of course with gloves, too—cloth gloves if it was dry work, and rubber gloves over them if it was anything to do with wet.

Bauman: How long of a process was of that? Did that take a little while to--

Jackson: To get dressed?

Bauman: --get dressed, and undressed then when you were done?

Jackson: Well, it would be the same thing as you getting out there and taking off your clothes and putting on a pair of coveralls.

Bauman: Yeah. And I assume you had a dosimeter or something along those lines.

Jackson: Oh, yeah. We always had dosimeters.

Bauman: Mm-hm. Was there ever any time where you or someone else you were working with had exposure above the rates that were recommended?

Jackson: Well, I'm sure there were. I don't remember what my accumulated rate of radiation was.

Bauman: Mm-hm. And so how long did you work on that project, then, at the different reactors? How long?

Jackson: Well, I worked on that 100 Area reactors for probably ten, 12 years. There were different projects for this 558 program, and we did the same changes in all of the reactors.

Bauman: And so what did you do, then? What sort of work did you do once you were finished with that, after the ten to 12 years?

Jackson: Well, I still continued doing various work in the reactor areas, and one of the jobs I had was examining, building, and making the equipment to examine the process tubes. And they would take the process tube out of the reactor and push it out. And it would fall into the basin behind, and we would cut it up into sections. And one little job it was to take the section of this round tube—now it's a round tube, and it has two tracks kind of on the bottom, which holds the front of the uranium capsule so water can flow all the way around it. And I made equipment that would take that process tube and cut it in half, so that you'd just run it through this saw. And then you could lay it down flat, and the area had two curved sections, and then you could examine that. And they did that in the hot cells, in probably the 327 building. So that was some of it. There were other modifications made to the reactors that we were all part of, and we built a lot of underwater examination equipment. And then we would also build equipment to examine the vertical holes that the vertical safety rods operated in. We'd go down there with a TV camera, and record what that was, so we could see what the interior of the unit looked like. And I think we did it also with the horizontal rods. But we did a lot of that. I did a lot of work on the process tubes for B, D, and F, DR, and H. And C were all made of aluminum. And we got into KE and KW, and those process tubes were fabricated of zirconium. So we wanted to examine them, too, to see how they were holding up. And every once in a while, you would get a rupture in this tube, because the uranium slug, as we called it, might open up to the water, and then you'd have a reaction there, and it'd even tend to burn holes through the process tubes. So this examination included that sort of thing to see what those would look like down through the core of the reactor.

Bauman: Wow, hmm. Also, I understand you also worked at PRTR, an N Reactor at some point, as well?

Jackson: Yeah. I moved into 300 Area, and worked on the development of some of that stuff for PRTR, some of the equipment, and what-have-you, like that. I can't remember exactly what all the equipment was. And then we had the examination from PRTR also. PRTR was a water-moderated, heavy-water reactor.

Bauman: And then how about N reactor?

Jackson: I did not work on anything really associated with N--

Bauman: Oh.

Jackson: --except the development of the process tubing for it. And the process tubing was a--oh, I think it was probably about a 3-inch tube of zirconium. And it had about a quarter of an inch wall, if I recall. And we did a lot of testing prior to the startup of the N reactor, wherein we wanted to see what kind of temperature from pressure would react on this. Because for N reactor, the pressure was something like 2,000, 2,500 PSI, and 600 degrees Fahrenheit. So that ran very hot. We examined that tubing, also, when we built the equipment for doing that, and really made various and sundry tests, and then built up a facility for evaluating sections of the new tube to see that at what pressure would it break at what temperature. And I would put these in a special oven that we had in sort of a bomb-proof building. And I put them in a furnace, and I had enclosures on both ends of this tubing, and we could pressurize that tubing up to, oh, in excess of 20,000 PSI, and actually rupture them under conditions of 600 degrees Fahrenheit. And I had that down at 314 Building. And we would do the testing out just through the concrete block wall of this building. And when that thing went off, of course the safety engineer always called me when he heard the boom and the shake. And so he knew when we were doing this, and he was up in—I can't remember the number of that building. But it was right down the main drag in 300 from the vehicle gate. So we would burst this tubing, and sometimes we would put a slot in it, machined slot, so we could see how it burst under condition of wear. And that was a pretty interesting thing, because when it went off, it was a loud bang, like a stick of dynamite going off. And at one time there was a couple of people walking down the road when it went off right beside the road. And all of a sudden this big old capsule went flying up in the air several feet, and then lit down on the wet ground in front of them, and sizzled, and then everything like that. They were real surprised, were these guys. We used that facility for quite some time, and then it was taken by the service. But it was used for all the process tubing in N. I assume it was used in K, also. K east and west.

Bauman: So you had a lot of different, very interesting jobs in Hanford. Several.

Jackson: Yeah. That's why the job was very interesting, because you'd go from one interesting task to another interesting task, and they'd be, perhaps, totally different. And we would work through the design of the apparatus to run that, and then through the installation thereof, and the installation in the reactor, and all. So I worked in C Reactor for that, and the Ks. We had a lot of interesting experiences in K Reactor, because it was also a high-pressure thing. Not as high as N, but it was recirculating--well, maybe it wasn't. No, it was not recirculating the water. The water went right straight through.

Bauman: Is there anything about that work, that K Reactor that really stands out in your mind, anything particular?

Jackson: Well, I did burst testing on that tubing, also. And this tube was--oh, I think it was about an inch and a half in diameter of zirconium, and we would burst those in the same facility. I remember one time, a failure of the fuel element caused a lot of problems. And I don't remember what the heck we did. We had to get this stuff out. Oh, I can't remember what it was. But we got some farmer with some farm equipment, and used his farm equipment to get this thing out of the reactor. I can't quite remember what it all was. But it was interesting. Because there was something very interesting going on. And at this same test facility that I had in H Area, we worked hand in hand with the people from KAPL—Knolls Atomic Power Labs, in Schenectady—for the development of the fuel rods for the Naval submarines. So we did a lot of work for that, and worked hand in hand with these engineers from KAPL. And they kind of thought they were in charge of the thing, and they'd call up and say, well, you've got to shut your reactor down. And I says, I can't shut my reactor down. We'll have to schedule that. So we'd work through a schedule when we would have it shut down, and then they would come out, and we would take the fuel elements out of the test pile. And this was a test hole, went through—horizontally through the center of H Reactor, and ran at about 600 degrees Fahrenheit and 2,250 PSI pressure. So that was a lot of equipment that took a lot of specialized engineering.

Bauman: Of the many different projects you worked on in Hanford, were there some, or one, that were sort of the most rewarding to you, that you really enjoyed the most? And maybe something that was the most challenging?

Jackson: Well, certainly they were all challenging. And I enjoyed them, because it was a task that you individually had. There might be another engineer working with you, but generally it was just a single engineer working on a particular. But the 558 project was a large, large group of people working in the development, and the design, and the whole works. So we worked with all these other people, also, to accomplish that.

Bauman: So how long in total did you work at Hanford? When did you retire?

Jackson: 38 years. I started on the 7th of February in 1951, and I retired, I think it was the end of August in '88.

Bauman: I imagine there are a lot of changes that you saw take place over that time.

Jackson: Oh, definitely, definitely.

Bauman: Even in just how things were done, right?

Jackson: Yeah. And after working in the 100 Areas directly, then I moved into the mechanical development group in the 300 Area, which was project engineering. So we worked on a lot of the projects for the various pieces of equipment that would be put in here, there, and elsewhere. I worked at the 100 Areas, PRTR, FFTF, HSHTSF, I think it was. And all these, and they all had specialized equipment. So there was always a different type of job. It was very challenging. People had never done this sort of task before. So we had pretty much a free rein in how we could do it. The only stipulation was, if something went wrong, don't repeat it.

Bauman: Technology must have changed quite a bit from 1951 to 1988 also.

Jackson: Oh, definitely. Yeah. And the last bit of the work in project engineering was in a lot of the different buildings, building of facilities to test different pieces of equipment, and all. And we had some of those. Oh, I can't remember exactly how old it was. I remember building the firehouse in the K Area, I think it was. And then I helped rebuild the steam plant in the 300 Area. That was an interesting job, because we had a big steam plant to make steam to heat the whole area and what-have-you, the 300 Area. And they went from oil—oh, they went from oil to coal. I think that was it. Or did they go from coal to oil? Well, anyway, we replaced the oil system of heating the furnace, I guess you'd call it, to using coal. And so coal spontaneously combusts. And one night I was called out because the coal hoppers were up on the top of the steam plant, and the coal would go down into it. I was called out because there was fires in the passageway that was providing the coal for the fire. And it was in a vertical pipe. And I couldn't figure that one out, so I came up with the idea to attach hoses to a big storage container that they had out at 327 Building which contained argon. And we used the argon gas to put it into this fire, and it being totally inert, as soon as it hit the fire, it put it out. That was a very interesting one, and that took place very rapidly after we got the argon into the furnace. That really took it out. So we saved the day that day.

Bauman: I want to ask you about, President Kennedy visited Hanford in 1963, at the start of the N Reactor. I wondered if you were there, do you have memories of that?

Jackson: I think I was there. I think so. It was outside, and I think Ronald Reagan was there also. I'm not sure. I remember seeing Ronald Reagan, and probably Kennedy also.

Bauman: From your time working at Hanford, are there any events or incidents that sort of stand out in your mind? Things that happened that were either a little unusual, or just very memorable for some reason or other?

Jackson: Well, I remember one which had to do with my in-reactor loop in the H Area. The fellow who was operating it before I took over—they took something out of this test facility, and had it on a big long-boy. And they spilled water down the street in the reactor area, and we had to repave the street. So that was kind of interesting. [LAUGHTER] Just to cover it up so you couldn't spread the contamination. But there was always a challenge, and that's something that I enjoyed.

Bauman: So I guess, overall, in looking back at your years working at Hanford, how was it as a place to work?

Jackson: Well, it was a very nice place to work. We had pretty much free rein on what we could do. We had our individual jobs. And that was nice. And they could rate you as to how you performed, and how you managed your money for your project—when you came out money-wise in the right position—and also if you came out on your time schedule for it. So I had quite a few different projects doing different jobs in different locations.

Bauman: And is there anything that I haven't asked about yet, about your work at Hanford that you'd like to talk about, that you haven't had a chance to talk about yet?

Jackson: Oh! Well, when I came here, there was an awful lot of people, and the Hanford construction workers, of course, had the big 50,000 people out there in North Richland in barracks. Well, when we came—when I came, they were still in those barracks. If you were married, you have a little trailer that you lived in. The others were dormitories and such there. So there's interesting stories about some of that. You know, how some of the people survived that.

Bauman: Is there anything particular that stands out in your mind, any particular story?

Jackson: Oh, I was not a part of that North Richland area. I was fortunate enough, when I came, to get into the barracks down in the town. And like I say, I went into the men's dormitory, until all the tech grads congregated in W21, which was very nice, because it was a bunch of us guys that, you know, were fresh out of college, and had been for a year or two, and had a lot of mutual interests. I remember building a boat during that time, and we did a lot of water skiing out on the river.

Bauman: Well, I want to thank you very much for coming in today, and sharing your stories, and all the descriptions of the various jobs you worked on. It was very interesting, so thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Jackson: Well, I appreciate, too, the facts of what you're doing. And you know, I think this story ought to be very interesting to see when we get done with the various people. Because there were a lot of us putting in a lot of time and effort to try and make this thing go. And since that time, we're trying to tear it all down, and get rid of all the reactors, and the separations area, which I never worked in the separations area. Now, I don't know. I haven't been out other than to the B Reactor, but I found the B Reactor was very interesting to go to, because I had a distinct familiarity with it.

Bauman: I guess it does bring one more question to mind. I teach a course on the Cold War, and I have actually taken my students out to the B Reactor to see it, and there's always this sort of amazement, at the size of the reactor, and all that. But of course, most of my students were born after the Cold War ended.

Jackson: Yes!

Bauman: So they have no memories of the Cold War.

Jackson: And not very much memories of World War II, and the action we had going on there. I wasn't here during World War II. I came right after, after college.

Bauman: And so I guess the question I have would be, if you were speaking to someone who is too young to have lived through any of the Cold War, how would you describe Hanford in a Cold War to them?

Jackson: Well, definitely the security was a big factor, and we all had two furnaces. We had special badges we wore to get into the various and sundry areas. And you'd leave one area and go to a second, you'd pick up a badge for the second area, and leave the first area badge there, and then when you came back out, you'd get your original badge back. And this was to monitor a lot the radiation exposure that you probably were getting. But it was also secure to make sure that your activity in that particular area was necessary and approved of. You couldn't get into it if you didn't have clearance to each individual area.

Bauman: Right. And would be important for people to know that, yeah.

Jackson: Yeah.

Bauman: Exactly. Well, again, thank you very much for coming in. I really appreciate it.

Jackson: You're very welcome. We did have the buses that we would catch a bus in the morning out on Stevens Drive. They had a big bus station there, and we'd have the big yellow buses, and we'd climb into them, and drive the 35 miles out to work. And the same coming back. You didn't work overtime, because your bus would probably leave without you.

Bauman: And how long did you do that? How long did you take the buses? For most of the time you worked there?

Jackson: Oh, quite a length of time, and then they finally allowed us to bring our own vehicles into the area in general, not the specific area of the 100 Area enclosures, or anything like that. And so we then carpooled. And that was nice, also. But I don't know. I rode the buses for several years, I know that. Probably ten years.

Bauman: All right. Well, thank you. Thanks again.

Jackson: I guess that's about the size of it.

Bauman: It’s good.



Bit Rate/Frequency

195 kbps

Hanford Sites

762 Building
100 Area
B Area
D Area
F Area
DR Area
H Area
C Area
1703 D building
327 building
N Reactor
KE Area
K Area

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site


Names Mentioned

Bonham, Corwin
Stievers, Hal
Asai, Dick


Jackson, Pete.jpg


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Pete Jackson,” Hanford History Project, accessed June 21, 2024,