Don Lewis Oral History

Dublin Core

Title

Don Lewis Oral History

Subject

Hanford Atomic Products Operation
B Reactor National Historic Landmark (Wash.)

Description

An oral history interview with Don Lewis for the B Reactor Museum Association. Lewis was a Process Supervisor at the Hanford Site during the Manhattan Project.

Creator

B Reactor Museum Association

Publisher

Hanford History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities

Date

12/14/1991

Rights

Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project.

Language

English

Identifier

RD2D-4B

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Tom Putnam

Interviewee

Don Lewis

Transcription

DON LEWIS INTERVIEW- Recorded on 12/14/91

My name is Don Lewis. I was a uh shifts supervisor at the B reactor startup in September of 1944. How I got here was I was an employee of the Dupont Company uh joined them at Carneys Point, New Jersey in the uh smokeless powder, smokeless powder plant they have there. And was in training for their military explosives program and went to Charleston, Indiana where I was a uh control chemist in the laboratories there and eventually worked into uh being a line supervisor in the acid and organics uh, part of the plant. And the uh, during that time uh, I was, one day I was called into my superintendents office and he indicated to me that he had another assignment for me and he didn’t know exactly what it was but uh, he sent me to the service superintendents of the plants office and I uh, was told that I was going to the TNX Project. This was a uh, supposedly a super secret project that we’d heard about but didn’t know anything about. And even the superintendents didn’t know anything about it. But, all he told me was that they had train tickets and reservations for me to go to Knoxville, Tennessee from Charleston, Indiana where I was working. And I went within two days of getting the word. And, we went, we were to report to a certain address at uh, in Knoxville which we did. And it was just a nondescript storefront but inside were very many people like myself plus all kinds of secretaries and we started in filling out forms and uh, signed our life away and identifying ourselves and uh, after we got through that for about three hours why they loaded us into a uh, what was known as a stretchout in those days it was a, sort of a , large sedan made into a bus with a it was an elongated body. And took us out to what they called Clinton Laboratories, outside of Knoxville, out in the hills out there. And uh, said this was where we would be working and uh, we uh, stayed in the hotel in Knoxville for a couple days until they had accommodations for us out at the Clinton Laboratories site out, it was the Oak Ridge site as they called it. It was built around the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. So we were moved into dormitories and began our training there and we were told that we were in training for a production plant out in the state of Washington and uh, we heard several names, we heard Pasco, we heard Kennnewick, we heard Hanford and uh, we didn’t know what they all meant at the time but we stayed there in Oak Ridge at the Clinton Laboratories in training to operate an atomic pile. Uh, after our clearances were, went through why they revealed to us what we were doing, the kind of work we were in. And uh, it was considered to be extra hazardous work because of the unknown nature of it. But, most of us were uh, not too concerned about the hazards involved because of our association with the Dupont Company. Dupont has an excellent uh, safety record and safety philosophy and having worked in dangerous chemical and smokeless powder manufacture why uh, we were all used to that type of thing. And uh, we stayed at Oak Ridge at Clinton Laboratories and operating, learning how to operate the X-10 reactor which was the second reactor made. The first one, of course, being the Chicago pile. And reactors were called piles in those days. And uh, about 3 months later uh, we went, we came out here. And I got here on May the llth of 1944 and uh, got set up in the dormitory room and was immediately assigned to the 300 area to uh, as part of the operating crew for the Hanford test reactor, or the Hanford pile. And this was a uh, pile that tested uranium fuel elements and mostly uh, graphite that was being machined to be used in the construction of the B,D and F reactors. And uh, from May the 11th to July the 5th I worked down there. And then I was transferred out to the B reactor site which was under construction at that time. And uh, while out there uh, we were schooled in the operation of the plant the reactor or the pile itself. We followed construction and tried to learn about this strange new uh, new industry that we were associated with. And uh, when we came out we were told that we could expect to be assigned out here for about two years and they felt that the war would be over within the next two years. If our venture was successful.

AT THAT TIME YOU KNEW IT WAS NUCLEAR OR ATOMIC RELATED?

Yes. Yes. We, during the time that we were at Oak Ridge we had quite a few uh, people come in and talk to us, especially the most uh, memorable man that I recall was uh, Dr. Paul Gast who was one of the pioneers in uh, pioneer nuclear physicist. He was also much more practical and could speak our language and we learned an awful lot from his lectures about it.

HOW MUCH WAS KNOWN ABOUT ATOMIC ENERGY AT THAT POINT?

Oh, quite a bit, uh, the uh, I was amazed at what they did know because when I went to school I was a major in chemistry and all we knew was that there was uranium and thorium and uh and radium and they disintegrated in a series of uh radioactive elements by radioactive decay. And uh, that’s all we ever spent with radioactive elements in school. (CHATTER) We had uh, all of us that were associated with the reactor, with the piles themselves, knew and the top management of the other uh, areas like the water plant the maintenance knew but, it was sort of a need to know basis. And uh, so the people that ran the power facilities the water plant facilities the maintenance facilities - they didn’t have to know, know to, know about what we were doing. And as they uh, as the plant got built and started to operate why then you had to bring the maintenance people in and they were schooled on what it was. Except, the only thing that a lot of people were told was they were dealing with radioactivity. It was what they called a hazard disclosure. That they gave everybody. But that didn’t come until later. But those of us who were trained at Oak Ridge uh, to be operators of the reactors and the separations plant and the fuel fabrication facilities and the radiation protection or health instruments uh, people were all in the in the know in what it was. But we had two operators on our shift when we started up B reactor. They didn’t know anything, we didn’t tell em anything but uh, they were able to work and later on they found out what it was about.

QUESTIONS ABOUT DUPONT.

Ah, in retrospect after I’d been at in the reactor business for a couple of years I was amazed at the foresight that the Dupont Company showed in their design of these plants. There wasn’t, there wasn’t a thing that they put in that we didn’t have a use for. They, they just thought of every contingency. For instance, in 1948 we started to get fuel elements that stuck in the process tubes of the reactors. And, lo and behold, in the warehouses Dupont had a whole set of tools for extracting stuck fuel elements from the reactor. I guess the most famous, uh, thing about Dupont is the fact that the reactor was supposed to operate with 1500 tubes. And the, one of the engineers with Dupont uh, said we better prepare for a contingency and they designed it with 2000 and 4 tubes and as it turned out because of the xenon poisoning problem during operation why the 2000 and 4 tubes were utilized, were required. Of course Dupont uh, they signed they signed their... TAPE SPED UP ... the ah, of course this is hearsay from me because I don’t know first hand but they uh, they told us at Oak Ridge when we were in training that uh, these were the latest prints they had but when we got out there to Hanford it was no telling what it would look like because the uh, the design was uh, was holdin everything up and getting the design complete and and really the construction people were really pushing the designers, it was that close. (CHATTER) What I was going to tell you was, that the uh, the summer of ‘44 during the completion of the B reactor construction we had seminars and training sessions a couple times a day in the office building over there and uh, we had the chief design engineers for each of the components of the reactor come out and talk to us. They gave us the detail and the background on their design criteria and that they had to work with and how they went about designing their equipment. For instance, the guy that designed the control rods and the safety rods was out here and uh, it was really a liberal education for me that summer to uh, to hear these guys talk because I learned more about mechanical equipment design from them. The uh fellow that designed the charging and discharging equipment was out there. As a matter of fact, when we first discharged fuel he was out there uh, to watch it work. As it turned out, his design it was a perfect engineering design based on what he uh, what he was told, what his criteria were. But, the things that they told him were so conservative that was almost, it wasn’t impractical but it was very slow and we eventually threw out most of that uh, uh, very conservative design and went to uh, we had our own people design our own uh, fuel handling equipment.

WHAT WAS INVOLVED IN DESIGNING?

Well uh, nothing in the form of great quantities of uranium had even been mined and then the refining of the of the uranium and then learning how to machine and work with the uranium to make the fuel elements. Uh, there was a lot of engineering development had to take place there. The uh, graphite also, the, what 250,000 tons of graphite or, I don’t know what the, I don’t know what the, the magnitude of the graphite problem was terrific and uh, the design of the graphite moderator in these blocks about 4 inches square and about 4 feet long and uh, the drilling of the holes in the graphite, the sizing of the graphite. Graphite was very soft, easily, pieces were easily chipped off of it and it had to be very carefully handled. The people that uh, worked with the graphite, their sweat had to be tech, uh, kept out of the graphite. The graphite itself had to be extremely pure. And it was purer graphite than had ever been made before. And uh, the development in this short period of time was astronomical. I know the graphite in the B reactor was not as high quality as the graphite in the D reactor which was not as high quality as the graphite that was eventually used in the F reactor. They came on line within 6 months of each other. But the techniques were evolving that rapidly. And the uh, the cleanliness and the precision in which the graphite was laid was absolutely outstanding in my book. They used surveyors instruments of very great precision. They put a layer of graphite in and it had to meet certain tolerances within several mils, I think, of perfection. And then they’d bring another layer of graphite in and do the same thing. And when they ended up with that stack almost 40 feet high, there was less than a quarter of an inch from perfection; from being absolutely perfect.

HOW ABOUT ALUMINUM?

The aluminum also had to be extremely high purity because of the uh, these different elements that are normally found in ah, in industrial products, even minute traces of them in a reactor would poison down the reactor and make it not, inoperable. And they learned how to purify the aluminum and also to (?) the tubes and uh, they had several different tube designs and they ended up with the 2S aluminum tube as the as the best uh...

ENORMOUS VARIETY OF SKILLS AND TECHNOLOGY.

Well, not only that but uh, radiation shielding too, of course they know, uh, they knew graph or they knew that concrete was a good radiation shield but I thought it was rather ingenious they uh, they made the outside biological shields of the first reactors with laminated slabs of iron and masonite, of all things. Masonite was a high hydrogen content and would help uh moderate er moderate neutrons and uh, so with enough iron and masonite why they could capture all of the neutrons and the gamma rays of high intensity that were generated within the reactor.

MENTION HOW URANIUM GOT HERE, OUT TO PLANT & INTO REACTOR.

As far as I know, the uranium came out in uh, billets from wherever it was made back east, I think around in Ohio someplace. And the billets were then extruded into uh, rods. And the rods were then machined into individual, machined to the tolerance for fuel pieces. Then the rods were cut up into individual fuel pieces and all these of course were very precisely dimensioned and checked and cleanliness was of paramount importance. And then they uh, had to can these fuel pieces which were a little over 8 inches long, a little over an inch in diameter inside an aluminum can. And because of the heat generation that would take place in the reactor. The aluminum can had to be metalurgically bonded to the surface of the uranium slug so you’d get good heat transfer through the, through the metal into the cooling water which ran outside. The reason for the can was that aluminum or that uh, uranium and water reacted at high temperatures and under radiation. And the uranium would high dry at very uh, very rapidly and the fuel piece would be destroyed. So the can was put on to protect to shield the aluminum or the uranium from the from the water. Also, you had uh, aluminum water aluminum and no uh, no electroetic uh, couples there that you might have with aluminum and uh, and bare uranium. And uh...

HAD ANY OF THIS BEEN DONE BEFORE, ALL NEW TECHNOLOGY?

No uh As a matter of fact, they ahoy, in Chicago where they made it I don’t know but uh, part of the summer we spent testing fuel elements that they’d made in Chicago that were unbonded, they were just, you know, a canned element and they were going to be used in case the ah, they couldn’t get the uh, bonded fuel element development in time cause they weren’t gonna hold up the startup of that reactor. So we uh, that was the hardest job we had that summer was spending numerous hours uh, autoclaving at a high pressure, in a high pressure autoclave, no temperature but with high pressure helium uh, to check the fuel elements for any pin holes they might have in them. And then we’d put em in a, one at a time we’d put the fuel elements after they’d been, for 48 hours under high helium pressure, in a vacuum mass spectrograph(?) and we would draw a vacuum on em and see if we could detect any helium which would mean that there was a leak in the uh, in the can. (T.P. - SO WHAT WERE ALL BASED ON...) So they were gonna use them in case the uh, the development of the bonded fuel element in the 300 area didn’t uh, didn’t pan out. But uh, the uh, bonded fuel element did get, I guess there was about a, the first good fuel piece they ever made down there didn’t occur until after the 4th of July in l944. Rumor has it that a slug, that a shift came in after their long change, all hung over, and in very surly shape and they were uh, they got in there and all of a sudden it was like the dam broke they started turnin out good fuel pieces. And uh, they caught on to it I guess. But there was a lot of a, trial and error in that summer down there with the fuel. But once they got it down why it uh, it was alright.

WHAT WAS THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS THAT LED UP TO STARTUP?

Well, we kicked the uh, construction people out of the reactor after we had, they’d essentially finished everything and we ran the rods, we uh, exercised everything and uh, the reactor was going to start up dry so we didn’t have our water system uh, pumping water in the reactor. What they were doin over in the water side I don’t I don’t know, but we checked all of the equipment out in the reactor that we could and uh, exercised everything. Found out where all of the glitches were and then we had the construction people come back in and finish up all of our punch list items. And then they went out for good. And then we, in the meantime, we were beginning to get the fuel out from the 300 area and in big truck loads. We’d get a truck, two trucks a day I think it was for a while and uh, there we did a lot of hard work too uh, handling those fuel elements there were uh, six elements in a box and they all came in a uh, a nice little, a little wooden box uh, to protect them from being scratched or damaged. And we got them, we laid them all out and we inspected every fuel element and eventually we laid them all out on the work area floor in front of the charging face and uh. The first thing that was done uh, was uh, Fermi and some of the other people inserted the first fuel elements in the reactor. And also there were some special irradiationists that went into the reactor too, first. Then they turned it loose to us and we started loading fuel. And uh, they had all of the rods out of the reactor, they had the safety circuits all made up and as we loaded fuel, they had proportional counter uh, sort of like a stethoscope, inside the reactor that was recording, or indicating the buildup of radioactivity in the reactor. And uh, there were a lot of bets on how many tubes it was going to take to bring the reactor critical. (CHATTER BACKGROUND) And also who was, what shift was going to be on when it became critical. And uh, it was very frustrating for us operators because we were really loading that fuel as fast as we could but then the physicist would stop us and they would run some tests to determine how close they were to critical. So we kind of boot strapped our way up and the closer we got to critical the slower the process of loading tubes was. And it got so we were loading one tube at a time. And I thought, I was on a 4 to 12 shift, that I thought that night we were gonad make it, but uh, we didn’t and uh, it was awful close and so we were invited to stay over after our shift was finished and I don’t know, 2:00 in the morning or something like that why uh it didn’t become critical so we were we were there for the for the dry criticality of it.

WHAT WAS INDICATION AND HOW MANY TUBES LOADED AT THAT POINT?

Well, there was 300 and some tubes, I think and the indication was on the proportional counter that uh, every time you’d load a tube the proportional counter level of radiation would go up, would increase in intensity and after a while it would level off. And when it didn’t level off anymore was when you’d have your chain reaction without loading any more fuel. And you usually had to wait about 10 or 15 minutes before the uh, the leveling off process would take place. Then you’d load another tube and you’d wait another 10 or 15 minutes. But finally when it did go why it was pretty obvious and we had everything set on the safety circuits and so when the uh, when the rising level of radioactivity showed that there was a chain reaction in place uh, when it got up to a certain level why then it automatically uh, tripped the safety circuits and the rods went in to shut to shut it down. And then they pulled em out again and checked it again and uh, did a lot of folderol like that. And then uh, the next thing was to put water on the reactor and uh that drove it so critical again because the water was a poison and uh, so uh, we had to get the water system all operable and going smoothly and then we started to load the fuel, same way again, only with water on the reactor. And uh, using our charging equipment as it was designed to to use. And uh, same thing took place and of course this was history. Because the, with water cool reactor never had existed before and so the closer we got to critical there why the more people showed up. And of course Dr. Fermie was there and uh, uh, Dr. Compton, Arthur Compton from Chicago at MET Labs and uh, all those people were there. Many of which I didn’t even know, who they were but I knew who Fermi was and I knew who Compton was.

WAS THERE A SENSE THAT THIS WAS AN HISTORIC MOMENT?

Yeah, that’s when Fermi made his remark “A child is born.”

WAS THERE A FIGURE ON THAT INITIAL STARTUP?

Oh of milliwatts. Milliwatts, yeah. And the same thing happened with the, with the (?) reactor. And, then there were a lot of physics tests and uh, then they’d load more fuel and finally they loaded it up to the 1500 tubes that they had agreed was where it should be. And a lot more testing and finally they pulled the rods to start their, what they called their, power ascension program. And uh, heretofore we’d only been up to the milliwatt range or watt range, perhaps. But, now we were on our way up to the megawatt range and uh, when they got to 8 megawatts uh, and they were going up in boots, uh, bootstrapping their way up, when they got up to 8, I thing it was around 8 megawatts. Why, they leveled off and the rod uh, the rods kept coming out and...

VIDEO TAPE CHANGE

YOU WERE IN THE CONTROL ROOM AT THAT POINT?

No, I was in the office behind the control room. They were separated by a big glass window. You remember those glass... And uh, that was the supervisors office there and they had to limit the number of people in the control room and uh, but Compton was in the office where I was; along with about 40 other people I guess. And there was a like number in the control room too. But we had a, we had these plant teletalk system where you could push a button, you know, like a and talk from one office to another. And when it went critical why uh, Fermi got on the teletalk to the office there where his friend Dr. Compton was and said “A child is born.” And and then they invited us all in to hear the PC, uh, power level power level indication on the PC continue to go up. The PC made a little clicking noise, you know, and the faster, the higher the level was the faster the darn thing went and then uh, they let it go until it hit the trip point on the safety circuits and then shut down.

HOW LONG A PERIOD WOULD YOU GUESS THAT RUNS?

Oh, it was a fairly long period, I would imagine around uh, uh, 100,120 seconds or something like that. Normally we would we would try to optimum for handling the reactor was about a 60 second period. Anything faster than that was a little bit harder to handle so we got pretty comfortable with a 60 second period. You know what we’re talkin about a period. (CHATTER) Well the reactor power level increases by a factor of E and the time it takes to increase by a factor of E is called the period. In other words, a 60 second period means that every 60 seconds why the reactor power level increases by a factor of E. A little over 2 times the power, sort of an exponential increase, yeah.

HOW LONG DID THIS SYSTEM TAKE TO GET TO THE PRODUCT?

Why uh, I can’t give you the exact length of time that it did take us to uh, but we didn’t operate very long. Well let’s see. After we got critical, or after we ran into the xenon, we did an awful lot of testing with the reactor. We was very interesting to me. And then we started increasing the number of tubes with uranium in them. And we, in other words we expanded the reactor, a certain amount, and then we would operate for a week or two and then we would shut down and we’d put so more in, we’d do some more testing. We just kept increasing the size of the reactor and also the power level of the reactor.

THE CONFIGURATION WAS ALWAYS A CIRCLE SORT OF?

It was sort of a like a cylinder. A circular cross section, you know, and a, it was a cylindrical shape is what it was. And uh, then we finally got the reactor completely full and the power level kept going up and before we, I think by the time we got it filled up, these are probably maybe why I don’t remember em cause they’re probably all classified and you have a tendency not to even think about those things. But the uh, they started to discharge fuel fairly soon after we got up, even before we got to fuel rated power of the reactor. And uh, that’s when we discovered that the uh, fuel handling equipment wasn’t going to be adequate. And uh, our friend Roland Nightigger(?) who was the original design engineer was right out there with us and uh, we were uh, cutting and fitting and experimenting with fuel handling.

WHAT WERE THE INITIAL TOOLS FOR HANDLING?

The fuel handling machine was designed to clamp onto the front of the tube and maintain the water level and water flow through the through the tube because of the a, the fuel had to be cooled all the time even though the reactor was down. And it would, it would uh you would put a fuel element in this chamber, you’d rotate the chamber and that would drop the fuel element down in line with the tube and then you’d crank a piston and uh, uh, and push the fuel element into the into the reactor and you’d do it one at a time which was time consuming and very slow. Same time at the rear, what you would do would be load new fuel in as the old fuel was discharged. And the old fuel went out through a an amur mechanism at the back of the tube and would be pushed into a vertical position and dropped down through an amur into a funnel, which was rubber lined, and the funnel would kinda slow up the, take the kinetic energy out of the fuel and it would drop down into the hole in the neck of the funnel run down through a hose and come out into a storage bucket under 18, 19 feet of water in the back. The funnels and the hoses all plugged up and you had to uh, in order to get rid of the fuel in the tube we then had to displace the funnel, which we were able to do remotely, and then push the rest of the charge out and let it fall through the air into the basin and we’d, then we fabricated some tongs to pick it up and put it in the bucket. And uh, we got so frustrated with using those funnels and that equipment that uh, one day one of the, one evening one of the supervisors who was in charge of the shift, they were all plugged up there wasn’t anything else he could do and he said “Let’s go ahead and finish the discharge” and they shoved em all out and had a big pile in the in the basin and the management came in that day and said “Well it looks like that’s the way to do it.” So we simplified that process. And uh, on the front end it was a lot easier to uh, to make mechanically operated machines, I’m sure you’re aware of them and uh, uh, we had one like a guy on a row boat and he could push the fuel pieces in while another guy fed them in about as fast as he could row and uh, our production went up dramatically there. But we were shutting down every Tuesday and discharging some fuel. And that fuel was going through and uh, I guess they were extracting the plutonium and sending it on just as quickly as they as they could.

WHAT ABOUT TOOLS HANDLING THIS EQUIPMENT?

Well, we had to, we had to make tongs. They were just long mechanically operated fingers, you know, that uh. They got to be pretty heavy. They had to be pretty stout because of the weight of the fuel that they were handling so we uh, we put floats on them and that helped. And uh, counterbalanced em and uh, we even had a lever so that we could rock the tongs back and forth between the bucket that we were putting the fuel pieces in and the and the, where the fuel was on the floor.

WAS GLOW UNDER WATER ANTICIPATED?

Oh yeah, yeah. Brimstrone(?) it’s a ionization of the water right at the surface of the fuel because of the high intensity of the radiation from the fuel. And the uh, the fresher the fuel was why the higher the glow was. And as the fuel aged why then it uh, it faded away. And uh, I guess after many months it was fairly dim and after a year or so you couldn’t see any anything.

IN TERMS OF HANDLING WAS IT PREDICTABLE?

Well, we knew from uh, what they told us and also from our own experience at Oak Ridge that uh, the uh, the level of radiation in these fuel pieces was astronomical as far as we were concerned. And uh, no way could you uh, get anywhere near them. And it was pretty obvious from the design of the plant how this how this was done and uh, the big shielding walls around the back, around the rear face and everything. And uh, radiation measuring instruments that would tell you what the what the levels were inside before you could go back in say the rear face to cap up the uh, the tubes after refueling took place. And uh, we didn’t have any concern at the start for any uh, any contamination. But it wasn’t long before the rear face started to uh, show up with some contamination from the splashing water and everything. So it wasn’t long before we were uh, having to wear protective clothing back there. And uh, it just evolved from there and we figured out what we needed for protective clothing and uh, went from there. We used what was available, rubbers and British leggings and rubber gloves and uh, coveralls and then they developed the uh, shoe covers and the hoods and uh, then it wasn’t long before you had airborne contamination to contend with and there was the respiratory equipment and the salt masks and the things of that nature that uh, all evolved. We, all this stuff started out here and uh, as we knew, as we know it today it all had its origins out there around those reactors and the separations plants.

HEALTH OR LETHAL ASPECT OF IRRADIATED FUEL AND HANDLING?

Well we knew, without a doubt, that we couldn’t get anywhere near any fuel and we had to keep it down under water right down on the bottom there and uh, as a matter of fact, we used to go through our first aid every month for uh blood sample, blood tests and urinalysis samples and things like that. Everybody that worked in and around there had to..so they started out very carefully monitoring all of us and uh, and gradually why when they got uh, as they got more knowledge why they didn’t have to do that so much but uh, it’s still done today to a certain extent.

ANY BAD ACCIDENTS?

We didn’t, we didn’t really have any bad accidents out there then. Uh, we uh, we usually had a fall back position. We never wanted to take a make a move that we couldn’t back off from safely and because we didn’t want to get into a position where we could a, we just couldn’t uh, uh, couldn’t back off from and uh. Our philosophy has always has always been that way. Of course, there’s always a time when you have to make that final move but uh, the preparation to do that is pretty thorough and you don’t make it until you’re sure it’s going to work.

DID YOU FEEL PART OF A TEAM?

Oh yeah, we knew we were doing something important and uh, it was really enthusiastic, a lot of enthusiasm. Our, each shift had its own, they all were buddies, they all worked together. There was a little rivalry between shifts and it was reluctance, with reluctance that you transferred a guy from one shift to another. And uh, but uh, of course we couldn’t talk about our work outside at all. But the social life of, there were, there were, I would say. Let’s see we had 7 shifts at the at the time so there were about 5 or 6 different social groupings in town because every shift had their, they went with the same people all the time, they had they worked the same schedule.

WHAT WERE NEXT MILESTONES LEADING UP TO BOMB BEING DROPPED?

Well of course the uh, after we got the pile loaded the next thing to do was to get up to our design power level of 250 megawatts. And uh, a month or two behind B reactor was D reactor and D reactor, they started out they loaded the thing up completely to begin with. And so there was a race between D & B as to who was gonna get to the design power level first and B, I think they contrived it, because B reactor got there about two days before D did. And that to me was a great feeling of accomplishment uh, I happened to be supervisor in the control room of the shift the night that we got to 250 megawatts; we’d gotten to 245 megawatts the night before and uh, and I got the word from the boss in town to take it up to 250 and uh, the uh I told the operator and he was just pleased as punch that he was the guy that brought it up to 250. And uh, so those were memorable occasions.

IN ITS LATER LIFE WHAT WAS MAX LEVEL IT WAS ABLE TO ACHIEVE?

2,000 megawatts. Before, before (?) shutdown, it got 1,900 to 2,000. But, that wasn’t the same reactor. The fuel elements were different. The uh, the amount of water, cooling water available, was much greater and uh, a lot of research and development had gone into increasing the power levels. (CHATTER)

TELL US ABOUT THE COOLING STORY.

Well uh the reactors uh, run well with cold water and they can get the higher power levels in the wintertime then they can in the summertime and we’ve had some pretty hot summers around here and the river warms up pretty good, gets up around 19 or 20 degrees centigrade and uh, in August. And somebody came up with the idea several years ago that instead of spilling the, running the water over the spillway if they could bottom discharge the water through the dams uh, they could reduce the river temperature. And by doing that, they were reduce, they were able to reduce the river temperature by one or so degrees Fahrenheit. And that made a significant increase in the amount of production that the reactors could put out during that time. The complication was that the corps of engineers or whoever runs the dams uh, had a big display of lights in the summertime for tourists, Grand Coulee Dam over the spillway, you know. And they didn’t like the idea of robbing the uh, water from the spillway supplied to cooler reactors. But uh, we did it for a while and of course now there isn’t any water goes over any of the dams uh, it all goes through uh, through (?) (CHATTER)

REACTION TO DETONATION OF THE BOMB?

Well, the first thing I heard was, in the middle of July of ‘45, uh, uh, I don’t know whether it was (?) boss or who it was came in and said “I thing they’ve exploded one.” And uh, he referred to a newspaper article from the Seattle PI about a big explosion in Almagordo, New Mexico uh, and there was some concern about release of poison gas and they might have to evacuate some of the residents in that area, which they never did have to do. But uh, everybody in our place put it together as a, that was their, that was the first bomb. And that was, that, later it came out that was the first bomb. So we knew it worked and all the time we didn’t know whether it was going to work or not. So then uh, it was amazing though, I think, that so soon afterwards why the, the Nagasaki, the uh, Hiroshima bomb was dropped. See that was in the middle of July and that was the first part of August when the, when the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. And then we wondered - well do you think they have any more? And then the Nagasaki bomb came down. We still wondered well, I wonder how many more they have or if that’s it, but that’s all they needed. (I BET THE JAPANESE WERE WONDERING TOO) Yeah, and we felt real good that we had really brought the war to a real abrupt conclusion.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT IT WAS LIKE - DROP BOMB, END WAR?

It was euphoria. I mean all over the country it was just great that the war the war stopped. Of course, the war in Europe had been over and uh, and this brought the final hostilities to a close.

IT WAS TENSE DURING WARTIME, EVERYBODY AT HOME FELT THAT?

Well, let’s see. We’d been, we’d been living with it for 3 or 4 years and uh, it was a way of life and uh, but you’re always hearing stories about casualties and uh, and about battles and fortunately, we were always winning and we were gradually making our mark felt but uh, island by island to get to Japan was a was a pretty rough deal.

TOLD IT WAS SHORT TERM ASSIGNMENT?

Right, and uh, well let’s see that was ‘45 and then ‘46, September of ‘46 Dupont left. And uh, quite a few people did leave and then General Electric came in and uh. It was rather a tumultuous time, I think, uh, the uh,uh, people deciding what they were going to do. A lot of us uh, who had not been with the uh with the Dupont Company prior to the military explosives program really didn’t have any jobs to go to with Dupont. And they made a pretty good pitch to stay on out here and indicated that uh, there was a lot of a work to be done here yet and uh, GE uh, when they indicated they were coming in why uh, they worked pretty diligently to keep all the expertise they could here. A lot of people did leave though and some of em left and for a while and came back because the uh, opportunities weren’t as, weren’t as great back east.

ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO SAY ABOUT WHOLE EXPERIENCE?

As far as I was concerned, I thought it was one of the greatest miracles that I ever was, knew about and uh, to be a part of it I think was great and uh, the fact that we did do what we were asked to do and were successful and uh, it really was a liberal education for me just that short time out there as I told you about. Being able to uh, uh, learn from all these design engineers and these physicists and I got a better appreciation for uh, uh how to do things and how things are developed. In retrospect I don’t see how anything like that could take place today. We uh, have so much bureaucracy. We had people out here who were able to make decisions and uh, they were made responsible decisions and uh, they, there was an awful lot of head scratching and uh, forethought before moves were made. Because we knew what we were dealing with and uh I just I just feel that it made me much more of a successful person in my in my field than I would have been in a, you might say a normal, normal industry.

END

Files

Citation

B Reactor Museum Association, “Don Lewis Oral History,” Hanford History Project, accessed September 23, 2021, http://hanfordhistory.com/items/show/4682.