Interview with Emil Leitz

Dublin Core


Interview with Emil Leitz


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


An interview with Emil Leitz 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

2016-06-21: Metadata v1 created – [RG]

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Arata, Laura


Emil, Leitz


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Northwest Public Television | Leitz_Emil

Man one: Whenever you're ready.

Laura Arata: We’re ready to go?

Man one: Yeah, yup.

Arata: Okay. So if we just start off, if I could have you say your name, and then spell your last name for us.

Emil Leitz: Emil E. Leitz, the last name spelled, L-E-I-T-Z.

Arata: Thank you. My name's Laura Arata. And we're conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. The date is November 7th, 2013, already, somehow. So I wonder if we could start just by having you tell us a little bit about how you come to Hanford, when you arrived here, so what your initial experience was like?

Leitz: Okay, I came to Hanford after I served my tour of duty during the Korean War. And I had worked for GE prior to going in the service, and they asked me where I would like to go back to work for them. And so I told them I would like to go the Northwest, and they said, well, Hanford is a place where we have some jobs. We'd be glad to place you there. So I came to Hanford. My wife and I were married at the time. We had one child. Hanford, to me, going first on the job, it was kind of old time I'd say. The ride to the area was by bus, but the buses were not air conditioned. They were, in the winter, very cold because the heaters were not very adequate. The assignment to the C Reactor was my choice after I had been here for a while. There were some other engineers who came in when I did. We each went our own ways. The trip, I mentioned, was by bus, but as also, we had to take our own lunches. We didn't have eating—preparation for food out in the areas. I was in the research and development organization as an engineer trying to, at that time, improve both safety and production. Something that was really, really emphasized, the importance for safety here at Hanford. And at that time, they were also wanting to increase production because we were in the big race with Russia to whoever could make the most bombs supposedly was going to be the winner of this Cold War. Well, after I worked for—well, the first assignment I had really at C Reactor was they were trying out a new fuel element, and that would cool the fuel both internal and external to the fuel. And it took a special spacer on the end to mix them. Now a spacer is something that positions the fuel in the reactor. And it would take a special one of these spacers to mix the fuel between the inner and outer cooling channels on the fuel. And it so happened that at C Reactor, once they got their reactor up and charged it, they couldn't get the reactor to run. We had every process tube, 2,003 of them--were monitored by a flow monitor. And that flow monitor, if the pressure exceeded certain limits, it would automatically shut the reactor down. And it just kept shutting the reactor down. And the plant manager, he wanted to abort the whole program. He says, it's common to all of the tubes, we just can't operate the reactors, so the fuel is a failure. And they asked me my opinion, and I said, it could very well be that we only have a very few tubes mischarged without that mixer spacer. Because I had them run some tests that showed that if that mixer spacer's in there, the pressure would be oscillating between the tube. And we couldn't identify at that time which particular tube was causing the problem. So that's what I told my management, and then two days later, the plant manager came into me, he was just livid. He said, you told the people that I was making a mistake in charging the reactor, that I was not controlling it adequately. And he said, I'm going to get your ass. That's just what he said. And I'm going to check every process tube in that reactor, and prove that you’re wrong. Well, they checked them, and they had seven process tubes mischarged. They corrected the charge, the reactor went up—operated perfectly. Never had another scram, so I didn't hear anything more from that manager. So it was kind of interesting point of view about my first assignment, and I got that kind of pressure from some of the managers.

Arata: How long did that take, to test that many process tubes?

Leitz: Oh, to load the reactor probably took six months or so. Because they would do, as the field became ripe, the old field became ripe--or ready for discharge--they would discharge, it was a couple hundred tubes, and then put new ones in. So that took probably two, three charges ‘til they—when they got--And I don't know when the problem first occurred to having these inadvertent scrams, but when I got there, they were ready to abort the load. And would have really reduced—they had to increase the flow into the reactor, and they could not really get full utilization. Those reactors originally were built for 200 megawatts—I think that's what it was--and they were all operating up around 2,000 then after they got these new fuel elements in and the new flow up. So ten times the power that they originally designed for. So there were really some big improvements. Along with this going on, it was in 1957 in Richland, they were going to sell the homes. They made a big—they were going to get out of the business of having houses, and a lot of the people were pretty leery. Hey, they're going to be shutting this down because most of them knew, oh yeah, we've got plenty of weapons. We really don't need all this plutonium for weapons. And so some people were very hesitant. They offered the homes at 75% of the appraised value of the house if you didn't want the buy-back clause. And if you paid full price, the government would promise to buy it back if something would happen that there was a real economic downturn in Richland. And I found this one guy who says, he was in no way ever going to invest in his buying a house in Richland. And I said, okay. A ranch house is appraised at $10,000, if you buy one, I'll pay you $8,500 for it. So it's appraised at $10,000, and I said, I'd pay you at $8,500. And you buy them in the no buy-back clause, and so that's how I bought my first house. I had been grinning. I couldn't get into one of the government houses, and they were about half the rent I had to pay in a commercial housing organization, which that time was warehousing. So that's kind of an interesting thing as far as living here in Richland goes. People are always a little bit leery about how long could they really want to continue to run those reactors.

Arata: All right.

Leitz: So the success there at C Reactor--and I was then reassigned to process standards and other jobs. And one night I wanted to start up when they had the approval to build the N Reactor, it was about 1962. I had been here, oh, seven years. They selected me to be what they called the startup engineer for the N Reactor. They had three tests. They had the N1s, which was for physics testing. You had the N2 and N3. The N2 just brought the reactor up in enough power that it could supply its own power for its turbines, and they could back off the boiler. They have a big boiler plant that would generate the steam that normally could drive the turbines. And then they would bootstrap it up. You'd get enough steam, and you'd start these big turbines up, and then you go on up in power. N Reactor was designed for 4,000 megawatts, so I had the job of designing—Now it was unique to any other reactor in the world, and a lot of people say, that reactor just isn't going to run. It's too complicated. It had only 1,000 process tubes, but it also was on recirculation, and no contamination left that plant. It was all--the water just recirculated, and then we didn't release the coolant to the river like all the other reactors that the water would go through the reactor and into the river and still have some radioactivity still left in it, so the N Reactor was a solution for that particular problem. So as they're prior getting ready for writing all those tests and starting of the reactor as assigned training mission aboard the Nuclear Ship Savannah. The Nuclear Ship Savannah was built as part of the Atoms for Peace under Eisenhower. And then that was kind of jointly N Reactor was kind of the same sort of thing, where we would have an Atoms for Peace. We had, instead of just producing plutonium, we also could eventually, if it was approved, add the power generation station. So the original testing of N Reactor went very well, on schedule, and they gave me this little award here, which is the general manager’s award. They didn't give many of these out. And actually, along with that I got a check that was about the size of another month’s pay, so when I was young and needed the money, that was very welcome.

Arata: We'll get a picture of that at the end for sure.

Leitz: So with that success then, we went ahead and I, during the lifetime of the N Reactor, I worked there a long time. The dual purpose construction was approved in May of 1965, and as a part of that dedication, President Kennedy came out and made a big dedication. And let me see, I think—yeah, 37,000 people came to hear the President speak here the first time Hanford was open up to the public. They had parked thousands of cars out there out in the middle of the desert. Kennedy came in a helicopter. Even though we had watered the ground down, it was just a cloud of dust because it was a construction site, and man, boy, you couldn't even see the helicopter when it was landing. And I had the big job of helping park cars and stuff like that at that time. That’s what it took an engineer to do. [LAUGHTER] It was kind of a fun day for everybody, I think.

Arata: Did you get to actually see President Kennedy going over his speech then?

Leitz: Yeah, oh, yeah. We got to really see him. Nobody got to shake hands with him, except a very few. I mean, they still have the podium somewhere that he talked from. That's still on display in the museum somewhere. So the first real problem that occurred at N Reactor that they couldn't solve. For some reason, we were having a lot of fuel failures. And some of it was due to equipment problems. Some of it was due to the way they were loading the tubes and that sort of thing. And they appointed me to hit up a task force to try and reduce the fuel failure rate. The fuel failure rate was something like one a month! And when the task force got done and made all these recommendations and they implemented them, we got it down to something like one a month. Now in doing that job, I decided I'm going to do it as a thesis for my master's degree in business. And so it was an operational analysis sort of thing. It was very successful, and I got my thesis paper written and that sort of thing, and that's in the libraries here somewhere. So that was very successful at Battelle. Then I got to be manager of the N Reactor Operations, and I always had to test everybody before they--I was part of a team that tested everybody before they would be certified. N Reactor was the first reactor at Hanford, at least, that certified ladies to be reactor operators. We had two or three ladies while I was manager of operations at the plant that became certified, which I was pretty proud that we didn't have this bias, women against men and that sort of thing. But after I got done, when I was manager I followed every startup personally to make sure they didn't mess up, that they were doing it right. And then I went into managing the safety for all the reactors that were left and fuels and so on and so forth. And the people in the plant operations were always trying to get me to do faster reactor startups. Because if you get the plant started up faster, you get to generate your electricity faster, and they say you could gain as much as a third of a day production by starting up the reactor fast. Well, when they asked me go back in and again--well the fuel failure rate went way up. Going up to better than one a month. And asked me to go again and examine what's going wrong with--how come the fuels are failing? And I said, because you're not really sticking with the original recommendation of controlling slowly and raising reactor power level. And no, no, no, we don't believe that. And so I said, okay, let's arbitrate it with Battelle. Battelle will analyze it. So they came in with their people who really understand stress and strains and all that kind of stuff. And they analyzed it and said that they were reactor startup rates that they were going at put ten times the stress on as a reaction scram would. So once they've, again, got control of their power rates going up again, the fuel failures went way back down again. So that was another one of the ways that I put a success on my career. In fact, we were there for a while. We were so erratic in the way the reactor would shut down and start up--is that the dams—if we would trip off, they would have to pick up the electrical load. And that one of the dams when I went to visit with the Corps of Engineers, back when I was taking some of my reserve training through the Corps of Engineers, I saw a sign, Old Faithful where the N Reactor power was showing. It was kind of interesting. It's interesting that when the first electrical energy was produced, three of the reactors had already been shut down. Now we always felt that N Reactor that N Reactor could just about replace the production of those three reactors. And so we weren't too worried about us getting shut down. But as we operated on through the years, we had all the reactors shut down by 1969, actually--yeah, by 1971, all reactors, including N Reactor, was shut down. And we started the big campaign to get to the Washington Public Power Supply system and/or now the Northwest Electrical Energy to give us better payment for our steams, and with the better rate on steam, we got people to then restart N Reactor under a better contract. So in 1971, after being shut down as a part of all the reactors, we were restarted and allowed to operate. We operated through—okay, and in 1971, when all the plants were down, we had another president visit. The only second president that I know that came to Richland, and that Nixon that came. And he'd give us the old pep talk about how he wasn't going to leave us all in the lurch here in Hanford. That we're going to have people like Pacific Northwest labs and so on and bringing the business, and there'd be plenty for us to do. Well, we did get N Reactor restarted and we operated then through—well, Mt. St. Helens erupted in '80 and in 1980, we had to do some upgrades to make sure that that sort of thing would not interfere with our operation. We got up to where we generated 65 billion kilowatt hours of electrical power, and then in 1987, after that achievement, we were shut down to make some safety improvements to improve our operation, make it more safe. And we never did restart from that. We were kept out. So at that time I was reassigned to the decommissioning work, cleaning up Hanford and being mainly involved in safety with the reactors. I became more involved then with making sure that the effort to decontaminate everything, and it was done within environmental requirements and within safety requirements. You had these big tanks of waste, and there's a potential that just by sticking a probe into a tank of waste, you can moderate the waste such that it could possibly even go critical like a reactor. So we had to examine everything they wanted to do--if they wanted to put a new pump in a tank or if they wanted to move the liquid around, if they wanted to stir the liquid, or if they wanted to use certain chemicals. And what would be your environmental impact? Where do you look for waste from the tanks? A lot of waste is just buried out there. Just if you wanted to get rid of radioactive waste, you go out and dig a hole and you put some waste--and you put it in there. And so recovering all of that and recovering that safely for personnel and for the environment is the job that I ended up doing for the rest of my career. So basically I had what I considered a pretty good career at Hanford. I really thought there were some good challenges, and I thought I made some pretty good contributions to operations at Hanford Project.

Arata: Is it okay if I ask a few more follow up questions?

Leitz: Pardon?

Arata: Can I ask you a few more follow up questions?

Leitz: Oh, you bet ya.

Arata: That was some good coverage of your time—

Woman one: There’s also some water there if you need it.

Leitz: No, I don’t need it. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: --And your working period. I wonder if you could talk to us a little bit more about on board the Savannah, and how that experience came about? I mean, what your experience on the ship was like and what its mission was?

Leitz: Okay. I could talk all day on that, really. But the first thing, we got on in Portland, Oregon. And we went out to the—the first thing I knew it is there a man came aboard the ship, the side, and he took over the control of the ship. He was a harbor pilot. And I didn't realize that. Why is that? And he said, well, because that particular bay going out into the ocean is noted as the graveyard for many ships because that's one of the worst entries into the ocean there as far as being rough and tricky, and it moved around. So you have to have a particular man who knows what's going on in that bay to help to get the ship out. So that was kind of interesting to find out that there are those kind of risks with running a ship.

Arata: And how would this come about? How had you gotten the invitation to be on the Savannah?

Leitz: Well, based on my experience. They stuck me to be a startup engineer, and they thought and felt I needed special training in high pressure, high temperature reactors. And there was an opportunity to get it, on a ship that used the same kind of a reactor that we had on the N Reactor except it was much, much smaller. It was toy one compared with the N Reactor. Let's see, is there really anything more about that? Oh, what they did is they selected the people on the basis of having one with the reactor at all times during the startup testing. So the four shift managers were selected. My boss's bosses were selected, and I was selected to get that particular training because they felt I would be writing the tests. I need to know about all of it. And they needed to have that experience on every shift. The top man in every shift was also on that ship. So it was kind of interesting, just as a sideline, five of them are Navy men, and I was an Army man, and I was kind of the butt of their jokes. You're going to get seasick, and we're going to all laugh at you. And we get into--after we went through the Panama Canal--and we all took some time off in the Panama Canal in terms of working extra before and after—but after we got to the Panama, we went into the Caribbean, and we did get into quite a storm. That ship was actually taking water over the bow. It would go down and go up and go down and go up. And I was out there watching that bow and then I went in to go and eat that night. And I couldn't find any of those other guys. Couldn't find a one of them anywhere. That was kind of a funny part of it is I was probably the only one, I don't think, that didn't get seasick. But it was a fun trip, and we flew back home from Galveston, then.

Arata: What route did the ship take while you were on it?

Leitz: Well, it went down the coast of South America in through the Panama Canal into the Caribbean and into Galveston, Texas, yeah.

Arata: How long were you aboard?

Leitz: 30 days. It was a nice cruise. Really it's one of the best vacations I ever had. [LAUGHTER] Except they had us do a study, but I didn't mind the study at all.

Arata: I wonder if I could have you talk just a little bit--you did a lot of work on safety and security. Could you talk a little bit about if you had to where any special protective clothing in what you did or maybe what sorts of standards you set for other people to follow?

Leitz: At one time I was a manager, in fact, of first-hand safety, but only safety in the context of security and that sort of thing. At one time, they had a big upgrade at Hanford for security, and I was in charge the upgrading. But as far as personally, I went into the reactor sites many times and had do the special clothing. If there's any chance of air contamination, you had to have respirators on. And to get out of a radiation area, you have to go to two step-off pads. The first one you just get your clothes off on it. And the second one then, they check you in, and you can come on out. But you had radiation monitors check you any time you come out of a radiation suit and instruments, you put your hands and feet on them and a special clothing.

Arata: Were there ever any incidents that you recall? Anything either humorous or a little bit scary or anything like that?

Leitz: Well, some that aren't too finicky. One of the K Reactors, when they started it, they had a new physicist, and he held a high period. I don't know if you realize, a 30-second period when you're at watts, you aren't really increasing power real fast, but if you keep that 30-second period when you’re up in megawatts, then it's very, very rapid, increasing power. And then it was the startup of one of the Ks, this new physicist had him hold that 30-second period until the reactors scrammed out from these [INAUDIBLE] trips. Now one thing I could mention is that the change in technology has really changed. Back at C Reactor, we didn't know which tube was causing the scram. With the N Reactor, we knew everything going on, every tube. And we used to have to take our data downtown, in an automobile, we'd punch it out on key cards, and we'd take it down and punch those into a computer. And we'd get the limits back, we'd go back to the reactor and say, okay, you can raise power. And then we would go in and get some more limits and back and forth between town and back. And that took a long time ready to start up because that N Reactor, you had instantaneous information. You knew right along just exactly how every tube related to its limit, pressure and temperature. So we went from analog kinds of systems to digital kinds of systems, just the same thing you see in your TVs or your telephones, the same kind of thing happened at the reactors as far as computerization and technology. So that was really an enhancement.

Arata: Were there any aspects of your work that you found sort of the most challenging or the most rewarding? You had several different jobs.

Leitz: [LAUGHTER] Well, I think the most rewarding was where I faced up a couple managers [LAUGHTER] and won the battle.

Arata: During C Reactor?

Leitz: But there's some worry to our time in that too, you know, what if I'm wrong? But it turned out all right. And I think that's part of the reason that I was really considered the one man who knew the most about the reactor. I didn't know everything, but I probably knew more than most people about there. Because I started it up, I lived with it to its life, and I got the picture kind of as a reward for when I retired.

Arata: Is anything that was the most challenging, maybe to work through in your time at Hanford?

Leitz: I think when I think of the operation N Reactor, I think it was the most challenging job I had. Because that one required, like I said, I went with all the startups. And that's when I was a process engineer with the reactor. When they had problems, they'd call us at night and that sort of thing. But with N Reactor, it was kind of more volunteer, but to know—and some of the shift managers were pretty hesitant on their own to make decisions. And I think that was probably the most challenging job was the operation of one of those big reactors—or that single big reactor and knowing when or when not to say, hey, you've got to shut down, or you don't have to shut down. And the controls even at N Reactor on the environmental controls, you can let down water into a crib—into a spill cooler if you wanted to, and even that was very, very--it had to be done without radiation released into the environment. And there's a real, real difference in attitudes over the years of environmental control and making sure you did not release isotopes into the environment. Really had differences in attitudes.

Arata: Yeah, I understand that the Chernobyl incident had a big impact on the decision to finally close N Reactor, to not restart N Reactor. Do you have any thoughts?

Leitz: Well, N Reactor is a graphite moderator reactor. And Chernobyl when they raised power level fast, their graphite coefficient was different than N Reactor. N Reactor, if you raised the power fast, it would shut it down, it would tend to shut it down. So as you were starting up fast, in R Reactor, you had to pull the rods faster and faster if you heat it up faster in order to keep the activity going up. In Chernobyl, the same thing happened, but their rods weren't strong enough to stop it. And so it kept going up in power until it melted the core. Now at N Reactor, we ran a lot of experiments to try and prove that even if that did happen, we don't think our graphite would have burnt. But to tell somebody you've got a graphite stack over here that burnt, and then we've got a graphite stack over here that's a little different composition and made up a little different way, it won't burn—just one cell. We still believe that we never could've burnt the N Reactor stack, but basically, that's what kept it down. It's shut it down for keeps—it’s the fact that why won't our stack burn? We just couldn't prove our stack wouldn't burn. We put torches on it, heat it up to a tremendous temperature, it wouldn't burn, but is that enough proof that it won't burn? You know, just wouldn't quite buy. So you know about a little bit about Chernobyl, huh? [LAUGHTER]

Arata: A tiny bit. What was Hanford like overall as a place to work?

Leitz: Well, the real inconvenience is location. Riding the bus back and forth initially, and later, we drove our own car. I actually wore out a little Metropolitan driving back and forth. I kind of enjoyed that little car, but we got to use our own cars. We carpooled and these sorts of things. One thing you'd see in the desert, and I don't know if many, many people are aware of it, but sometimes you see a lot of rabbits killed on the highway. And pretty soon you'd see no more rabbits on the highway, but you start seeing wolves and coyotes killed on the highway. And that's the cycle of what would happen is when there are lots of rabbits, there's a lot for the coyote to eat. And you could just see that cycle at Hanford, over a number of years, the population of each of those would vary. And if the rabbit population goes out, then the other population goes out. When it goes down, it goes down. So it was kind of interesting to see that.

Arata: Yeah. I wonder if we could back up just briefly to when you first arrived, if you had any impressions of what Richland was like as a community when you first arrived here?

Leitz: Well, the main reaction we had was, man, it’s costing us a lot more to live than those people that have been here for a while because they had a lot of stuff provided to them, coal or whatever. But you know, the rents were half what we had to pay and that sort of thing, but that didn't last forever. And buying the houses was it really turned out to be a very promising thing. We had weather storms, pretty bad. We had termination winds. We had a pastor, one of our pastors at church--the wife was just by herself when the storm had come in the sand would come through her doors. She wanted her husband to stop that from happening. [LAUGHTER] We had a lot of activities for couples and younger people and so on that we don't have now. Sororities, the Army Reserve meetings, and all these sort of things, you know. Nowadays, people don't want the same kind of entertainment as they had back in those days with Richland. So it’s a different style, more thrifty, maybe that's the whole United States.

Arata: Did you have sorts of dances or community events, things like that?

Leitz: Yeah, had quite a few community events and dances and things like that.

Arata: I know at one point you mentioned White Bluffs. Did you go out to the town site at any point during your first few years here?

Leitz: Well, we had to drive past it almost every day. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: Were there still buildings standing by that point? Or--

Leitz: The foundations in some of the walls and stuff were there, but none of the buildings were really intact. One of the old gas stations--but some of the people, and I didn't get it going, but some of the people did some exploration, which was not allowed. But they did on the old sites.

Arata: I just have a couple other things that I wanted to ask you about from reading through your notes. A lot of what I've read about N Reactor talks about zirconium, and I understand this is sort of an innovation at the time. Could you talk a little bit about what it was, and why it was so new?

Leitz: Well, zirconium, they needed a process tube. In the old reactors, there was just aluminum, because there was only cold water going through. They’d maybe get, oh, maybe it would get almost to boiling on the outside of some of the aluminum tubes. In the N Reactor you need a process tube that withstood the high temperature, high pressure. And so they developed this new metal, zirconium, that would withstand the temperatures and pressure and so on involved within the reactor, and the fuel was also clad in that. So if we ran on aluminum tube or aluminum fuel outline at the temperature we had to run at, it would have, what do you call it? A fuel failure. And fuel failures, well, I didn't talk too much about them, but there you're opening up the cladding to the uranium and then the uranium fission product took it in. And you’re likely for that to stay in the primary loop and cause high radiation to our workers. In the other old reactors, it would just go on through the reactor. And hopefully most of it would get picked up and they'd have a cooling pond for the water goes too and then the water goes the river. But small amounts of that could get to the river, and I think that's some of things they found with the aluminum tubes. But our zirconium tubes, they were much more resistant to temperature and pressure and so on.

Arata: Is there anything that you'd sort of like to pass on, wisdom to future generations? Of course, most of my students didn't live through the Cold War. They were born afterwards and don't really have an understanding of that time. Is there anything that you'd like future generations to know about what that experience was like of living through and working through the Cold War?

Leitz: Well, there's a lot of fear of radiation that's not merited, and it's something you have to learn to live with. Just like in our agricultural world, there are a lot of chemicals and stuff that we're using now we didn't use to use. But we have to learn to use them safely. I think radiation, contamination with radiation, there's a big difference between contamination and irradiation. If you go in for an X-ray, you get irradiated, but you don't get contaminated. If you get contaminated, you've actually got the radioactive material on you, and then you, yourself, become a carrier of that. Contamination is a thing that is more to be feared than just the radiation itself, but you have to control the radiation. Just understanding how to best preserve it. Now we haven't learned all our lessons yet on how to control all the fuel and the reactors, for instance. We haven't got a disposal method that--we're still arguing about how we're going to take care of those spent fuel elements and that sort of thing in our commercial reactors. And we have to learn to do that, but I think now—I just read an article the other day in the paper about the dangers we have from just fossil fuels or even the wind machines and so forth. They are not free of environmental problems. And so you've got to learn to live with radiation and, hopefully, that can be reactors, new generation reactors can be a source of power that will eliminate all these problems. Even the possibility of burning the fuel up to where it’s used up rather than create contamination. There are some real lessons to be learned yet.

Arata: Is there anything I haven't asked you about yet that you'd like to tell me about?

Leitz: Well, I told you about Nixon and the time when all the reactors were shut down. 65 billion kilowatt hours were generated by N Reactor before it was finally shut down. That's a lot of electrical power. At one time we were really the leading reactor insofar as the power generated, but that didn't last long as the new, larger reactors came online. But for a while, we were running the race. We overtook some of the smaller ones.

Arata: I understand you were at the closure last year.

Leitz: Yeah, last year I went out to closure. [LAUGHTER] That's almost funny because I found out they're going to have a shutdown, so I was trying to go. And this lady called to explain to my wife that--I wasn't home--that I wasn't invited. And she says, well, he thinks he's Mr. N Reactor. He thinks you ought to invite him, and after she talked to him, they invited me to go. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, that’s kind of--

Arata: Well, I want to thank you very much for coming in and sharing your stories with us. We really appreciate it. We'll get some images of your award and you picture now.

Leitz: Yeah.



Bit Rate/Frequency

197 kbps

Hanford Sites

C Reactor
N Reactor

Years on Hanford Site


Names Mentioned

Kennedy, John F.
Nixon, Richard


Emil, Leitz.jpg


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Emil Leitz,” Hanford History Project, accessed July 16, 2024,