Interview with Bob Smith

Dublin Core


Interview with Bob Smith


Richland (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Hanford (Wash.)
Nuclear weapons plants--Health aspects--Washington (State)--Hanford Site Region
Nuclear instruments & methods


An interview with Bob Smith 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

2016-06-24: Metadata v1 created – [J.G.]


The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to this US Department of Energy collection.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Robert Bauman


Bob Smith


Washington State University - Tri-Cities


Northwest Public Television | Smith_Bob 

Bauman: I'm going to start by just maybe having you state your name first. 

Smith: That's Robert Lee Smith. I usually go by Bob. 

Bauman: Okay, and my name is Robert Bauman, and I'm conducting an oral history interview with Bob Smith on July 16th of 2013, and the interview's being conducted on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. And I'll be talking with Bob Smith about his experience working at the Hanford site. So I thought we'd start today by just asking you to talk about how you came to Hanford, how that happened, when that was, and what brought you here. 

SmithWell, it had to happen about 1951. My Kansas National Guard unit got called into federal service during the Korean War, and we wound up at Fort Lewis. So one day, a friend and I were hitchhiking into Yakima, and this car, Oldsmobile station wagon--looked like a brand new one--pulled up to give us a ride. So we got to asking him questions about, well, gee, you must have a nice job to afford a car like this. Yeah, I've got a pretty nice job, he says. Well, what do you do? He says, I'm a guard over at the Hanford Atomic Works. I says, well, where's that? He said, oh, it's 80 miles down the road. We weren't bashful about asking questions, so we says, well, how much do you make? He says well I make $100 a week. $100 a week? Wow. I had just left Pittsburg, Kansas at a job at $30 a week as a clerk typist. So I thought to myself, I want to check that place out. So eventually I did. I wound up as a clerk when they were building the K Areas, not making $100 a week, but I was making $60 a week. 

BaumanAnd did you have any idea of what Hanford was at the time? 

SmithI had read a short article in the newspaper, I think, over at Fort Lewis, something about they had atomic energy work going on here, and it was secret, and it got my imagination, my curiosity up. I thought, I'm going to have to check that place out. So I eventually did. 

BaumanAnd what were your first impressions of the place when you first arrived to work? 

SmithI thought it was a real nice place. I got here on June 8th in 1953. And the weather was nice and clear and really nice. I saw the Rattlesnake Mountain off of the site, back over there, and I thought, man, that's really pretty. We didn't have any mountains like that back in Kansas. So I was living at the dormitory, so I would run out in the morning and catch a bus, take me to the bus lot, and then from the bus lot I'd go out to 100-K Area. So anyhow, I was very impressed with the area around here. 

BaumanAnd so what was your first job? What sort of job were you doing? 

SmithIt was a clerk typist out of 100-K Area, when they were building the K-East and K-West Reactor. It was back in 1953. 

BaumanAnd so which contractor? 

SmithGeneral Electric. 

BaumanGeneral Electric. 

SmithYeah, General Electric Company. 

Bauman: Okay, and you said you lived in a dormitory when you first came? 

SmithYes, mm-hmm. 

BaumanAnd where were those at the time? 

SmithIt was where Albertsons Grocery Store is now on Stevens--Stevens and the Lee Boulevard. 

BaumanAnd it was an all-men dormitory? 

SmithWell, it had a W-21, which stood for Women's, but there were two dormitories in there that had men in them, but they started with a W because eventually they thought they would be women's dorms. But they had more men than women, I guess, so I wound up in W-21. 

BaumanAnd how large was the dorm? 

SmithJust like any college dormitory, actually--two story, stairs on the outside you could go up, as well stairs inside--typical college-type dorm. 

BaumanAnd how long did you live in the dorm then? 

SmithWell, I lived in the dorm until I got married in 1954. I got married in May of '54, so. While living there, they eventually transferred me up to M-1 dormitory, which is up close to Jadwin and Symons, something like that. Because—for some reason, maybe they had sold their area to Albertsons. I don't know. But I eventually moved up there. So I was there about a year. 

Bauman: Okay. And then after you got married, where did you move at that point? 

SmithWell, we got an apartment over in Kennewick, but we were only there for about week before our names came through. We had put in for a house to rent in Richland, because it was still a government town at that time. And we got a B house at that time at 1413 McPherson. So being over this one bedroom basement apartment in Kennewick only lasted about a week, so we moved into the Richland B house. 

BaumanAnd what were your impressions of Richland at the time? What sort of community was it? 

SmithI thought it was real nice. It had the downtown section and also the uptown. The uptown section was fairly new at that time. But I thought it was very good. 

BaumanAnd you mentioned Richland was a government town. Do you remember any special community events--parades, any of those sorts of things during that period? 

SmithNot too manybeing a government town, why, you did the job that you had to do. Well, they did have this music group that had opera singers and plays that you could go to and take part in choruses, singing. So I did join the Richland Light Opera Team for maybe one year and did a little singing there. But that was only for a few months, until I met my wife, and then I lost interest in singing. [LAUGHTER] 

BaumanAnd at some point, Richland I guess, gains independence, I guess, or whatever you want to say. Do you remember anything about that period and that process at all? 

SmithYeah, that was around 1957 when that happened. And being in a B house, which meant there was a family on each side, the people that were there ahead of us had the opportunity to buy the house, but they didn't want to buy it, so they asked us if we wanted to buy it. Well, didn't have enough money to buy anything, so we said, no. So they went ahead and bought it, and we just stayed there. The rent for the General Electric time was $37.50 a month, and we continued paying that for about a year, and then it went up to about $50 a month. But that was still pretty reasonable at that time. 

BaumanSo you mentioned you started as a clerk typist in the K Area, right? At some point you moved in to Health Physics. Is that right? 


BaumanHow did that happen, and when did that happen? 

SmithWell, by the time my year was up as a clerk typist, I had a chance to move into a job at a little bit of pay. The job was called field assistant, but it was half clerical typing job, and the other half of the day would be radiation time-keeper following JA. Jones personnel around, minor construction, keeping time on them—radiation time in radiation zones to make sure that these construction workers didn't receive more than 300 MR in a seven-day period. Because in those days, although we had dosimeter pencils, they were not the self-reading kind where you could just look up at the light. What they would do is at the end of the day, you would drop your badge and pencils in a rack, in this case, 200 West Area and then go home for the night. Well, they had what they called pencil girls that would come out on swing shift, and they would collect these badge and pencils, and they would read these pencils. They had a manometer upstairs above the guard house, and they would stick these pencil in the manometer. It would read how much radiation it had collected. Then they'd put them back with the badge and put them back in the rack. So the next morning when you came, you'd pick them up again. Well, my time as a radiation time-keeper was up to me to keep track with pencil and paper about how long they could stay in the radiation zones, depending on how high the radiation dose was. As a radiation time-keeper, we'd accompany radiation monitors--they called them Health Physics Technicians--everywhere the construction guys went. And they would tell us the reading, and we would calculate how many minutes they could work in that zone. And then when they would leave that zone and go to another one, then we'd calculate that. So we did that for the full eight hours a day. Well, at least four hours a day. Half the day I might spend as a clerk typist writing up construction schedules for the--we had a General Electric engineer and also a JA. Jones engineer. So they would write up the schedules, and I would type them up for the first half of the day, and the second half of the day, I would go keep time on the guys in the radiation zones for about half a day. So I did that from 1954 to 1959, and then I had a chance to transfer into radiation monitoring, which I did. And I worked in that job from '59 until I retired in '93. 

Bauman: Oh, okay. And so when you moved to radiation monitoring, what did that mean in terms of your sort of everyday job? What sorts of different things would you be doing? 

SmithWell, we would go with the operations personnel, like operators or maintenance people, and accompany them on jobs and find out how much radiation was in the area, and then go in there with them and stay with them, in a lot of cases, as long as they were in the zone. And then sometimes we could set the job up if the radiation was not going to increase or decrease, then we would leave the job. But oftentimes we would have to stay with them because they would move from one place to another. So we were kind of following construction people and operations engineerseverybody that had to go in a radiation zone. We'd either go ahead of time and check the readings off and take smears--some floor smears and air samples and that sort of thing--to make sure they were within the limits of a the Hanford project. 

BaumanSo you worked in various places throughout the site. 

SmithYeah, I worked at--eventually over the period of time, I was in that job at all nine reactors at the Hanford project. And also I worked three separations buildings, PUREX 200 East Area, D Plant in 200 East Area, and also at the REDOX. When I was a radiation time-keeper, partly I kept time on the construction people because they were building a crane viewing room in the REDOX, so I did work there also as part of my job as a time-keeper. 

BaumanAnd I imagine, given the number of years that you worked there, that were a number of contractors that you worked for over the years. 

SmithYeah, General Electric left about 1965, so about that time I had a chance to transfer over to the 200 Areas at an outfit called Isochem had the contract. And they only did that for about a year or two, when they left and turned their work over to Atlantic Richfield. And Atlantic Richfield did it eventually until Westinghouse eventually took over. In between those periods there, I also worked at Douglas Labs, which is out on North George Washington Way. And I did the same type of work, except I also was taught how to irradiate TLD badges because TLDs took over the place from film badges. So I would issue these badges for all workers for Douglas Labs, which was, at that time, probably less than 100 people. And I worked at that from about '73 until '76, when Exxon bought the building for Douglas Labs, and then I worked for them for about another couple three years. So actually I was gone from the Hanford project for about five years there, roughly--two and a half for Exxon, and two and a half for Douglas Labs. 

Bauman: Okay, okay. Now, at some point, the mission of the site changed from production to clean up. Did that impact your job in terms of radiation monitoring in anyway, and if so, how so? 

Smith: Yeah, some things did, all right. About 1987, all the reactors were shut down except N Reactor. And then they decided to shut N Reactor down '87. But they still had a lot of fuel elements left in the basement at N Reactor. Sometimes they would ship those few elements over to K Areas for storage. But they needed to be processed to make plutonium. Even though they were going to quit making plutonium, they should've dissolved these fuel elements and got rid of them. Instead they just let them store in the K areas for several years. And that was too bad, because eventually K Areas had to get those fuel elements out of there and send what's left of them over to T Plant, what they call T Plant now, for storage of some of the stuff that's left. So it made a difference in the kind of radiation monitoring you did. You didn't have to go into operating reactor buildings. Eventually, I transferred into what they call a D&D group, which was Decontamination and Decommissioning, which meant I went around to all of the old shut down reactors with operators. Well, they were called D&D workers at this time. We would go with them and make sure that there was no radiation around, take smears of the floor. About the only thing left in them would be radon, so we'd check for that. Sometimes we'd run onto a rattlesnake in these old shut down buildings. And one that really surprised once--we went to 105 C Reactor, and we saw this rattlesnake curled up underneath an old maintenance room. And the operator said, darn, the last time I killed rattlesnake, the environmentalists really got on to me. I says, okay. Well, it was on Friday afternoon, so I said--we had a radio, of course. So I said, I'll go out in the radio car and radio the office and see what the supervisor wants to do. So I did, but the supervisor had left early to go to town, so the assistant was there. I say, what do you want us to do with this rattlesnake? We hadn't killed him yet. [LAUGHTER] And I took a camera with me from the pickup. And he says, well, use your own judgment. Well, our judgment is we're going to run into that thing again in a month from now, and I didn't want him to be surprised and bite me. So I took a shovel in with me, and I handed it to the operator and says, do you want to kill him, or do you want me to do it? He says, I'll do it. So he took the shovel and whacked the head off of this thing. So after a few minutes there we got ready to leave. He scooped up the head on a shovel and carried the tail with his hand. And he went on outside to C Reactor, and he threw the tail over the roadway out into the desert. But the head, he laid down on the concrete there in front of the entrance to C Reactor. He says, let me dig a hole here to bury this head. We didn't want a coyote or something to eat that head and die of rattlesnake poison. So while he was digging that hole, one of the other D&D operators, who had a safety-toed boot on, took his boot and gradually moved it up towards that head, and this was after that thing had been killed for about ten or 15, 20 minutes. And that snake, much to our surprise, his head came up about six inches off the ground, came down, and his teeth had latched around fangs on that guy's boot and snagged the top of it for about an inch. And man, I'll tell you, the three of us looked at each other and says, did you see what I saw? We had never seen that before or heard of it. So that surprised us to no extent. So anyhow, that was one of the exciting jobs. 

Bauman: That’s quite a story. What a surprise. Yeah, wow. So I was going to ask you--you were involved with a lot of radiation monitoring. So if a worker was exposed too much, their pencil or whatever showed--what happened at that point then for the worker? 

SmithWell, we had a limit of 300 MR per seven-day period, and as a radiation time-keeper, when the worker reached that point, why, we would go in and pull him out of the zone and tell him, that's it for the week--300 per week. Also, we had a limit of 50 MR per day to start with. So whenever they reached 50 for that day, we would pull them out. The next day they'd go in for another 50. But they would do that until they got 300 in a seven-day period. 

BaumanIn reading the information from an interview you did ten years ago or so, it talked about that you had been involved in creating a tube that was uses to pinpoint the area of contamination. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? 

SmithYeah, we had what we called a P-11 probe, a Geiger counter. And what we did was, in a process of surveying our people, this P-11 probe was about two, two and a half inches in diameter. I think I've got a copy of it. Anyhow, I would lay this piece of paper down on whatever was contaminated. If it was the bottom of a shoe, we would survey that shoe and find the hottest spot on that shoe, and then we would mark it, a pencil mark around the P-11 probe. So it was a round circle for the hottest spot. And then I would—in my days as field artillery in the army, I used to be work on fire direction center. So we would be fire forward and fire backwards. I thought, well, maybe I could use this P-11 probe like that. So I got the hot spot, and then I would move the P-11 probe down, and then I would draw a circle around it--below it. And then I would go back and find the hot spot and move it to the right, and move it until the radiation went away. Then I would draw a circle around that. Then I would take it up above and do the same thing there and off the left-hand side. So when I got through, I had a spot in the center of it about the size of your thumbnail, and that would tell us where the hotspot was on the bottom of the shoe or whatever you were decontaminating. So that saved you some time in decontaminating. Like on the bottom of a shoe you'd use sandpaper or emery cloth, something like that to clean it off, or masking tape or duct tape. So that kind of helped me anyhowjust tools of the trade. 

BaumanRight, and when did you develop that? What time frame would that have been? 

SmithProbably around 1970. At that time, I was going over to CBC. I used to be an awards chairman for the Health Physics Society years ago, and my job was to contact the instructor for a nuclear technology class for the CBC and find out who we could give a scholarship to--$500 or something like that. So this guy called me up one day. He says, Bob, we need to have somebody in your group to come over and give radiation monitoring classes to our students because they were learning how to be operators in the reactor buildings or radiation technicians. I said, sure, I could do that. He had gotten his experience from the Navy. He was a Health Physics technician, or they called them something else in the Navy. And he says, we need somebody over here to help them out and teach them. Could you do that, or could you find somebody? I says, yeah, I could probably do that. So I contacted my manager, and after six months or a year, they give me permission to go over there and do that about once a month. So I would go teach you one or two hours in the morning and another one or two hours in the afternoon. So that's what I thought about this thing here, which I had done out of work--finding little hotspots and then bringing them down to a small area. So that's about the time that I was doing that, and so I passed it on to the students so they would know, too. 

BaumanSo it was sort of the teaching the students that led you to sort of thinking about that and developing that process?  

SmithYeah, some of those students--in the summertime we would hire maybe five or six of them to come out at N Reactor as interns for the summer, because we were shut down for about a month or so for all the repairs and stuff. So we'd hire some of these students to come out and go around with us and learn jobs. So that at the end of that summer, if the company wanted to hire some of them, they could hire one or two or all six of them. So that kind of worked out good for both of them. And then they shut that teaching job down several years ago because the contractors at Hanford quit hiring people because we were starting to shut down reactors and laying people off. So if there's no need for them, then they quit teaching it. But then here, about two years ago, they started up that program again. I don't have anything to do with it. But they do teach them now three jobs, either a radiation operator type job or health physics technician type job or as an instrument technician job. They can go three different ways, so that's a good program at CBC right now. It's kind of like nuclear technology. It's a two-year program. 

BaumanAnd about how long did you teach classes? 

Smith: About ten years, from about 1970 until about 1980. 

Bauman: Mm-hm. And in reading about this, it sounded like you also were instrumental in developing a scholarship program at CBC?  

SmithYeah, I noticed that we always had white persons. There was never any blacks, and not even many Latinos either. So one day I asked Larry, I said, how come we don't ever have any Afro-Americans in here? He says he didn't know. So I went to the guy in charge of Afro-Americans over there hiring people, and he says he didn't know. And I thought, well, probably the reason is they were just like I was when I was getting out of high school. I didn't have any money to go to college. So I says, maybe we should start up--maybe the college could do something. So I thought, well, we ought to have an auction. So we had an auction there at CBC, and we had all the kids in the class bring things to donate and put out to sell. And we advertised it, sent information around to a bunch of companies. And I met about seven or eight companies to see if they wanted to donate equipment for it, which they did. But the day of auction came along, and I don't think we even had six people show up to buy anything. So, I says, well, we'll leave this equipment here, and CBC can have an auction some other time and maybe they'll collect more money, which they did. However, we had a guy that was pretty high up in the company for Westinghouse, and he was attending meetings over there. And one day I went to the building over there, and I saw all these, three or four or five other companies, not Westinghouse, that had plaques up on the wall that they donated $5,000 from one company, $10,000 for another company for scholarships. And so one day, we had a fellow that was pretty high up in Westinghouse stop by our building out there for a safety meeting one day. I says, we're going to have an auction, and it would be nice if Westinghouse could donate some money towards this thing and hire these minorities. So he took that information into the vice president of Westinghouse, and they okayed it. And I says, it'd be nice if we had four $1,000 scholarships to give to these kids. So they came up with that for that year. However, the next year, they came up with $28,000 for scholarships. So that was--the guy who was in charge of all safety for Westinghouse at the time sent me a note and said this was coming off. So that made me feel pretty good that Westinghouse did do that because all these other companies had done something. But they followed through with it, which was great. 

BaumanSo you worked at Hanford from the 1950s into '93. Is that what you said? 


BaumanWith some years in between there when you weren't. 

SmithRight, from about--well, at Hanford from '53 until '93, but I was a radiation monitor from '59 until '93. 

BaumanDid the technology change quite a bit in terms of radiation monitoring over those years, and if so, how did it change? 

SmithWell, yeah, they got better instrumentation down at--Battelle did some of our reading of our badges and this sort of thing. So their instrumentation got better as the years went along. And the same with our Geiger counters. They went from the old style to ones with P-11 probe. Nowadays, I'm not sure they even have a P-11 probe. It might be two long probes that they could use either one for beta, gamma and alpha. Before, we just had the P-11 probe for Geiger counter, and for an alpha meter, we had the probe for alpha--two separate ones. So yeah, the instrumentation did change. 

BaumanI was also going to ask you during years--well, Hanford was obviously—emphasized security, and I was wondering, especially when you started in the 1950s, what that was like in terms of security? Did you have to have special clearance? When you went to the site, did you have to go through special security or anything along those lines? 

SmithYeah, I did. When they originally told me, while I was still the Army, there would be several weeks for them to check on my clearance, I thought, okay, several weeks. Well, as it got closer to discharge time, I thought, man, they haven't contacted me, so I better go down to Fort Lewis and check on civil service jobs. So I did, and I had qualified for two jobs. One was a warehouseman because I had worked six years in a grocery store, and the other job was a billing, clerk typist, in the transportation department. So I stayed there from December of '52 ‘til June of '53. But I got so tired of driving the fog and the rain over there around Fort Lewis and Seattle-Tacoma area that I just got sick of it. I had an old 1940 Ford. The heater didn't work, and the defroster didn't work either. So I'd have to drive about half way out and scrape the ice off the outside and the inside. And one day, I was cleaning out the back of it, and I saw all this mold in the backseat. I said, holy cow, the thing didn't warm up enough to dry that out. So finally I decided, well—I was kind of disgusted with General Electric for not notifying me. So although I didn't want to go back to Kansas because my mother and stepfather didn't get along too good. They fought like cats and dogs, and under no condition, no way did I want to live in the same house with them. So put off of going back there. I could have gone back to Pittsburg, Kansas, where they had a four-year college there. I could have lived at home, but I didn't want to stay there. So finally, I thought, well, I'm going to write General Electric a note. I didn't cuss them out or anything, but I wrote some wording on there that said, I thought you guys were honest in your estimations of how long it was going to take for this, but it's been so long. You said several weeks, and it's been several months. So I put that letter and mailed in my outbox at Fort Lewis, Washington. And when I got home that night, I found a letter in the mailbox from the General Electric Company and it said, from Zane Wood. He says, Bob, you've waited long enough for a job. We're ready for you now, so you can come on over. So I says, okay, I'll give my boss two weeks’ notice and come on over, so I did. But I was--clearances took an awful long time in those days. 

BaumanAnd when you started working, did you drive your car on site? Were you able to do that, or did you have to take a bus, or how did that work? 

SmithNo, they had bus service around Richland that you could take buses down the sort of streets, and then you'd catch--we were leaving at the B house, so a bus would come by within about a block, so I'd catch my bus there, take it to the bus lot, and then we would get on the bus that went to K Area. And so I would get in there, pay a nickel for a ride out and a nickel to ride back home, and this was 1953. So I did that until I went into the radiation time-keeper job, and we had buses to 200 West Area then, all the areas, but you still just dropped a nickel in when you went in and a nickel when you came out. So I caught the buses there also. So mainly buses--they didn't get rid of the buses until about a year after I retired. 

BaumanI know President Kennedy visited the site in 1963 for the N Reactor dedication. I wondered if you were here at the time, and were you on the site that day? 

SmithYeah, I was here at that time. I had two boys and a girl, so--and the wife. We loaded up in my station wagon and drove out to N Reactor and was there for his talk. And that was--I think there was about 40,000 people out there, too, so it took us an hour to get out of there with so many people. But that was an interesting time. I also went to Battelle one time when President Nixon came out here to dedicate something to Battelle. So I was able to see both presidents that way. 

BaumanDo you have--were there ever any events that sort of stand out in your mind, period of time working there, or any incidents of any kind or accidents or any sort of events that stand out in your mind from your years working at Hanford? 

SmithWell, one thing that kind of surprised me—about the time I was to retire in 1993, I used to go over to B Reactor whenever they would have out-of-the-country people for a tour of B Reactor. My manager at that time said that he would like for me to be in on the tours because I used to work there when it was an operating reactor. So in case they ask him, well, what was is equipment used for or that one, I could tell them a little bit about it. So I went over there once with about five or six Russians, and they wanted to look at B, so they were looking around there. So finally, one of them spoke up and said, well, since you're about to retire here in a few months, what's your lifetime radiation exposure? I says it's 66 rem. And he says, aha! Mine's 600. I knew—I figured they took a lot more radiation. I thought to myself, man, you must have been at Chernobyl or something. But they took a lot more than what we were allowed here at Hanford. Our limit—official—was 5 rem per year, to not include more than 3 R gamma. But they had a lot more over in Russia. 

BaumanWhat were some of the more challenging aspects of working at Hanford? 

SmithWell, sometimes as a radiation monitor, you were the only person that knew much about radiation and contamination on a job, so it was up to us. We had a limit of 15-mile per hour speed limit on wind. So it was always up to the monitor to decide whether or not to shut a job down or not. And I thought, man, that's a big responsibility, because some these jobs are pretty important. So I carried around a wind gauge underneath the seat of the pickup. And I thought, well, if necessary, I'll get that wind gauge out. Because it got so I could take a look at sagebrush, a light piece a sagebrush. I would take the wind gauge out and watch when the wind blow to see when that sagebrush would roll. And I thought, well, that thing's going to roll maybe 17 mile an hour, and the bigger piece of sagebrush would take a little more wind. So I had this wind gauge out at one job, and the wind was 16 miles an hour, so I shut the job down. Well, that went over like a lead balloon with the rigging supervisor. We were on a diversion box, BX tank farm. And he says, I'm going to call up your boss, Bob. So he did, and my boss came out. By then, the wind had stopped, but I hadn't said anything about you could go back to work. And he says, Bob, how come you shut the job down? I says, well, it says on RNWP 15 miles an hour. Here's the wind gauge--16. He says, well, it doesn't look like it's blowing now. I says, well, it's not. As far I'm concerned, they can start working again, so they did. But every once in a while, you would be challenged. Once again I was challenged. I was working with the D&D group. We were at 100 K burial ground. Sometimes the waste in the burial ground will either travel down deeper, or sometimes they could go up, or they can go to the left or to the right over a period of time. And we had a car—we had one monitor that would drive this SUV-type instrument around where it has radiation detectors on the front bumper. And he would drive over to the tank farm. Whenever it would have a spot above the limits, like the limits on the tank farm are maybe 100 counts a minute above background. Well, whenever he hit this limit, why, it would alarm. So they notified our group that they needed to go in and lay some more dirt down, so they did. They were doing this job, putting more dirt on top of the other dirt. And this engineer--they were running out of money for these truck drivers to do that. And he says to my boss in radiation monitoring, he says--we have to radiation monitors checking the tires of these trucks that were coming and going. And says, why not check every truck coming in and out, going in and out? Why not every other truck or maybe only two tires instead of all four? And I said, no, we can't do that. Because we had run into exactly that same problem at N Area once. It wasn't me, it was another radiation monitor. He had decided on zone that I'm going to start checking every other truck. Well, one of these trucks came up with hot tires from the N Area place, and he tracked contamination down the highway a ways, and that's not good. So I says, well, I'm not going to do that. So the engineer was so mad, he went up to my supervisor. And I guess my supervisor took word over to the manager of radiation protection for all of the 100 Areas at that time. And somewhere there, my supervisor had told me that, Bob, don't survey every tire, just survey some of them. And I was so mad at that, I said to myself, I can't do that. We go through a certification program that you don't compromise the situation. So I was all set to go back to work, but I was going to check all four tires. And just before I left, my supervisor came back and said, our top manager says, keep doing it the way you have--surveying all four tires, so we did. So once in a while, you'd run out of money on a job, why, upper management wants to change things, and you can't do that if you're—why, I had resisted that. I figured I might get laid off or fired or something, but it didn't come to that point, thank goodness. 

BaumanSo then, what were some more rewarding aspects of your job and working at Hanford? 

SmithWell, one rewarding thing was the scholarships that the Westinghouse came up with. And the other rewarding job was just you knew in your own mind whenever you were doing something right, and there was always a temptation to take shortcuts, but a good monitor never did. Because we had friends did try that, and they got into trouble so. One time I got to note from two former operators I used to work with, and he said--I had been long retired since then, and they were working as ministers, and they sent me a note that said they had appreciated my job as radiation monitoring, that I was different than some of the others. Some of them seemed to not try to get along with other people, operators, and tried to be too rigid. And they thought that I had tried to do the right thing. So that made me feel pretty good, that even though you sometimes wonder, I thought that I did a good enough job. 

BaumanSo overall, how would you describe or assess Hanford as a place to work? 

SmithI think it's a real good place. There are times when some people think that Hanford isbecause it's got the most contamination the country, probably because we also made most of the weapons for Hanford, probably 65% or so of all the source of the bomb’s material. And I thought that people were trying to do badmouth the plant here too much. They also tried to badmouth Hanford DOE—or AEC, they called it in those days. But I didn't see it that way, because they were always trying to follow rules and regulations, and I thought they did a good job, and I thought Hanford overall did a good job. 

BaumanMy students now, some of them anyway, were born after the Cold War ended. So they have no memory of the Cold War. They don't know much about it. I guess especially for people who are that young that really have no memory, what sorts of things would you like them to know about Hanford or working there? 

SmithWell, I think they need to know that, like I do, that I thought that Hanford did a good job of controlling radiation and the spread of it, because that was my job was to be one of the monitors out there watching these things and following the rules and regulations. So since I had a job in controlling it, I knew what was supposed to happen and what did happen. So I got to feel like most all the percentage of the time, Hanford did a pretty good job of it. 

BaumanIs there anything I haven't asked you about that you'd like to talk about or any specific memories, things that you'd like to talk about that you haven't talked about yet? 

SmithWell, yeah there's one of them that kind of bothered me a little bit. Back in 1966, we had a strike here at Hanford. And being in the radiation monitoring group—that was a union job. So we went on strike for about six weeks. During that time, I worked as a kind of a electrician helper down in California. California could not get enough electricians to work in their jobs. All their local people were busy, so they called around the country to get other electricians. Well, they wanted 20 from Hanford, but they could only get ten. So they says, okay, we'll take five instrument technicians and five radiation monitors, since we all belong to the same union. However, those radiation monitors have to have worked around electricians for at least a year, so they could help out as a helper. So my union steer called up one day and said, Bob, do you want to come by and drop your name in the hat and see if it gets drawn out for five guys to go down to Californian? I says, sure, so I did. And luckily enough I did, so I was down there for, well, it was a six-week strike. The first week we just stayed home. The next five weeks I worked down there. Well, when I got back—we would get these bottles, urine bottles, because they wanted to bring everybody up to date. Well, I'd been gone for six weeks, so I put my urine bottle out in front for the truck driver to pick up. Well, he picked it up, but a couple, three days later he came back again with some more of them. So I asked, well, how come I got some more urine bottles here? He says, well--he shouldn't have told me this because he's just a truck driver—but he says, well, I've had to redeliver several extra bottles around to different people. Because there was one guy over to 234-5 Building, where they were making plutonium buttons, that had gotten into an incident and gotten real contaminated. And they think that the bottles were washed—for me to do my sample in—well, mine were washed in the same batch that his were, and they cross-contaminated to my bottles. But that's just a rumor, they don't know for sure. Well, I did get notified by my manager at that time that I was giving an extra 5 rem of radiation because of those urine bottles. And I called him up and I says—Bill McMurray was my manager. I says, Bill, I wasn't even here at that time. How can I get that? He says, well, Bob, Battelle had done a lot of updating of their equipment, so maybe they got more sensitive equipment now than they did six weeks ago. I said, okay, Bill, whatever. But anyhow, they put that on my record, and it's been there ever since. They wouldn't take it off. So that kind of miffed me a little bit. That's one of the things you learn to put up with. [LAUGHTER] 

Bauman: All right. Anything else that you'd like to share, any other stories or memories? 

Smith: Well, let's see. Not offhand. Things went pretty smooth, as far as I was concerned. 

BaumanWell, I want to thank you for coming in today and sharing your stories and your experiences. I appreciate it. 

SmithWell, you're welcome, my pleasure. 




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