Interview with Joe Soldat

Dublin Core


Interview with Joe Soldat


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


An interview with Joe Soldat 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

2016-06-30: 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


Joe Soldat


Washington State University - Tri-Cities


Northwest Public Television | Soldat_Joe

Robert Bauman: Okay, all right. Well, we'll go ahead and get started. All right. What I'm going to have you do first is say your name. And then spell it for me.

Joe Soldat: Okay. Joseph Soldat, S-O-L-D-A-T.

Bauman: Thank you, and my name is Robert Bauman. And we're conducting an oral history interview. Today's date is August 6th of 2013. And the interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. And so I'm talking today with Joe Soldat about his experiences working at the Hanford site. So I wonder--let's start by maybe you tell me how you came to Hanford, what brought you here, how you heard about the place.

Soldat: When I graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in chemical engineering, I worked for a while at the Denver General Hospital, which was associated with the university. And they lost their research grant. So I heard from somebody that there was a place called Hanford. So I wrote a letter to the employment department at GE. And I got a thing back, of course, that says, we got your letter on file. But it wasn't too long afterwards they called me, and told me to come. So I agreed to come out, sight unseen, on the train. And I got off to train. I looked at all the sagebrush, like everybody, and said, oh, I'll give it a year or two. That was 1948. And I stayed on the project for 47 years.

Bauman: Ah. And so you arrived in this place of sage brush and desert.

Soldat: Yeah.

Bauman: What sort of housing did you find?

Soldat: Well, when I came they put me in a barracks in North Richland, the old military barracks--small rooms for two people with a closet and a dresser. And showers were down the hall. Maid came in once a week to change the linens and towels. And I was paying $0.20 a day for rent. Eventually, I got to move to Richland--the dorm M4. And on the corner right now is a bank where M2 used to be. And M2 became a motel for a while—some guy bought it. And then it finally became a bank. But my wife-to-be lived in the women's dormitories with W numbers. And so we finally met, and ended up getting married in '52.

Bauman: So did you live in the dorms for about four years from about '48 to '52 then?

Soldat: Yeah, before I got married, yeah. And we managed to get a house. Because I was in radiation protection, we had some small priority on getting housing. And we picked out a pre-cut on the south side, three-bedroom. So we lived there till '63. And moved in a ranch house where I live now on Torbett, in a remodeled ranch house with an extra bedroom.

Bauman: About how large were the dorms that you lived in?

Soldat: The dormitories? Well, I'd say maybe as big as from here to that wall square. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: About how many people lived in the dormitories as a whole?

Soldat: On the whole, I don't know. They had--since I was on weekly salary, I had one kind of dormitory. Those that were hired on monthly salary had a little fancier ones. And the women had their own real good ones with a fence around it.

So what was Richland like in the late '40s and early '50s in the community?

Soldat: Well, when I finally moved into town, the town, essentially, was closed. If you didn't work there, you couldn’t live there. You could come in. There was no fence around it. But if you retired, you had to go somewhere else to live. There was no retirement housing. And the city, when I got my house, supplied oil, or coal, free for the housing. So the rent was fairly reasonable at that time. And they had the federal government until, I think it was '58, when they sold houses to us, and got their own government. One of my friends, Bob McKee, was on the church council. And he became, eventually, mayor of Richland. His funeral is coming up Thursday. He died away back in the spring. But they delayed the funeral for relatives, I guess. But, anyway, I got a reasonable price for my house, I thought. It was like about $9,000 plus, because I had put up a fence, and a little thing for storage of garbage cans and stuff. They thought it was the enhanced above the original value. So I got a little better value. We had the option of taking a buy back offer. If you wanted to sell the house back to the government in x number of years, they would give you a 15% discount on your house. But I didn't opt for that. I figured by then, I was going to stay. [LAUGHTER] They had a cafeteria in a building next to the 703 Building, that old Quonsethut-shaped building, that later became commercial facilities. But we could go in there for breakfast and get meals that were partly for military style, like powdered scrambled eggs and stuff like that. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: And what about entertainment at the time you were living in the dorms? Were there things to do entertainment-wise?

Soldat: Oh, okay. The people that lived in the dormitories could join the dorm club. We did all kinds of things. We had parties, dances, skiing, bike riding, hiking—everything before all these individual groups were established. So they covered the whole share. I learned to ski a little bit at Spout Springs, made it down the beginner's hill.

Bauman: And you said you met your wife during that time?

Soldat: Yes.

Bauman: Was she working also at the Hanford Site, then?

Soldat: She was a secretary. And she worked for a while. We got married in June, and in December, she had to quit because she was pregnant. They would not allow, at that time, pregnant women to work after fourth or fifth month. And then she never did go back to work. But she got involved in things like volunteering at the Red Cross, and Republican Women's Club, and all the things kept her busy.

Bauman: Did you meet as part of some social activity? Or was it on the job, at work that you met?

Soldat: She did all this being a housewife, all those things.

Bauman: But how did the two of you meet? Was it at a--

Soldat: I'm trying hard to remember.

Bauman: Oh, okay. [LAUGHTER]

Soldat: I think I was introduced by a mutual friend, a guy that I used to bowl together. That's the other thing we had for entertainment in Richland, was bowling. And I liked doing that. But one of the guys I bowled with, we went to the restaurant. Next to the Richland Players Theater used to be a drug store, and they had a little cafeteria in there. We went in there, and we met these two women. And he knew one of them. The other one was going to become my wife. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: Let's move now to the work you did at Hanford. What was your first job?

Soldat: My first job while I was waiting for my clearance was in what was the bioassay lab in 700 Area doing statistical analysis of the results of the analysis of employees urine for radioactive contamination. I wasn't allowed to know everything I was analyzing. But I did a statistical analysis. I had a orange card, which allowed me in, because I didn't have my clearance. Theoretically, I was supposed to be escorted in and out. But there was such a mob of people going in and out they never bothered to ask me whomy escort was. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: So where was this at?

Soldat: 700 Area, 703 Buildingthe old one. And the bioassay lab was inside the 716 Building, I think it was.

Bauman: And so how long did you do that?

Soldat: I did that--well, I came in August, '48. And it was five months before I got my clearance. Then I went out to T Plant as a radiation monitor in training.

Bauman: And how long did you work there?

Soldat: Oh, gosh, I worked there for a couple of years. And then I got transferred to environmental monitoring. Out there in 2-East Area, environmental monitoring people were housed in an old Quonset hut next to the coal pile. You had to go in and sweep your desk off with a broom every morning to get the coal dust off of it. [LAUGHTER] And I stayed there for a while. I did some projects, calibrating some instruments, and other things. And then we moved to 329 Building in 300 Area. I think it was in the early '50s. And I stayed in environmental monitoring work ever since, through the rest of my career, writing impact statements, deriving equations for calculating dose to the public from releases at Hanford in food, and water, and air, and stuff like that. And my models are still being used some places. I was--we didn't have a lot of data. But I learned from the turtle you don't make progress unless you stick your neck out. That’s how they do. Sometimes throw darts at the chemistry chart on the wall. And say, well, this one should behave like that one, and put together what we could know. And my coworker Dave Baker was a computer guy. I'm not very good at computers. But he computerized a lot of my equations and stuff. Between us, we agreed and what kind of factors to use. There was some literature from the fallout studies. There was a fellow named Yoka Ng, N-G, in California who had to put together a lot of data for the fallout branch on concentrations of various chemical elements in soil and plants, which made it very easy for me to predict the update of the radionuclides.

Bauman: So, what kind of findings did you have at some of your research about things that happened at Hanford in terms of the air, and water, and so forth?

Soldat: Well, depends on what you want. It all started in '58 when Jack Healy gave a paper at the International Atomic Energy Symposium. And he talked about what we were measuring in the environment, and the kind of findings that we had. And we eventually created a maximum individual person who ate big amounts of food, and drank milk from cows, and fish from the river, and all that. And then we calculated the dose he would get from concentrations in these things. And things were generally below the limits that they had at those times. Originally, in the early years the limits for the public were the same as workers. It took them a while to figure out that there are, perhaps, more sensitive people in the public because workers were all health screened and everything. So they lowered all the public limits by a factor of ten to be safer. And we also had to put controls on releases to the atmosphere. The manager of the radiation protection department—it call was called health instruments at first—set limits for the reprocessing plants, and how much iodine they could release, and other things. And they worked hard during those years in the '50s and '60s putting in new cleanup equipment on the stackssand filters. And then eventually PUREX had fiberglass filters to remove the particles and stuff. So I've installed sampling equipment on all of the stacks, and the separation there is, some of them before and after the cleanup so they could see what the efficiency was. And I kept track, by going to the operating gallery, what kind of metal they were processing, how old it was, how much it had decayed, so we could relate things to what we were finding at the stacks. That data is still around. And when they did the dose reconstruction under Bruce Napier, they used a lot of my old data about the stack releases. Fortunately, Bruce had an office next to me. [LAUGHTER] So we communicated.

Bauman: So you worked there for how many years at Hanford?

Soldat: 47.

Bauman: 47, you must have seen a lot of changes in technology, instrumentation, those sorts of things?

Soldat: And administration. [LAUGHTER] Yeah. GE, at one time, I think it must have been in the '50s, decided that they would have no job description titled assistant, or under-secretary, or whatever like that. There would be no committees doing any administration. Every job had to have a written, definitive description specifying the duties, and the authorities, and the obligations. And it worked well for a long time. And then before that, when I wanted to get a paper cleared, I had to go through about half a dozen signatures, including public relations, of course. But then later on, I--essentially with my boss and one guy from public relations--they all had to clear my public papers. And it worked out well then. Then Battelle took over, reorganized things a little bit. And a funny thing happened. I had a secret clearance with GE. When Battelle took over, they decided that they didn't want to have too many secret clearances to manage. So they lowered my clearance and several other people’s. I want to the library to get a report I had written in 1949, classified secret. They gave it to me on microfiche. I read it, and I asked for a full printed copy. The remark I got eventually was, you can't it. You're not cleared for it. What are you going to do, brainwash me? [LAUGHTER] So Battelle had to raise my clearance back to what it was before.

Bauman: Because you had written secret reports?

Soldat: I talked about iodine releases to the environment, and measurements inside the 200 Areas.

Bauman: I understand you were involved in a comprehensive food model?

Soldat: Yeah.

Bauman: What was that?

Soldat: Well, about the late '60s, Westinghouse had a project to try and calculate doses to the US public from a large nuclear economy, especially reactors, and ignoring the waste part. And they needed to know what would be in food, and water, and air, and everything. And a fellow by the name of Bill Templeton who was an aquatic biologist worked with me at first. And then, finally, he said, okayJoe. You're doing all right. So he turned me loose. But I had a fellow, Dennis Harr, who came to Hanford from Alaska. He was a forest hydrologist. They assigned him to me to help look up the factors I needed. He came here to WSU--or to Pullman, reallyand looked up all of thinking about how much a cow eats, how much water they drink, and how many acres of this and that is growing. So he was very helpful looking all that stuff up for me. I just sat down and wrote an equation. I had heard that in the Windscale accident that the iodine they released stuck about 25% to plants. So I used that factor. And I added that stuff from Yoka Ng with the soil to plant ratios. So I modeled the uptake from soil, and combine all that in a big long equation with about 21 parameters. And I gave a paper on that at an ANS meeting in the '70s. And I also developed a diagram—a pathway diagram I call it--with all of the lines from all of the sources going across and interacting. And then at the end, they combined for the dose at the end. And that got published, too, in my '70 paper. And I did put all that stuff together with some other things for Reg Guide 1.109. It included my calculated dose factors for people of four ages--four years, 11 years, 17 or 16, and adult, because the organ sizes are different. So the doses are different. That was in there, my food model was in there, and then I developed a model for exposure to sediment in the Columbia River. Dick Perkins had measured three or four radionuclides in the sediment in the Columbia River as best you could, because it's awful rocky on the bottom. And analysis of that told me what the relationship was between the water and the sediment, assuming it had been running for many years, and had time to come to equilibrium. So I developed the equation for that, which included the radioactive half-life of the elements. And that was used in several instances in impact statements about--I think it was '59, they had something called a Calvert Cliffs Decision, in which they were trying to build a reactor. And the government was forced to do an environmental impact statement on every existing reactor and every new reactor. First rule was 100 pages’ length. But it still grew, because people were copying what other people had done. Well, this flew, so we'll put it in. Then they add unique things to their site. And it kept growing and growing. But there were 50 reactors that had to have impact statements. And they split it up three ways between Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, and Hanford. And I got involved in the Hanford one. First time I used my sediment model was for plants on the shore of Lake Michigan, and exposure to people standing on the shoreline--first time I used it off-site. And we calculated the dose someone might receive from the sediment contaminated from the water which came from the reactor outlet that was diluted before it got to where the fishermen was. So that was added to the impact statement, along with the fish, and all the other stuff that we normally did.

Bauman: Hanford, of course, when you first arrived was all about production. But at some point that shifted to cleanup. Did that shift impact your work in anyway?

Soldat: Well, yes and no. [LAUGHTER] It changed exactly what I was doing. But I was still doing environmental stuff. For cleanupwell, before that we were doing impact statements for new things at Hanford, like a front end for PUREX to do 100 N fuel, and all kinds of stuff. Afterwards, I was doing impact statements and studies forproposed cleanup. There was a big, fat three-volume document--I think it was SWASH 1400, it started out. It ended up being ERDA 1400. And in there, they studied every possible waste source, contamination source, potential for accidents and exposure. And I did a lot of those calculations. So one thing they wanted, which is very current today, they wanted to know, what would happen if a tank leaked? They said, what would happen if 1,000 gallons of tank leaked all at once? So I got a guy, Andy Reisenhauer, in the water department we called them. He was doing ground water studies. And he figured it out. With this modeling, he showed how small the contaminated area would be, and how, essentially harmless and well-confined to the immediate vicinity it was. And I get all upset now a days about the clamor about everybody that don't understand what's going on, even the governor. [LAUGHTER] At least he tried.

Bauman: So when you started working for GE, what other contractors--you worked for Battelle? Is that right?

: Yeah. Battelle
just took over everything we were doing. Almost all people came directly to Battelle. There were a few that stayed in the 200 Areas the reprocessing areas. But some of them later came to Battelle. So a few stayed out there, worked for the various contractors they had. But it was nice, because having been altogether in GE, I could still communicate with those people when I needed information and data on releases, and access, and things. I could talk to them directly. I didn't have to go up and down the channels.

Bauman: You mentioned earlier that you had written a secret report. And you had to go back and look at it, they initially told you you couldn't. As a site that, obviously, emphasized security and secrecy, I wonder if you could talk about how the emphasis on secrecy and security impacted your work in anyway.

Soldat: Well, I told you what happened to me when I was working in the 700 Area. And I got here in '48. In '53, they renewed the Q clearances. I got called in the FBI for interview. They said, when you were in collegethat's like in '46 or '47--you attended a meeting of, I think it was, SDS, which was supposed to be a Communist-related organization. They had a meeting in the park. They were complaining about their treatment. And it was a big hullabaloo. And I decided I'd go down and see what was going on. Apparently, they had spies watching all these people. So they started asking me questions about that. And I explained it away to their satisfaction. They said, do you ever read The Communist Manifesto? I said, no, but maybe I should someday. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: When you first started working there, did you take the bus out to the site?

Soldat: Pardon?

Bauman: When you first started working there, how did you get to the site and back? Did you take the bus out? Did you drive a car?

Soldat: There was no background checks when I first came, because I had that work card. It took them five months to do all the investigations of relatives and friends to find out if I was reliable. And I finally got my Q clearance. But they may have reviewed things other than that one I know about since. But the FBI was doing it at that time. Later on, they farmed it out to a different government agency. And I don't think the checks were quite as thorough at that time. But you couldn't drive through the project like you can today. When you want to go to the west side, you can drive down towards Vantage through the project. It's all right. But it used to be all sealed off. You had to go around by Robinson's barn to get where you're going.

Bauman: And when you went through security at the gate, did you have to show a badge?

Soldat: Well, after I got my clearance, they checked everybody's badge going through. At one time in 300 Area, they had a badge rack. You would put your badge in the rack to go home. They didn't want you taking it off site. Well, one thing, you might get exposed from TV. [LAUGHTER] The old TV sets had a relatively high energy coming out at the bottom. Some kid sat there with his feet under the TV set, he might get a little bit of exposure. And so one day, I wore some radiation dosimeters, those pencil dosimeters on myself while I was watching TV at a distance. And then I put some by the TV set to compare the readings. And there was a small difference. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, at first, I thought security was a little lax because of the way they were letting you go through 700 Area, first few months. But it got pretty tight afterwards.

Bauman: Were there any events or incidents, anything that happened—accidents of any kind, that happened when you were working at Hanford, or strange occurrences? Anything sort of stand out in your mind?

Well, there was a few, of course. They had limits they set on the releases for iodine-131. They had an experiment in which they wanted to have short cooled fuel, which would have more iodine in it, to released short-lived inert gases like Xenon and Krypton to the atmosphere so the Air Force could fly around with a plane and measure it. As I figure out, the idea was they could fly around Russia and see what kind of production they might be having from what they could detect in the air over a facility. Well, when they hadit's called a green run, when they had that, the iodine came out. And there was a little bit of to-do about that in later years, and people being exposed. And even before the iodine releases were controlled, there was quite a few releases. But in later years, I used my rules of thumb I learned, and my models to predict what doses probably were in the early years before they had reconstruction done. And I came probably within a factor of two of what they spent millions of dollars to calculate. [LAUGHTER] But that was one thing. And then they had some fuel that was mislabeled, and it was short cooled, that released iodine in the 200 Areas. And we went out and studied the vegetation on the project, and all around. Well, it turns out the iodine was held in the tanks for a while. And the vegetation that we measured didn't have any until they transferred the solution to another tank. Then the iodine escaped. And then we could find it on the vegetation—we found it in the Pasco area, and West Richland. And the meteorological group predicted it would--according to the weather, it should be high in north of Pasco. Well, it wasn't high there. It was higher in Benton City than it was in Richland. And there was a Benton City farm that had milk. And we sampled that milk every day for a long time, and plotted the curve as it decayed. And I backtracked it for a couple of days that we had missed. And I calculated the radiation dose a kid might have drinking that milk. And the standard model was one liter of milk a day. And I calculated all that. And we couldn't get the kids to come in to get a thyroid check for awhile. The mother was reluctant. Finally, he came in months later. And at that point, I predicted the thyroid burden ought to be 70 picocuries. And it turned out, he was measured 72 picocuries. Then something really interesting happened with that. Some anti-nuclears said that I had reported on this thing, and the dose was less than a fraction of the limits. So it's all right to die by a fraction at a time. Somebody else picked that up, and said I had pin pointed the death of a small child drinking that milk. So some guy from Oak Ridge, his name was Piper, investigated all this stuff, and tried to put everything straight, and straighten out all these misconceptions. But you can see what happens to the press.

Bauman: So what time period was that?

Soldat: That was in '63. It's all published in Health Physics Journal, and all that stuff. They had an iodine symposium in 1963—a biology symposium. People all over the world came here. And we met in the old community house, this little anteroom off to the side, with swamp coolers. And it was 116 in Pasco. [LAUGHTER] It was a mess. But we published a whole book of the papers. And I have a couple in here, at least by abstract anyway. I learned alot about the different factors, again, and improved my knowledge of what was going on.

Bauman: So when there were releases of iodine, you were involved in calculating the--

Soldat: Yeah.

Bauman: Measurements?

Soldat: Yeah, another thing I did was I stood out by a met tower wearing a respirator device that measured my breathing rate by volume. And they released iodine--I think it was 135 or 132, a real short half life--that another guy and I could stand there and inhale. And then we went and got our thyroids counted, and watched the decay, and integrated the whole thing. And my total dose was probably about ten millirem, compared to the limit, which was 1,500 a year at that time. Herb Parker got real mad, because we hadn't checked with him to see if it was okay. He said we should have our thyroids examined before we did it. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: So you were used as test subjects?

Soldat: The other release was from REDOX--ruthenium--there was two rutheniums: 106, and 103. And the scrubber in the plant that was supposed to remove these from their exhaust failed. And it released about 40 curie of ruthenium out the stack. It was detectable on Wahluke Slope, and all the way up just southeast of Spokane. It missed all of real good farms, and everything, fortunately. So we went up collecting a lot of samples from that. Then there was a contamination on Hanford itself on the roofs of some of the buildings and the ground. So that was all cleaned up. I spent some time monitoring transportation workers who were going around picking up particles around the 200 Areas. The other thing that happened is they found radioactive rabbits and coyotes--BC trenches, in 2 East Area. They disposed of waste which had cesium. And, of course, it's a salt relative to sodium in the nucleic chart. And the rabbits got in there were eating the waste with the cesium, and digging down. And the coyotes were eating the rabbits. And so we were finding this contaminated environment, and traced it down to that. It didn't travel more than a mile or two. Rabbits have a very short range. They don't travel more than a couple miles. And so that had to all get cleaned up, and covered over, put to rest. There was a few things like that.

Bauman: Did any of these incidents or releases--were there ever any that you looked at, studied, calculated, and found that it was a risk to employees, or to the public at all?

Soldat: No, most of them were--the release of the strontium, the highest concentration found at Wahluke Slope across the river was--if a guy stood there and breathed the whole time the cloud time went by, he might have got 80 milligram to the lungs. And, of course, at that time, we were getting 100 milligram a year from radiation. And the limit to the public was 1,500. So, really, it wasn't that significant.

Bauman: I wanted to ask you about a little bit different part of it. President Kennedy visited in 1963 to open the N Reactor.

Soldat: Yeah, I want to see--

Bauman: Were you there? Were you part of it?

Soldat: I was standing far back in the crowd. And I could barely see the President. They opened up to the site to the public to go there. And I rode with a friend. And he and his son went with me. We watched that thing.

Bauman: Do you remember anything else about that day? Or just being really far away?

Soldat: Well, I remember when the helicopter landed with the President inside it, kicked up an awful lot of dust. I was glad that maybe it wasn't all that contaminated for people to breathe.

Bauman: Do you remember any other time when any dignitaries came to the site?

Soldat: Yeah, I just noticed something I looked at this week. Nixon visited Battelle facilities, the main research building. And Ronald Reagan was here one time.

Bauman: I wondered what you would consider the greatest challenges you had during your years working Hanford, and the greatest rewards?

Well, I don't know. The least of my challenges was working with administration, because usually they managed to turn me loose when they found out what I was doing. I think that the challenge was finding data in the open literature that I could use to put into my models. I'd go to the library in those days, you would ask for literature, and sit down, and read it, and take notesnot like today. So I found things, eventually, from researchers in Russia who had studied uptake and radionuclides in fish, and studies at Oak Ridge on fallout in cattle, and all these things. But finding data was a little hard, not because it was classified. But it was in the open literature, and you had to think about where it might be located. That was one of my most challenging things. The other challenge was to learning how to use Word Perfect. [LAUGHTER] My secretary forced me to learn it. She helped teach me because she couldn't read my handwriting. That was a challenge for a while. I still have trouble with computers. But I think the biggest reward was all of the recognition I got from management, and Health Physics Society, and other groups. I got a file about that thick that I labeled Kudos. And when they have the recouplex incident in 234-5that had a solution that wasn't handled right. And it had a nuclear reaction, in an outfit called recouplex. We worked a week or so overtime in evening, and around the clock some of us, working on the effects of that, and the dose to the people. And I had measurements of the stack gases. And I predicted from the stack gases how many fissions had occurred in that pot. And then the other guys, the real nuclear experts, came and did theirs. And we agreed within a factor of two again. But, yeah, it never really did much off-site again. It dissipated before it got anywheres. We plotted the path, and by the time it reached the boundary of the site over towards Pasco it was essentially nothing. Because whenyou have a nuclear reaction like that, you generate a lot of short-lived radionuclides with seconds, and minutes, and days. And so it really wasn't that effective off-site.

Bauman: What was the time period of that incident?

Soldat: I want to say April '62, I guess. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: Being involved in environmental monitoring, and monitoring the effects of releases and that sort of thing, did you at any pointit seems like at some point, nuclear power became--like, certain groups opposed that, right? You hadgroups that became opposed to nuclear power, and the use of--

Soldat: Obtained what?

Bauman: Opposed to nuclear power--

Soldat: Oh, oh.

Bauman: Anti-nuclear stuff. Did you feel that at all at work, I mean or stuff you were involved in?

Soldat: Well, yeah--well, there are people off-site who--that story I told you about that small child. And then there was another guy, he worked at the University of Pittsburgh. I'm trying to remember his name. He predicted all the dire results of fallout from strontium-90. He gave a talk at strontium-90 symposium in biologyput on here one time. And he came to me and says, I need to get my slides remade. What he was doing was correlating the concentration of strontium-90 in milk and leukemia in children. Well, this curve went to pot. And he decided he needed to summarize, average it, over two years. And eventually that went to pot. It didn't work. So then he eventually tried four years. And he asked me if I could get his slides rebuilt for his talk so he could use them for a four-year average. So I went to Bill Bair who was the manager of the symposium. And he said, sure, we'll do it for him. And they did. And he used them. Of course, a lot of people in the audience knew better than to believe what he was saying.

Bauman: Is there anything that we haven't talked about yet that you would like to talk about? That I haven't asked you about?

Soldat: Well, I got some awards. I don't know if you're interested. The local chapter Health Physics Society gave me what's called a Herb Parker Award for Distinguished Service. And then I got elected fellow of the National Society. And then I got the National Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award from the Health Physics Society, which was sort of a review of my total career, and all the, quote, the great things that I had done. The environmental section in the National Health Physics Society established an award for environmental radioactivity measurements type of stuff. And a fellow, a friend, Jack Corley, who worked here, and I got the first ones that they awarded for that as distinguished service. And then I got a plaque from Bill Bair when he was retiring. So he's such a nice guy, he awarded about three or four plaques to employees outlining their distinguished careers. I was one of them. And it's for all the work I had done on radioiodine. So I got that plaque.

Bauman: And you're involved in the Herbert Parker Foundation? Is that right? Are you part of that?

Soldat: I volunteered not to get involved in the Parker Foundation. I let Ron Kathren, and Bill Bair and Dale Denham, and all these guys do it. I worked for a little while after I retired for Dave Muller and Associates to help with the down-winders case, writings some papers on it, and releases, and another one with Jack Selby on plutonium releases from the 200 Areas that were used in the hearings for that business. I haven't really--well, people call me up every once in a while and ask questions—pro bono. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: Overall, how would you assess your 47 years working at Hanford as a place to work?

Soldat: For me, it was a great job. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had wonderful people, except maybe one case of this one boss. But totally great people, and I felt like I was doing something worth while. And it was useful. Later on, it got to be where everybody was writing impact statements, which are not a product. It bothered me a little bit. Even I got involved. And those were kind of necessary. EPA at one time says, we need you to calculate the effect of this dose out to the year 10,000. I said, what? So I got out my business card. And I changed it from environmental engineer to science fiction writer. [LAUGHTER] But I had a great time. I tried to get in the army when I first graduated from high school. And I couldn't because of my ears. And the Navy wouldn't take me because of my eyes, the program for officers. So I ended up—third choice was out here to do my part. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: Well, I want to thank you very much for coming in today, and sharing your stories with us, and your experiences. I appreciate it.

Soldat: I hope it's been useful.

Bauman: Yes. Thank you.

Soldat: Yeah, just carrying this around helped me remember.




Bit Rate/Frequency

209 kbps

Hanford Sites

700 Area
2-East Area
329 Building
300 Area
200 Area
N Reactor
703 Building
716 Building
Reduction-Oxidation Plant (REDOX)
Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant (PUREX)

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site


Names Mentioned

Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
McKee, Bob
Baker, Dave
Healy, Jack
Templeton, Bill
Harr, Dennis
Perkins, Dick
Andy Reisenhauer
Parker, Herb
Corley, Jack
Kathren, Ron
Bair, Bill
Denham, Dale
Muller, Dave
Selby, Jack


Joe Soldat.jpg


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Joe Soldat,” Hanford History Project, accessed June 24, 2024,