Interview with William Tyler
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Northwest Public Television | Tyler_William
Robert Bauman: Now you can give it right back to her?
William Tyler: Yeah, I plan on it.
Man One: Exactly. All right, get this off your face there.
Bauman: Does your daughter live here in Richland?
Tyler: She lives right across the street from me.
Bauman: Oh, does she? Oh, there you go. Well, you can really give it to her then. [LAUGHTER] She can't avoid you.
Tyler: Well in fact, we work together at HAMMER.
Man one: I’m rolling.
Bauman: All right. Well I think we're ready to get started. So let's start by having you say your name and also spell it for us.
Tyler: My name is William T. Tyler. W-I-L-L-I-A-M, T, T-Y-L-E-R.
Bauman: And you go by Bill?
Tyler: Bill, yeah.
Bauman: All right. And today's date is August 28th of 2013. And we're conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So let's start, if we can, by maybe having you talk about what brought you to the area. When did you come to work at Hanford, and what brought you here?
Tyler: We came out here on vacation from Oklahoma in 1947 to see my dad's brothers and sisters. And we were going to stay for a week or so. And my dad applied for a job here and got it, and we stayed. I thought it was the end of the world. This was not a pretty place in 1947. But I went in the Navy in 1950, got into the nuclear program and came out here in 1955. Went to work at Hanford. Worked as an HPT until '82, I believe. And then I went into management in health physics.
Bauman: So HPT, you mean health physics technician. Is that was HPT is?
Tyler: Uh-huh. Sorry.
Bauman: That's okay. So how old were in 1947 when you came on vacation?
Tyler: I think I was 15.
Bauman: Okay. What sort of job did your father get?
Tyler: He worked in transportation.
Bauman: And you already had aunts and uncles who came here?
Bauman: So you said you thought this was the end of the world. What do you mean by that? What are your first impressions of the place?
Tyler: [LAUGHTER] Well, my first impression is we got here July the 5th. And my aunt and uncle had a little cafe on downtown Kennewick, on Kennewick Avenue. And it was about 104 degrees out. And we were driving down the street looking for it. And my dad says, man, I wouldn't live here if it's the last place in the world. And back then there was not a lot of trees. There was in Kennewick, and a few in Richland. But every time the wind blew, it was dusty and the tumbleweeds flew, and a lot of dust storms. In fact, they call them termination winds. Because everything was booming out in Hanford and every time the wind blew, people didn't like that and they'd just pick up and quit. So they called it termination winds.
Bauman: Do you know when your aunt and uncles came here?
Tyler: My aunt was born here in Kennewick. My uncle came out here in '37, '38, somewhere along that area.
Bauman: Oh, okay, so you'd had relatives here before the Hanford site.
Tyler: Oh yeah.
Bauman: And so when your family first came in 1947 and you dad got the job and stayed here, where did you live?
Tyler: We lived in Kennewick for a year. And then we got a house in Richland in 1948 at 635 Basswood.
Bauman: That was a government home then?
Tyler: Uh-huh. It was ranch house. And we moved in Thanksgiving Day of '48. And my future wife moved in next door the same day. I didn't know that was my future wife, but it turned out to be. And I still live on Basswood. Different house, but--
Bauman: So did you go to high school here then?
Tyler: I went to Kennewick. I started in Kennewick because that's where we lived and I didn't want to transfer. So I rode the intercity bus every day to Kennewick and back. I graduated in 1950 and then somebody in Washington wanted me to join their services. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: So how would you describe, outside of your first impression, how would you describe the community of Richland in late '40s, early 1950s?
Tyler: It actually—it was a very good place to live. I didn't realize it at the time. It was smaller, much smaller--probably 5,000 people in each of the cities. It was a good place to live if you could ignore the wind blowing and the dust storms and that sort of thing. But it kind of grows on you. I know I wouldn't live anywhere else.
Bauman: In those early years when you were here in the '40s and '50s, do you remember any particular community events that stand out in your mind?
Tyler: Yeah, Atomic Frontier Days, the Grape Festival in Kennewick, and then the fair. Nothing big or spectacular, but it was something to do.
Bauman: Can you describe Atomic Frontier Days a little bit? What sorts of things--
Tyler: Well, normally they had a queen and a parade of course. And it was just kind of a—I don't know how--just a parade and kind of a get together type thing for the people that lived here.
Bauman: So let's talk about your work a little bit now. You said you started working in '55.
Bauman: So can you talk about who you worked for at time and a little bit more detail about what sorts of work you did? What area of the Hanford site you worked in?
Tyler: Okay, I started February the 22nd, 1955. And my first work assignment was 200 West Area tank farms. And then I went up to the REDOX facility which was a separations facility. A couple months later, then I went to U Plant. And then I went to T Plant, which were all separation facilities. And then I went over to PUREX in December of 1955. That was prior to startup. We started up our first spiked run was I think March or April of '56. And I worked there until '62 I believe. When I worked there, we also was switched with the 100 Area HPTs, or RCTs, or radiation monitors for exposure reasons. Because they got a lot more exposure than we did, so we would switch with them. And I got to work in all the 100 Area reactors except N when they were running, and some of the 300 Area.
Bauman: So just about everywhere?
Tyler: Yeah, I worked basically in every facility out here except 234-5.
Bauman: And so was GE the contractor? What contractor did you work for?
Tyler: GE. They were the prime contractor. And they left here in '66 I believe. Then Rockwell and Westinghouse and Fluor Daniel and MSA.
Bauman: So as a health physics technician, what exactly did that mean? What sorts of things did you do on a daily basis?
Tyler: Well as you know, there was a lot of contamination, radiation. And our job was to set the dose rates if people were going into a radiation area. We would go in, set the dose rates, stay with them. Got to make sure that the dose rates didn't increase while they were in there. We surveyed them out when they were done with the GMs and alpha detectors to make sure they didn't take any contamination home with them. And that was our prime responsibility. We maintain control of personnel exposure rates and their contamination, if they had any, and made sure that everything was as clean as we could get it. That's the short and sweet version.
Bauman: Yeah. And you did that, obviously, at all these different areas you worked at on the site?
Tyler: Everywhere, inside, outside, burial grounds.
Bauman: Were there ever any incidents while you were doing this where people did have excessive exposure or anything along those lines?
Tyler: Yeah, there was a lot of them. When GE came here--well, they were the prime contractor. Back in those days, you really couldn't talk about your job. You could say that you worked at Hanford and that was pretty much it. But yes, there was a lot of good memories and bad memories. Some really high exposure rates almost on a daily basis, because everything was running. And what will go wrong probably does. And it was very interesting work. It was something different every day. It's the kind of job that you look forward to doing and working. I did. I really enjoyed it.
Bauman: So what was the process or procedure if someone had an overexposure?
Tyler: Well, you had your dosimetry, which—Battelle read that. So you know what they got. And that's the record that's with you forever. At that time I think we worked--[PHONE RINGING] Shit. We worked under a 50 millirem per day limits, or 300 a week. And sometimes you would exceed that. But we were issued dosimetry everyday when we came to work. And you had a film badge which was read I think once a month. But they kept a running record of your exposure. That's why when we, when 100 Area radiation monitor--[PHONE RINGING] Hello. Can I call you back, Ian? Okay, thanks. Sorry. I don't know how to turn it off.
Bauman: So we're talking about the dosimeter--
Tyler: Yeah, they kept records of all your exposures. And then every month they would send you a copy or let you know what it was. But if before the end of the year was out, if you were running short of exposure, then they would transfer people--particularly the radiation monitors--to different areas. And they what they were doing was using our exposure instead of--and letting their people cool down a little bit. It was just a way of equalizing the dose rates to the personnel. And it worked good in theory. And there was some--and I probably shouldn't say this—but there was some little minor ripples in the water, because people accused the other people of hanging back and now I got to come save you, that sort of thing. But it was all in fun. Everybody knew how serious the job was. And that was just part of their job.
Bauman: And so how long did you work as a health physics technician then?
Tyler: I think until 1982 and I went into management in health physics. At that time, they called us managers. And I was the manager of East tank farms until 1988. And then I transferred over to the West Area environmental group and took that over. My responsibilities were all of the outside radiation contamination areas. Burial sites. '89 I retired. Came back three months later and went to work in the environmental restoration part-time. And I did that until 1995. And then when Bechtel came in, I left there and went back to health physics side and become a evaluator at HAMMER for radiation protection, which I still do.
Bauman: So you still work for--
Tyler: Two to three days a week.
Bauman: So you mentioned earlier the sort of secrecy of some aspects of Hanford. Obviously secrecy, security were a very important part of. I wonder if you could discuss that at all, any ways that impacted your work?
Tyler: GE had a very rigid plan of how they wanted things to go. And security of course was top secret. If you went—and a few people did--they go down and have a beer at the bar and they get to talking. And you never know who you're talking to you. And there was cases where people didn't have a job the next morning. Because security would overhear them. And you were pretty much done. So people didn't talk about their job. They didn't even talk about it with their family. Security was very strict. When you—well, for instance, when you go to work in the morning or if you're on shifts, same thing. You would catch the bus at the bus lot. Get on the bus, go through the barricade at the Y. If I was going to PUREX, we'd go up, pull in to the front gate of PUREX. You'd get out, off the bus. Go through the badge house. Pick up your dosimetry. Go out. Get back on the bus. The bus would pull inside the gate. Get back on the bus. Go down to PUREX. Get off the bus. Go through their badge house. And they would check your lunch bucket and all that. And then go into the building. And then in the evening, just reverse that process and back out again. So they were very strict. If you drove your car, you could not drive it past the main gate of East Area. You parked outside. And when you could drive inside, security would check the glovebox and the trunk and whatever was in the car. So it was very regimented.
Bauman: I wanted to ask you about, in 1963 President Kennedy visited for the opening of the N reactor. I wondered if you were there and have any memories of that event at all?
Tyler: I was not there because I was on shift at that day, or I probably would have been.
Bauman: Mm-hm. Obviously, one of things that happened with Hanford is the shift from focus on production to focus on clean up. And I wonder if that shift impacted your work in any way?
Tyler: Yes. Like I said before, I was the manager of East tank farms. And my office was at Semi Works, which is in 200 East Area, which was a pilot plant for PUREX. Semi Works was running. We were doing strontium cesium runs. But then when the edict came out that we were going to phase out and clean up, one of the first facilities--well I think it was the first facility—that we started tearing down was Semi Works. And D&D did the work. But we shut it all down and demolished the building and just imploded it in place. Built a dirt berm over it, cleaned it up. Most of the cells and the tanks are still in place, but they're full of grout. And then there's concrete over it. And what we did was tear down—this was approximately a three-story building with three stories underground. So when we tore down the building—it had a lot of piping and columns—we tore down the building and left the west wall standing. And we filled everything we could get inside like the basement and concreted it in place. And then we undercut the west wall. And this is probably four foot thick. And got a couple of Caterpillars and chains and hooked it over the top of the west wall. Pulled it down over like a lid. And then dirt berm over it, and there it is. And the stack that was there—the exhaust, the big stack—they imploded that and laid her right alongside the building. One guy did that. We deconned it first, and he came in, and a dynamite expert told us where we was going to put the stack and put a stick out on the end in the ground like they do now on the TV. And laid that stack right down on that stick, all by himself. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: So that definitely did make for significant changes then, the shift from production?
Tyler: Very significant, because that was kind of pilot test for all the other anticipated deconning and decommissioning they we're going to do, which is still going on.
Bauman: Let's shift now and talk a little bit about HAPO. I wonder--I know you've been involved with them quite often. I wonder if you can talk about your involvement when you became involved in HAPO and how that came about?
Tyler: Well let's see. First, HAPO was a GE acronym which stands for Hanford Atomic Products Operations, which was the name of GE's part of this. GESA, which is another credit union down the street, was the General Electric Supervisors Association. GE was very particular about their managers or supervisors were a step above the blue collar worker. And I think they still maintain that. If you were a supervisor, it's white shirt and tie. And you don't fraternize with--So when the credit committee wanted to get started, that's the name they chose, just HAPO. And it's '53. And I was looking at one of the early--the record book. And I think there's five or six of the charter members of the first—that I worked with that were radiation monitors just like I was. But I never joined HAPO until my wife was--she likes C First. And I never joined HAPO until I think '71. And then a friend of mine that I worked with talked me into getting on the committee that approved loans, credit committee, which I did. And then I got invited later to go on the board of directors and got voted in and been there ever since. I really enjoyed it. It's a great credit union.
Bauman: So is it the board of directors then, primarily is it either current or former Hanford employees?
Tyler: No. It used to be when we were federal, you had to work out here to join HAPO. And then they relinquished or changed the bylaws so that anybody could join HAPO. If you give them $5 and signed up, you were a member for life. But initially it was you had to work here to join.
Bauman: And you said you didn't join until '71. What led you to decide to join at that point?
Tyler: The guy I carpool with, one of them, convinced me that I should do that. [LAUGHTER] And I didn't like C First. I never did like C First. But my wife liked them because you got at the end of the month, you got all of your checks back. And she liked that. But I joined HAPO and started my own checking account. And then she finally joined shortly after I did. And now the rest is history. [LAUGHTER]
Bauman: So, I know you weren't part of the formation of the credit union. But I wonder if you can talk about it a little more? If you know more, were the employee unions at Hanford involved in the credit union, establishing that?
Bauman: And anything you can talk about that?
Tyler: Helen Van Patten was one. GESA started it first. And then the blue collars said well, we got to have one of those. The first store was down by the Spudnut Shop. I think we had one or two employees. And everything was in a ledger, handwritten. Joe Blow borrowed $25. It was very basic. But fortunately, it kept growing and membership increased.
Bauman: So the unions saw it as a way to provide credit union opportunities--
Bauman:--for blue collar workers or laborers or whatever? Okay. So I want to—going back to your work at Hanford, what are some of the more challenging aspects of your work, and maybe some more rewarding aspects of your work?
Tyler: That’s a good question. Probably one of the most challenging was the responsibility when you're out on a hot job where the contamination levels are great and the radiation levels are great, and you have a whole crew of people. It challenges you to--it's always in the back of your mind that something's going to happen and I'm not going to see it, or I'm not going to catch it. And somebody's going to get overexposed. And that's always in the back of your mind. Because--and I have to beat my own drum here for a bit—radiation monitoring and health physics now, whatever they are, it's a very challenging job. You're responsible for--you're taking care of people. And they trust you. And they expect you to look out for them. And it's a lot of responsibility, but most everybody accepts that gladly, because they know how important it is. Because you're responsible for--you could get somebody really overexposed, and who knows what the consequences are? As far as rewards for that, I think is the satisfaction of when the job is done, that you knew you did your best job. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got overexposed. Nobody got contaminated. And the job got done.
Bauman: Were there any events or incidents or anything, sort of unique things that happened during your time working at Hanford that sort of really stands out to you?
Tyler: When I first hired in, like I said, I went to REDOX. One of the problems they had shortly before I got here was they had a ruthenium—they ran some ruthenium and they played it out in the stack. And then it broke loose. And it kind of went out in the desert and on the ground. And you had ruthenium chunks of—it looked like white paper that built up on the inside the stack and then finally broke loose and fluttered out and went everywhere. And one of my first jobs with a GM and a walking stick was walking out through the desert and finding these things. Little specks, big specks, didn't have any trouble finding them. [LAUGHTER] They were very hot. And I remember we used the KOA cans from T Plant, which were little round cans, metal cans about that big around, about this high with a snap-on lid. And that's what we put them in, with dirt for shielding. And then buried them. But there's been a lot of incidents of hot burials from PUREX. I remember some where we used a burial string. We used a locomotive, a whole bunch of flat cars. And then at that time, they'd build big wooden boxes. And I recall one big one that had enough lumber in it to build two B houses. Huge—it sat on two flat cars. And we put it in, and we took readings over the top of the tunnel as it went out of the tunnel towards the burial ground. And it read greater than 500 R. And as you know, 500 R for an hour is a lethal dose rate to 50% of the people, 60%. And then you go down the railroad track behind B Plant, pull it across the highway which patrol barricaded the road. So you pull the string across the road and then back it into the burial ground. And then you had to sink—this box was built on skids. And a big long steel cable lay on another flat car, three or four flat cars away from it. So you would pull that. And you would pull it down into a burial trench. And the Cat would be down there ready. And the train would back up and they would grab that cable, put the eye on. Hook it to the Cat. And then the Cat skinner would pull the cable off. And the train would move up until the boxes sit here and the cables here. And the Cat's down here pulling. And then we'd get up to the--and there was a dock where you could slide it off. And you would turn that box and pull it in. Pull it down into the trench, down to the other end, wherever you wanted it. Unhook the Cat. Leave it. Pull the Cat out. And then they would backfill that box. And that's the way they did the burials. And it worked great except when the box collapsed unexpectedly.
Bauman: Then not so great.
Tyler: Yeah, that's not a good--that happened once or twice.
Bauman: During your years working out there, were you ever concerned about your own safety, health, protection, in any way?
Tyler: Well as stupid as it may sound, no. I never was. Because I always figured I knew what I was doing. And I received some very good training in the Navy, which helped. But I never worried about it. I always trusted me.
Bauman: Were you a member of a union when you were working at Hanford? And what union was that? And I guess, what sort of relationship did the union have with management here at Hanford during the time you were here?
Tyler: Good and bad. [LAUGHTER] I used to be chief steward for the radiation monitors. I went through two negotiations. And after the last one, I decided I didn't want any more of that. Chief steward's a thankless job, but somebody's got to do it.
Bauman: What does that mean exactly? What—chief steward--
Tyler: Well, you're the union rep plant wide for all of the HPTs. And I had this grandiose idea that I could just change everything. It's a great idea, but it doesn't work. It's a job that somebody has to do. And it's a job that is thankless. Because somebody's always mad at you. Whatever you do, in some of the people's eyes, you could always do better. And it's just not a good job. [LAUGHTER] But I enjoyed it. You learn a lot. And you learn both sides of the fence--how the company thinks and how the union thinks. And then you try and compromise.
Bauman: Were there ever any times you were here where there was a strike or any sort of--
Tyler: Two--'66 and '76.
Bauman: And were those sort of across the site?
Tyler: Yep. And in '66, after we settled the '66 strike, GE left.
Bauman: Was that one of the reasons they left?
Tyler: Yeah, well, they had planned to leave. And then that's when--because when GE was here, they were the only contractor. And then when they left, they kind of broke it up into the 200 Areas and the 100 Areas. And it's always been different contractors, not just one prime contractor.
Bauman: Do you remember what some of the key issues were in '66 and '76 in terms of--
Tyler: Wages. Wages were always the key issue. Well, I take that back. '66 or '76 was, they were going to do away with the buses. And that was a key issue for everybody. It didn't happen, but it was a--that was when they spent all the money redoing the bus lot. And then a couple years later, they did away with the buses anyway. But we did get air conditioned buses. Before we had old buses, the old green buses. Well like the ones sitting down at--
Bauman: The CREHST Museum?
Tyler: Yeah. Those were some of the newer ones. The older ones were international buses that looked like a truck. Cold in the winter and hot in the summer. But they worked. When they did away with the buses, see, that did away with a lot of jobs in the bus lot. Maintenance, everything there, which was a lot of people.
Bauman: So part of that was about jobs and issues of transportation?
Bauman: Anything I haven't asked you about that you'd like to talk about or that you think we should talk about?
Tyler: Well, we've covered pretty much every--well, we've covered pretty much everything I think. I don't really know what you're looking for.
Bauman: Just your experience. That's why I wonder if there's something that you experienced some event or something that I haven't asked you about yet that you think would be important to—
Tyler: Well. When I retired, I took the first early out and then got bored to death and came back. When I was in the environmental group in West Area, a good friend of mine was an environmental manager outside the site. But he talked me into coming back part time and become a waste shipper and a waste handler. Which was--I'd never done it. I knew what it was. But I finally relented. I enjoyed it. It's entirely different. Because I was kind of burned out on radiation protection, and I wanted to do something different. Didn't want to retire, but I wanted to do something different. So I went to the classes and become a certified waste shipper and a waste handler. And we took care of all of the sites outside of 200 East, 200 West. All the burial sites, all the drilling sides, the river, pretty much everything. And it was very interesting. Until '95, when I decided I didn't like the contractor. [LAUGHTER] And I went back to health physics.
Bauman: Most of the students I teach now were born after the Cold War ended. Obviously most of your career, the Cold War was going on during most of the time you were working at Hanford. So I'm wondering what you think would be important for young people today and people in future generations to know about working at Hanford during the Cold War?
Tyler: I'm trying to remember. We had the strike in '66. And there was almost another strike four or five years later. In fact midnight was the deadline when we were supposed to go on strike. And at 11:30, we got a notification that the President had put a stop to the strike because of the situation with the Cold War thing. And I think that's the first and the last time that ever happened. But as far as--
Bauman: So then about 1970 or so?
Tyler: Early, yeah, '71 or '72 maybe. No, it was before that, because I was still on shift. It was probably '68, '69 maybe. But as far as the Cold War, it's still going on in different forms—my personal opinion. You look back at history--and I've lived through a lot of it--nothing has really changed. Like what's going on now, and the Bible says there'll be war and rumors of war. And that's correct. Because whatever our President does—whatever he does is going to be wrong in a lot of people's eyes. It's kind of like if you don't do it, you should have. And if you do do it, you shouldn't have. [LAUGHTER] It's a different type of cold war. Instead of—we used to worry about Russia. And I'm not too sure that—maybe we should still be worrying about Russia and a lot of other countries that--Things have changed. But they haven't—the basic things that caused the Cold War hasn't changed. There's all kind of weapons. I don't know.
Bauman: All right. I think that's all the questions I have for you.
Bauman: I want to thank you for coming in today.
Tyler: Thank you for having me.
Bauman: Pleasure to talk to you.