Interview with John Young

Dublin Core


Interview with John Young


Richland (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Hanford (Wash.)
Nuclear weapons plants--Environmental aspects--Washington (State)--Richland.


An interview with John Young 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

2016-07-15: 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


John Young


Washington State University - Tri-Cities


Northwest Public Television | Young_John 

John YoungR. Young. J-O-H-N R Y-O-U-N-G. 

Robert BaumanAll right, thank you. And today's date is October 22nd of 2013. 

YoungI'll agree on that. 

Bauman: Okay. Sounds good. And we're conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. 

Young: Yeah. 

Bauman: So let's start by having you tell me when you came to Hanford? What brought you here? How you got here? 

YoungWhat was that?  

Bauman: When did you come to Hanford—to work and Hanford, and what brought you here? 

YoungYou want the whole story of how I got to Hanford? 

Bauman: Yeah. 

Young: It'll take me 15 minutes. I wrote a letter up to here after I saw an article in the newspaper saying they were looking for employees. And after that, they accepted me from the standpoint that they would find out whether or not I was qualified. And for the next two months, the FBI and other agencies went through my history and got information from my doctor and so forth. And in early Junewell actually, yeahthey finally decided that they would offer me a job. Or they offered me a job. 

BaumanAnd so where had you been living before you came here? What year was this, also? 

YoungWhat was that? 

BaumanWhere were you living before you came here, and what year was this that you moved here? 

YoungOh no, I didn't have any employee but here before. 

BaumanBut where did you live before you came here? 

YoungWhere was I working? 

BaumanWhere did you live before? 

YoungOh, I lived in Albany, Oregon. And I worked there as a carpenter because my dad made houses. So anyway, when I found out that I was supposed to arrive on July the 8th, I started from home on July the 7th. I wanted to be sure that I got here. Now, something I should tell you now is that during that spring, the Columbia River was at its highest violation you might say, or amount of water, in history. And it had wiped out parts of Portland. And there were only two bridges on the Columbia River, in the United States. One was the Bridge of the Gods down by Portland, and the other one was a bridge up by Canada.[LAUGHTER] So I didn't have any choice of how to get here. So when I left home, I drove up to Portland on back country roads because the main roads up to Portland were all wiped out by the water. Got to Portland. It was 17 miles east to the Bridge of the Gods. And that was actually a very funny ride because the road I was on the south side of the river and railroad track were the only two things on that side of the river. And I could drive along there and look out over the top of the rails on the railroad, and I could see that the flood two feet below the top of the railroad. Anyway, I got to the bridge safely. Went over the bridge, and I knew that the road on the other side going east from the Bridge of the Gods grows gradually up the ridge on the north of the river and eventually goes over the top of it and go down into the Yakima Valley. And I got about halfway up that ridge when the engine on my car blew out. [LAUGHTER] And fortunately it was right at a little town there that had some place where they could fix my car. So I spent the rest of that day there while they were working on the car. And they got the car ready for me by 8:00 the next morning, which was the 8th. So I drove on up over the top of the ridge down into the Yakima Valley, because I knew that if I could get into Yakima, there's a main road coming from Yakima down here. I got down to the bottom of the hill there, started towards Yakima. And I got two miles, and they found out that there's three feet of water over the riverover the road, pardon. So I turned around, went back. And there was an industrial area there. And I found a guard there and said is there any way I can get down to here. He said oh yeah, go back up to the road to Yakima and then go east. And when you get down, about 30 miles, there's a bridge over the river. So I took it and went in to Richland, getting there about noon on the 8th, which was fine for my getting there. So I ate my lunch, went into the Federal Building--which was only a one story building at that timeand I found out where the manager of personnel--well, new in personnel were. Walked down to his office, walked in his office. And he had about five desks in there. He was on one of them right by the door. And he was busy working on it. So I stood there, I'll say, for over a minute when he finally looked up and saw me. So I reached out my hand to him and said who I was. He stood up. He opened his mouth wide. And he stood there for over a minute, utterly amazed. When he finally got himself together, he said, how in the world did you get into Richland? What had happened was the management of Hanford had concluded that nobody would get into Richland for the next month. And that's why he was so astounded that I got into town. There was a [INAUDIBLE] if you want to call him that and overlooked the fact that I was a westerner. And I can go anywhere in this country that I want to, because I was raised on a cattle ranch down in Central Oregon. And I knew where to go through the, I'll say, backwoods. And that's how I got there. So anyway, their question then became, what are they going to do with me? Because they'd shut down the orientation class for new employees, so I couldn't go to work out in Areas. What were they going to do with me for a month? Now the first thing they did is they got me a room out in the barracks in North Richland. And then they told me to report to the production scheduling office in the Federal Building the next day, which is a top secret operation. And the purpose of that office was to determine which tubes in the reactors should be discharged the next time they had an outage at the reactors. And consider that there's 6,000 tubes out there. They had a new calculation system because they had a calculator which was designed to do that calculation to tell them what the amount of uranium was, or the amount of plutonium was in those process tubes. And such a method of calculating did not exist anywhere else. It was a special calculator designed by Marchand. Well anyway, I spent the next month in that office. I had a copy of the manual for Hanford—it was a top secret copy. And I could read that and find out everything that went on in Hanford in their manual. And then at the end of that month, when they finally opened up their orientation operation, I went through that process. And then I went out to the 100 Areas to go to work. I was assigned for six months at B Reactor as an assistant, well, operator for the reactor. It was a training period. It's a General Electric process. Any time the General Electric Company—at that time anyway—hired a new employee that had an education, they would put them out into one of their operations or many of them to give that person training on what to do in the job that they're going to get. And when they got through with the six month part that I was out there, they then assigned me to day work out in the 100 Areas. And I spent the next 17 years out in the 100 Areas as a senior engineer, one of the few that they had out there. Now I had to earn that title of senior engineer. But I was working on increasing the productivity of the reactors, reducing the cost of operating reactors, reducing the amount of radiation well, affecting workers out there—things of that type, for 17 years. At the end of the 17 years, they started shutting the reactors down. So I resigned. Went to the 300 Area and joined several organizations down there. [LAUGHTER] You know, there's so many of them floating around there, it's funny. And I spent 33 years mainly working in the 300 Area. But what I did was such things as licensing nuclear reactors, seven of them on the east coast of the United States. Congress had decided that all of the nuclear power plants in the country should be licensed. And the AEC, when they got that, they said well, you should work in the East because we don't want any bias. So those seven reactors are spread all away from Florida clear up to Minnesota. And after that, that was just a typical action for, oh, about one year. I was still an employee here. And if you want to know what I've done for the rest of that 30 years I spent at Hanford, I've got it listed here if you want it. 

Bauman: Sure. 

Young: This is something that I've had. I filled it out as appropriate just so I could answer questions of the type that you've made. And if you want to make a copy of this-- 

BaumanOh, sure. Yeah, we can do that afterwards, yeah. That’d be fine. 

YoungBut you see there's—oh, what is it--about 15 boxes all in there. [LAUGHTER] 

BaumanI want to go back to when you first arrived in the area in 1948. Is that right? 

YoungWhat did I do? 

BaumanYou first arrived in the area-- 

YoungI just arrived in '40--well, you mean in the Northwest? 

Bauman: No, I mean in the Richland, Hanford area. 

YoungIn Richford, yeah. 

BaumanWhat sort of housing did you have when you first arrived? 

YoungThere were in Hanford at that time, large buildings--some of them still exist--which had multiple rooms for people. And some of those buildings could hold as many as 25 people. And I was single. It was very handy from midtown. It's not out in the sandy places they talk about in this article. [LAUGHTER] But that sand, he talks in there so much—a couple of times anyway—actually was not Richland. Except for little locations where one building might be built. Most of Richland was grassy. And if you're in Richland, you're not getting any sand blowing around. And if you read their article there, they talked about the sand when there were on construction locations. Well that's normal throughout the whole state of Washington. [LAUGHTER] 

BaumanSo what your first impressions of Richland when you first got here? 

YoungWhen I first came in? I got a story for you that you're going to wonder if you want to publish it. I, like I said, drove into Richland on the 8th of June and got my lunch. Ate my lunch, went into the office there. And I guess I told you that this fellow said how in the world did you get into Richland? So from that time on, I was working. And I was working out in 100 Areas. The first six months, I was working at B and D Reactors. And my position was assistant shift superintendent. See, they had shut B Reactor down for, must have been four years because they wanted to keep it available in case they had to get some more plutonium for the military in a hurry. And that was the only time I was on shift. After that, my work was what you might call typical engineering. You can call it nuclear engineering if you want to, but it's general types of engineeringreducing operating costs, increasing production, reducing the radiation doses to employees, those types of things for 17 years. Ended up as a senior engineer.  

BaumanOf the different sorts of jobs, different parts of the Hanford site that you worked on, was there something that you found most challenging, most difficult, and/or something that you found sort of most rewarding about what you did? 

YoungI don't understand your question. 

BaumanWell, you had at least a few different jobs. You worked in the 100 Areas, right? And then you worked the 300 Area. Where there certain things that you did that you found sort of more challenging, or more difficult than others? And were there certain aspects or certain jobs that you had that you really found especially rewarding, that you really enjoyed a lot? 

YoungThe main difference was that when I was working in 300 Area, the reactors were reactors of the types that were used everywhere else in the United States. The Hanford reactors were very specific reactors because their only purpose was to produce plutonium. Whereas the other reactors in the United States were primarily built to produce electricity. It's a different design. And it also had more, shall we say, more opposition by the public. [LAUGHTER] Yeah. And that's a subject that you might want to address, because the people who are supposed to be the experts on radiation generally refused to use the information which says that low level radiation is beneficial. That makes a lot of difference. That low level radiation is so beneficial. In my case, I got 15,000 radiation dose. All of it was low level radiation. There might have been some high level in there, but I can only tell you what the badge has, you know? [LAUGHTER] And that's something that you might want to mention in your articles if you publish them. There are numerous people here, particularly in Hanford, that refuse to recognize that fact that low level radiation is beneficial. And like I say, there are scores of documents that say that low level radiation is beneficial.  

BaumanYou talked about your badge. I wonder if could talk about safety at Hanford? Did you have to wear any special clothing equipment of any kind to do your work? What sorts of ways was safety sort of part of what you did?  

YoungWell, I was cleared for every type of limited information. I got that when I told you I went into that one office on the first day. That was a top secret operation. And top secret gives you access to anything, assuming you had a need for it. I spentlet's see, how long were we in Oak Ridge? 

Woman oneOne year. 

YoungOne year, yeah. I spent one year in Oak Ridge on a committee which had somebody for every one of the AEC outliers, you might say. And the purpose was to determine where to protect their materials could be manufactured if somebody needed them. In other words, if you want high level radiation dose or something. I was dealing with people from every one of the major AEC outsides. But I would have ranged all in the various types of work that involve radiation. For instance, I was a manager at preparing environmental impact document for fusion reactors. And that document was presented in a meeting to the international fusion organizations in Germany. 

BaumanAbout what time period was that? Do you know? 

YoungOh, my. Let's see. That must be about 1990. 

BaumanDuring your years working at Hanford, were the any events, incidents, events, special occasions, things that sort of stand out in your mind from your time working at Hanford? 

YoungYou mean the reactors involved? 

BaumanOh, could be, yeah. 

YoungYeah, we head one out in the 100 Areas. For essentially all of the reactors, when they milk the reactors, they—of course the reactors are made out of graphite. They ran tests on graphite and so forth, and they learned that they could operate the reactors with a fairly low temperature of the graphite. You get too high temperature and you know you might hurt the material. And as we started raising the power levels of the reactors out there, the graphite started expanding. And the result was that in some of the older reactors like B Reactor, the graphite expanded enough that it pushed the shields off the outside of the reactor. Well, push them apart you might say. And the result was that the radiation inside of the reactor was leaking out through the crack at the top of the far side wall on the reactor. And there was a line of radiation going out that crack out through the wall in the far side of the reactor and then up into the air. And the result was that there was about a 20 mR radiation dose on the ground outside of the reactor. And that's one thing I worked on. They went back into the files of the DuPont people. And by checking through those files, they discovered that if we raised the temperature of the graphite, the expansion would stop. And if you go too low, the graphite would reduce in volume. And so we had to go through a special study to try to figure out what this would do to the reactor. And the result was—you see, the normal tube in the reactor was straight through the reactor. But when the graphite started expanding, the tube went up in arc and came back down because the highest temperature graphite was in the center of the reactor. So we figured out what was the proper temperature of the graphite—of actually of the gas in the reactor. And we ended up with the top tubes in the reactor going in, going down, going up, going down, and coming back up and going out the back. That's the type of things you ran into doing something like those reactors. And by doing that, it sort of drove the people replacing process tube on the reactor having to figure out how to get the tubes in the [INAUDIBLE]--[LAUGHTER]--through the reactor. If we had not done that, eventually the reactor would have fallen apart. In other words, if we hadn't figured out what was causing the problem—because this reactor would just keep expanding, and finally that outside shield would fall over. Or we'd have to somehow rebuild the shield up there to keep it in place. That's just a typical job that you'd have. You might spend six months on that. I had another one. I was working with a fellow who is an expert on water purification. And see, we were cooling the reactors with Columbia River water. It had to go through the water plant to clarify the water to get the sand and what have you out of it. And when they first designed the reactors, DuPont had discovered that if you did not have the right concentration of materials in the water going through the reactor, the tubes were bending up into two inside the reactor. And in order to prevent that happening, they were use the sodium dichromate in the water on the reactors. One part per million or something like that, but it's still, we're spending about, well, over $1 million a year buying that material. And I was working there with a fellow who was an expert on operating water treatment plants. And we got together and looked at this sodium dichromate that was used as we said--and we were buying that by the railroad car load. And I think the total cost was a $1.4 million a year for that one material as I remember it. And we looked at the price of it. And we looked at the price of buying the two components for making that material. And we had enough equipment in the water plants that we could make that material, the sodium dichromate. So we bought the chromate and the sodium, and we cut the costs in half from about a $1.4 million down to $700,000 a year. So we saved $700,000 a year. That's the type of things you work on. All types of things you get involved in. For instance, when they built the reactors back in World War II, there was a shortage of steel. So many of the pipes, particularly the ones underground, were not made out of metal. And when you heat and cool the other types of pipes, they start leaking because they crack open. So we had to figure out how to solve that problem or reduce the amount of sodium dichromate getting into the Columbia River. We worked it out, reduced it considerable. Those things get a little complicated. I don't want to go through all the detail. [LAUGHTER] 

BaumanSo it's involved a lot of problem solving? Your [INAUDIBLE] anyways right, problems with the reactor or whatever you would work on solving those issues. 

YoungWhat was that? 

BaumanIf there were problems with the reactors, then you would work on solving some of those issues, work on solving the problem. 

Young: Yeah. In other words, you have really two plants there. One was a water plant to provide the water to the reactor. And then the reactor was the other plant. Now what you do with the water, what you get out of that, is just how you get it back into the Columbia River with a minimum of radiation. And you know, that raises an important thing that I haven't mentioned it to people here in the Tri-Cities. I kept records on what the radiation was in the Columbia River. And when we were running the reactors out there, we  were running, you might say, tons of radioaction into the river. Yet the amount of radioactivity in the Columbia River here at Richland was essentially zero. It had disappeared you might say, or bee diluted if you want to put it the other way during the travel of the water from out there by the reactors into here. And when I see these articles in the newspaper about they're worrying about the fact that there's radiation out there in the 200 Area and it will leak out into the ground seven miles or something like that from the river, I'd be willing to bet that there wouldn't be much radiation getting down to Richland. And the other thing is that it would be low level radiation, which is beneficial if it does get down here. I don't know if you want to put anything like that in what you publish because the nuclear engineers don't want it to be published. 

Bauman: Overall, how was Hanford as a place to work? 

Young: What was that? 

Bauman: Overall, how was Hanford as a place to Work what did you think of Hanford as a place to work? 

Young: Well to me, that was a typical job, In other words, I had to travel 35 miles to get to my work. But people do that all over the country. It was an interesting job because we were working on increasing our knowledge of the subject. It's different than running one of these dams out here where you're generating electricity you know. All you're doing there is pushing a button once in a while. But by doing the right things out there, we saved millions of dollars. And we also reduced, you might say, the effects of radiation on anybody by making sure they didn't get any high radiation doses. But the most important thing about it is that we were, you might say, at war with the rest of the world. As long as we had to make that plutonium and reap you might say, keep Russia at a distance. [LAUGHTER] 

Bauman: Is there anything I haven't asked you about in terms of your work at Hanford that you'd like to talk about? 

Young: Well no, other than the fact that once I went to work in the 300 Areas, I worked all over the United States. Because I happened to be, you might say, an expert on nuclear reactors. A good example is that the government decided they wanted to have every nuclear reactor, I'll say described, to be sure what it is and how much radiation so forth is involved. In other words, if they did that, they licensed them. And that was quite an interesting job, because I worked on seven reactors back on the East Coast. And of course, I worked for one year in Oak Ridge. And that involved all of the AEC facilities. 

I want to thank you very much for coming in today and sharing your experience with us. I really appreciate it.

Young: Well, always glad to be helpful. 

Bauman: Thank you very much. 

Young; I would like to see the facts published in your story that low level radiation is beneficial. 

Bauman: I'm making these, we're making these available for anyone to look at, the [INAUDIBLE] stuff. Thanks again, appreciate it. 



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