RICHLAND, Wash. — The Atomic Heritage Foundation is making the voices of those who built Hanford and other Manhattan Project sites available on a new website.
It has launched “Voices of the Manhattan Project” with the Los Alamos Historical Society, posting oral histories of those who worked on the Manhattan Project or were affected by it.
In one, the late Lawrence Denton remembered arriving at the Hanford nuclear reservation from North Idaho during World War II when he was too young to meet the minimum age of 21 to work in the plutonium-production reactors.
The construction camp where 50,000 workers lived was an eye-opening experience, he said. He initially worked as a shipping clerk and remembered walking by the recreation hall in the camp on his way to deliver some paper work and watching the fire department use fire hoses to wash construction workers, “hard hats and all,” out of the hall and into the street.
Initially, 26 oral histories are available at www.man hattanprojectvoices.org, including six related to the Hanford nuclear reservation. The two organizations plan to build on that with 200 oral histories in their collections and possibly include some from other organizations.
“Eventually, the site should provide a rich tapestry of people and perspectives on one of the most significant developments in modern history,” the groups said in a statement.
In addition to accounts from scientists, engineers, craftsmen and laborers who built the complex that created the atomic bomb during World War II, the archive of oral histories also includes other voices, including Native Americans whose way of life was disrupted by Hanford.
Rex Buck Jr. in an interview recorded in 2003 recounts elders saying that Col. Franklin T. Matthias came to the Wanapum’s winter camp at Priest Rapids during World War II to give the band the confusing news that it could no longer go to part of its traditional area downstream on the Columbia River where it had caches of food and equipment.
The land would become the secret Hanford nuclear reservation, where plutonium was produced for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. But the band knew only that the restriction would be for the protection of the United States.
The band made pleas to visit sites at Hanford to keep its historic connection and was escorted under heavy military guard, Buck said.
Veronica Taylor, an elder in the Nez Perce tribe, talked of traveling to the Mid-Columbia to gather roots and berries and trade with other tribes, including the Yakamas, Warm Springs and Umatillas, in an interview taped in 2003.
But during WWII, military or police would stop them before Pasco and search their trucks and ask them their business in the area, she said.
Paul Vinther, a physicist, didn’t arrive at Hanford until 1950, but in an oral history recounted why the animal farm for testing the effects of radiation on animals was located near F Reactor. It was the farthest downstream of the reactors discharging contaminated cooling water to the Columbia River, and the water there was used for a tank of fish under study, he said.
The website project is being paid for by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Kerr Foundation and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.