« Return to this article

Know the West

My time on the tank farms


In the early '70s, I landed a job with ARCO, a contractor at the time overseeing tank farms ("The Hanford Whistleblowers," HCN, 2/3/14). Working at the nukes was the best paying job around and it was what our dads did. Growing up in Richland, we walked our dads to the bus stop, and watched them ride away with name badges on (not knowing they were dosimeters). We never knew what they did, only that our dads worked in "the area."

My dad was very proud to have me work there; it made me proud to have a job that he approved of. A nuclear chemical utilities operator required no skill or school. We dressed in overalls and masks, and walked out into the "crapped up" areas to read tank levels. We also monitored the tanks from inside buildings. Every once in a while we worked in the cleaning plant, which separated the highly radioactive chemicals and sent them to the encapsulation facility. We were told by our bosses that if an alarm went off while we were monitoring tank levels, it did not mean anything and to simply push the reset button and make a note of it. In some instances, there were considerable drops in tank level, but these incidents were passed off: "Well, we will note that for the next shift."

The more I became aware of what was going on with lack of oversight and sheer disregard for how dangerous these materials were, the more I pushed upper management to do something. I tried to discuss the issues with my dad, but he thought I had just made them all up. How could I think that the Hanford bosses would put us in harm's way? After a year, I was let go for "security issues." Being in my very early 20s and a product of the late '60s, I told the big kahuna exactly what I thought of Hanford and that I could not morally work there anymore. I moved to Montana, as far from Hanford as I could get. My dad died in his early 60s due to overexposure from his time at the nukes, after years battling health issues.

Christine Woodward
Bellingham, Washington