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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Oral Histories

Karen Dorn Steele’s Interview

Karen Dorn Steele is a journalist. As a reporter for the Spokesman-Review, she broke the story about the Green Run test, in which the U.S. government released radioactive gases in 1949 over areas surrounding the Hanford Site. Subsequently, she covered the Hanford Downwinder litigation, in which residents living around the Hanford Site sued the federal government over the health complications they suffered from as a result of radiation exposure. In this interview, she discusses how she discovered the Green Run through FOIA document requests. She describes covering the Downwinder litigation and her thoughts on how the trial was managed. Dorn Steele remembers meeting and interviewing some of the plaintiffs, and how their lives were impacted by the Hanford Site.

Collene Dunbar’s Interview

Collene Dunbar first arrived the Tri-Cities in 1950. She spent her childhood there while her father worked in construction at the Hanford Site. In this interview, she recalls her experiences growing up, and describes local perceptions of Hanford. She details discrimination faced by African Americans, local agriculture, and how the area has changed over the years. Dunbar also recounts her time working in construction and maintenance in the 200 East Area at Hanford, and shares her impressions of how secrecy and security were maintained at the site.

Carol Roberts’s Interview

Carol Roberts moved to Hanford with her family in 1944 after her father was hired by DuPont to work as an electrician on the B Reactor. In this interview, she vividly describes life in Richland during the Manhattan Project. Roberts mentions local segregation, dust storms, the housing, social opportunities, and the challenges women faced in raising a family. Roberts champions the role of women in local history, including Leona Marshall Libby’s work on the B Reactor. She also details the founding of the local hospital and library, and recounts the takeoff of the “Day’s Pay,” the bomber funded by Hanford workers as part of their contributions to the war effort.

Masao Tomonaga’s Interview

Masao Tomonaga is the honorary director of the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Hospital and a hibakusha, an atomic bomb survivor. He studied internal medicine and hematology at the Nagasaki University Medical School. Currently, he runs a retirement home for older hibakusha. In this interview, Dr. Tomonaga discusses his experience surviving the bombing of Nagasaki. He outlines the immediate physical impacts the bomb had on people’s bodies, the long-term physical impacts, such as cancer, and the psychological harm. He also discusses the simulation Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducted to see what a one-megaton nuclear detonation would look like in a modern city today.

Philip S. Anderson, Jr.’s Interview

Philip S. Anderson, Jr. lived in Oak Ridge from his second-grade year through his junior year of high school. His father, an officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was responsible for housing at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project; his mother was active in the Oak Ridge community. In this interview, Anderson remembers his childhood in Oak Ridge, describing the level of secrecy in the city and hikes with his friends. He also recounts his reaction to the bombing of Hiroshima and his fond memories of being a Boy Scout in Oak Ridge.

Patricia Postma’s Interview

Patricia “Pat” Postma arrived in Oak Ridge in 1943 when her father was recruited to join the Manhattan Project. She grew up in Oak Ridge and was a professor in the College of Business at the University of Tennessee. In this interview, she discusses her involvement in the effort to build Oak Ridge’s International Friendship Bell, a symbol of peace and reconciliation between the US and Japan. She discusses what the bell represents and some of the initial opposition to it. She also reflects on how living in Oak Ridge has shaped her and how she believes the “bell speaks to the values of this town.”

Trisha Pritikin’s Interview

Trisha Pritikin was born and lived ten years in Richland, Washington, just a few miles away from the Hanford Site. Her father worked in the 100 Area at Hanford, overseeing some of the reactors, while her mom worked as a secretary at Hanford. In her interview, Pritikin recalls her love of Richland at a young age and describes the happiness of many of the people there. At age 18, she began to develop health complications which she believes to be caused by childhood exposure to radioactive iodine and other radionuclides released from chemical separations at Hanford. Pritikin discusses how drastically her health situation deteriorated because of an undiagnosed autoimmune thyroid disorder (Hashimoto’s disease), and related health issues, and how she became a lawyer in spite of the disabling health issues she faced. She provides an overview of the decades-long Hanford Downwinder litigation efforts and her advocacy for justice for Hanford’s Downwinders, the children of Hanford workers, and others exposed to Hanford’s airborne and Columbia River radiation releases.

Astro Teller’s Interview

Astro Teller, co-founder of Alphabet subsidiary “X,” is the grandson of Edward Teller, the famous physicist often considered the father of the hydrogen bomb. In this interview, Astro recalls how Edward loved to read him fairy tales and play bridge – though Edward played competitively with Astro’s other grandfather, Nobel Prize-winning economist Gerard Debreu. He discusses Edward’s love of answering big scientific questions, his family life, and time at Los Alamos. Astro explains that Edward missed working on science when he became more involved in politics and military matters later in life, and how Edward tried to warn the world about climate change decades ago. Astro also explores parallels between Edward’s work, the Manhattan Project, and his own work at X, and talks about the importance of applied research.

Gordon Garrett’s Interview

Gordon Garrett moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1944, at the age of seven. His father worked at the Y-12 plant; his mother was active in the Oak Ridge community. In this interview, Garrett recalls his childhood in the “Secret City” and describes some of the challenges residents faced and how they overcame them. He also discusses the problems of racial segregation and tensions between Oak Ridge and surrounding areas. In addition, he talks about his career path, including his experience in the Air Force during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how growing up in Oak Ridge would affect him for the rest of his life.

Mary Brennan’s Interview

Mary Brennan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She and her husband, Curtiss, moved next door to Dorothy McKibbin, “the Gatekeeper to Los Alamos.” In this interview, Mary discusses her memories of Dorothy, how Dorothy ended up in New Mexico, and Dorothy’s relationship to J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. In addition, she explains the specificities of the house and how it was a social destination for members of the project. The Brennans are the current owners of McKibbin’s house and still reside next door.