Nuclear Museum Logo
Nuclear Museum Logo

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

David Hall’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

David Hall and his wife, Jane Hamilton, went as a team to Hanford. Also a physicist, she worked in the medical-safety division. In later years, he became head of the reactor division at Los Alamos and Jane Hamilton was the assistant director at Los Alamos. In this interview, Hall discusses his Manhattan Project work at the Chicago Met Lab and Hanford, and how he and his wife came to work at Los Alamos after the war.

Date of Interview:
March 1, 1986
Location of the Interview:


[At top is the edited version of the interview published by S. L. Sanger in Working on the Bomb: An Oral History of WWII Hanford, Portland State University, 1995.

For the full transcript that matches the audio of the interview, please scroll down.]

Book version:

We stayed at Chicago until early in 1944, and then we went out to Hanford to babysit the construction of three reactors. We reached Hanford in June or July. I remember when we first got there the houses weren’t ready and we stayed in dormitories. Blast! Those bedsheets were hot. You touched them and they were hot. I had never experienced that dry heat before. Our front lawn, after we got a house, had wild asparagus coming up. The only remarkable thing about our house was that the contractor apparently had not been able to get regular bathtubs and so the bathtubs were poured concrete. Kind of gritty on your bottom.

The perception of Hanford by the people at Chicago was that Hanford was going to gin out the plutonium from the irradiated uranium. The real question was how pure they could make it, because to maximize production the quality goes down. It’s a tradeoff. I really don’t know how much I can talk about that. The more that was turned out the less pure it was isotopically.

I worked with John Wheeler and George Weil, checking the quality of the graphite for B Reactor. They were pouring the reactor foundations, put­ting in the shielding, a massive building. Part of my job was to see if anything was in trouble, if anything was wrong, if the workmen were performing their jobs, and generally overseeing.

The Du Pont people say their foresight provided for the unexpected, as in the case of the xenon poisoning. In fairness, and I am not criticizing Du Pont, I think they may not have done what they had done if they had been in a competitive position. They were running at cost, and they did not get a profit, but there was no expense to them. For example, my wife and I, both with Ph.Ds, were hired to do really quite menial tasks, jobs that could have been done by people without training. It was over-kill, and it paid off.

Our social life was very good. There were three shifts, headed by senior people, whom I knew quite well. Henry Newson was in charge of one. It was a congenial group, we used to party together. The most tedious and monoto­nous thing was the long bus ride from Richland to the reactors. All the people I knew were married and they had their wives with them. Meta Newson, Don Hughes. I think it must have been kind of cliquey, with not much intermin­gling with Du Pont. I hadnt known Henry Newson before, but we kept up a friendship for many years after that. My friends were mostly academics, and the Du Pont engineers also tended to stick together socially. We worked 44 to 48 hours a week. For fun, we would go to Pasco, that was the source of liquor. We had weekend parties, but the weekend might be a working day. We played cards. Nothing wild. We heard stories of violence at the taverns in the construction camp, but that was to be expected since many of the workers were displaced and without their families.

We got used to the weather. I was fascinated by that long finger of tem­perate climate that extends up the Columbia River from the coast. You see an isothermal up the coast line, then it goes shooting in along the river and comes back. We were interested in the Horse Heaven Hills, and dry farming. I stayed until April, 1945, and went back to Chicago.


Full Version:

S. L. Sanger: Why don’t you tell me how you first became involved in the Manhattan Project and we’ll go on from that to Hanford.

David Hall: I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. My wife and I both were, and in 1940 finished our degree work and took a job at Denver University in physics, both of us. Joyce Stearns, who was the head of the department there at Denver University, employed us. We hadn’t been there very long when Stearns was called by [Arthur] Compton to go to Chicago and work on the Manhattan Project. Stearns went as an administrative assistant to Compton. After teaching for about a year at Denver, Stearns called and asked both of us to come to Chicago and work on the project, so we did.

Sanger: Do you have any particular specialty in physics?

Hall: I did my thesis work in cosmic rays, and my wife had done hers in crystallography. But those were not particularly related to the work we were doing. Physicists at that time were not as specialized as they are now, and so there was no real question about trying to pursue a very narrow specialty.

Sanger: So you went to Chicago, and then what happened?

Hall: Our first work was with the graphite purity, which was a major problem, as [Enrico] Fermi had determined. If you could get the graphite pure, and the uranium pure enough, you could have a chain reaction. It was really a matter of accomplishing that, and we were testing the graphite as it was made.

Graphite at that time was being made in logs four inches on the side and about four feet long. These were stacked up in the arrangement, which was called a sigma pile. The reason for that name, sigma was the symbol used for an absorption cross-section of neutrons. This was a way which had been developed before we got there to measure the purity of the graphite. The graphite was slowly less impure and the density was improving.

We were doing that, and then after that work was essentially finished we went into what is called an exponential pile. This is a stack of graphite with uranium embedded at the appropriate intervals. I must say, all this is after the first chain reaction had taken place.

Sanger: Where were you when that happened?

Hall: I was in Denver.

Sanger: So you went there after. It was December of ’42?

Hall: Right, and we went to Chicago in January of ‘43. The first pile was still in place at Chicago West Stands, and was then being dismantled and moved out to the suburbs of Chicago.

Sanger: That is where you worked?

Hall: No, we worked at the campus in Chicago, downtown.

Sanger: How long did you stay there?

Hall: We stayed there until I think it was early in ‘43, when the Hanford commitment was made. We were then asked to go out to Hanford to babysit the construction. At that time it was B, D, and F [reactors] were scheduled to be built.

Sanger: Your wife, what was her name?

Hall:  Jane Hamilton Hall.

Sanger: And she is dead?

Hall: Yes. She died in ‘81.

Sanger: Did she go with you to Hanford?

Hall: Yes.

Sanger: She was also a physicist?

Hall: Correct. She worked with Herb Parker. I think Herb is still at Hanford.

Sanger: Oh, yes. Herb Parker?

Hall: Yes. He was head of the medical safety division.

Sanger: You think he is still there?

Hall: I think he is still there, yeah. He was last time.

Sanger: He would be what, then? How old, about?

Hall: Again, like Norm Hilberry’s age.

Sanger: I have never heard of him. I will have to look him up. Okay, you went to Hanford. You said you would have got there early in ‘43?

Hall: Yes, I cannot remember the month, but it may have been like June or July, because I remember when we first got there, the houses were not ready for us, We were put up in dormitories, and blast those sheets were hot! You would touch them with your hand and it was hot. I had not experienced dry heat before.

Sanger: Did you get there by train?

Hall: No, we drove out.

Sanger: But you did not have any children, I suppose?

Hall: No.

Sanger: What is your first recollection of Hanford, when you got there?

Hall: Just a beehive of construction. Our front lawn, after we did get a house, the lawn had wild asparagus coming up. Obviously, that area had been used for truck farming.

Sanger: Huh. Was that a house or a duplex?

Hall: That was a house, two-story house.

Sanger: It was new, I guess?

Hall: It was new, built for the occasion. The only remarkable thing was that the contractor was not able to get bathtubs for the place, and so the bathtubs were poured concrete, which were kind of gritty on your bottom.

Sanger: That is interesting. So you stayed at Hanford for how long?

Hall: Until April the next year, I guess, so a little less than a year.

Sanger: So that was ’44?

Hall: Right.

Sanger: Tell me again in a little more detail what you did as far as at the project.

Hall: At Hanford, or where?

Sanger: Out at the reactors.

Hall: First when we went out there, I was working with John Wheeler and George Wyle. George Wyle is in Washington, and John Wheeler you know.

Sanger: Yeah, of course.

Hall: Again, it was checking the quality of the graphite, which was scheduled for installation in B Reactor. Then at that time, of course, just pouring the reactor foundations, the shielding, the whole mess of building. Then, when the reactors started assembling, part of my job was going around and seeing if anything was in trouble, were the workmen performing their jobs. I was not a major contributor to all this. I was really, at that time, in spite of my degree, it was a flunkey position.

Sanger: You had a doctorate by then?

Hall: Yes.

Sanger: Who were you working for?

Hall: John Wheeler, basically.

Sanger: Who was paying your check?

Hall: Oh, DuPont. DuPont, quite wisely, insisted that the people working for them be on their payroll, because you have your loyalty to whoever signs your check.

Sanger: When you were checking the purity of the graphite, how was that done? Were you taking spot checks or what?

Hall: The so-called danger coefficient method with the test reactor. The test reactor was in the 300- Area. What one did at that time was insert the test graphite into the center of the going reactor, then determine how much reactivity, or excess K, this has added or subtracted from the machine. This can then be traced back to the detected cross section of the graphite.

Sanger: And that was in the test reactor?

Hall: The test reactor.

Sanger: That just meant it tested materials?

Hall: Correct. Yes, and there was no cooling. It was just essentially a duplication or an improvement of the original reactor from Chicago.

Sanger: That was actually reacting in a small way?

Hall: Yes, it was low power. I do not think it went over a few hundred watts at the most.

Sanger: That is at 300. Also, that is where the fuel was fabricated there, too?

Hall: Yes, the fuel was fabricated, and I was never involved with that.

Sanger: That reactor I think is still there.

Hall: I would not be surprised. It probably does not have much use.

Sanger: Was it very large, in size?

Hall: No, it would be something like a cube twelve feet on the side.

Sanger: So you worked fairly closely with Wheeler?

Hall:  Yes. John Wheeler was the one who had control over the production. He was checking to be sure that everything was according to the calculations. Of course, when the B Reactor did start up—you probably have read the story about how the DuPont engineers did not trust the physicists. The original calculation was that 900 tubes would be sufficient for the size, and DuPont just doubled that to 2,002. Then of course, when the xenon poison was discovered, all the tubes were required.

Sanger: That was, I guess, a lucky break, I suppose.

Hall: The DuPont people say their foresight, and providing for unexpected contingencies—

Sanger: One of their engineers, Walter Simon, do you remember him?

Hall: No.

Sanger: He is still alive. He lives in Wilmington in the winter, in the summer in Fort Lauderdale. He said that DuPont normally doubled most of the estimates.

Hall: Well, I think in fairness, and I am not criticizing DuPont, but I think that was a particular effort that they might not have done had they been in an economically competitive situation, because they were running at cost. They did not get any profit from it. They insisted that they would not get the label of warmongering, so there was no expense.

For example, I and my wife, as PhDs, were hired to do really quite menial tasks that could have been done by people without any training. But the overkill in that sense, and I believe it paid off in a good many cases. The people that were babysitting the reactor, or bringing it up – I had my jobs on the shift running the control room. This would be a job that is now done by a good technician, but that is all. Not a research physicist. We were around the clock. There were three shifts headed by senior people whom I knew quite well. There was Henry Newsom was in charge of one. I think he has died since then.

Sanger: Yeah, his wife is alive in North Carolina.

Hall: Right. Meta.

Sanger: Yeah, I am going to talk with her about—

Hall: It was a fairly close-knit group. We used to party together and have congenial times. Don Hughes was another group leader, and I can’t remember but there must have been a third.

Sanger: These are shifts?

Hall: These were shifts. We rotated, living at Hanford and going out to the site by bus. It was very monotonous.

Sanger: Tell me a little bit about the sort of thing you did after the graphite was through and they were building the reactor, the sort of problems you may have run into.

Hall: I do not remember any real problems. I certainly don’t recall anything significant, but just watching and looking at the welding, looking at how the cleanliness, how they connected up the water pipes, just trying to be sure that there was no mistakes made. Essentially in the same way as an architect may have some kind of influence doing building inspections.

Sanger: What was the workforce like? Were they pretty conscientious people generally, or no?

Hall: Generally, yes. I cannot remember where they were housed.

Sanger:  They were along the river. Big barracks, which are all gone now.

Hall: Yeah, they would be.

Sanger: Was it your impression that morale was fairly high? Was there a big turnover, do you recall?

Hall: No, I think morale was quite high. I am sure this was because they were being paid very well, again, part of the overkill.

Sanger: What was the social life like? You were married, so you may have had a more normal life, I suppose.

Hall: Social life was very good because all of the people that I was working with, if they were married, had their wives with them. Meta Newsom was there. Don Hughes was there with the wife. I think it must have been kind of cliquey. Not too much intermingling with the DuPont hierarchy. They came from various parts of the country. I had not known Henry, for example, before meeting him there, but then I kept up a friendship for many years after that. Don Hughes did come from Chicago, but then there was another man, Wilbur—I can’t remember his name—he came from Pennsylvania. I do not know how DuPont recruited these various people. They came from all places.

Sanger: Were your friends mostly academics?

Hall:  Yes.

Sanger: That was part of the cliqueyness, I suppose.

Hall: Correct.

Sanger: The DuPont people, the engineers tended to stick together?

Hall: Yeah. John Miles, as I remember, was the physicist in charge of the recruited physicists. We were all clearly regarded as temporary, not really career DuPont people. John Miles was the one who was the shepherd, if you will, of our groups.

Sanger: I suppose it was fairly unusual for the wife to be working too, or not?

Hall: Yes. Jane and I were not a normal thing.

Sanger: What would you do for fun? Did you work a normal forty-hour week, or did that vary?

Hall: As I remember, something more like a forty-four or a forty-eight hour week. But I don’t remember. For fun we used to go into Penasco – not Penasco—

Sanger: Pasco?

Hall: Pasco, yeah. That was the source of liquor, of course. We had to have ration cards to get our liquor from the state-owned shop. I do not remember really what we did for recreation.

Sanger: Was there much driving? Gas was rationed, I suppose.

Hall: Gasoline was rationed, but we pooled it.

Sanger: Did you ever go to Seattle?

Hall: I made one trip to Seattle.

Sanger: So people, I suppose, generally did not do too much traveling. There was not enough time, I suppose.

Hall: Correct. When we had gone out, we came in through the north way, down through Spokane. Then when we left, I remember we had an old Studebaker at the time. The tires were the real problem.

Sanger: So mostly, the socializing, I suppose was dinners, parties?

Hall: Correct, yes.

Sanger: On the weekend?

Hall: Weekend, yes, but of course, the weekend was still a working day. So it was whoever was available. Bridge, playing cards, as I remember. No wild things that I can recall.

Sanger: I suppose they left that to the single people.

Hall: I guess so. I do not know what kind of life they led. Probably a horrible one.

Sanger: There are rumors of lots of violence in the taverns where the workers were. I do not know if it was as bad as people say.

Hall: We were not involved in any of that, but we heard stories of that kind, yes. Very rough. But that is to be expected, because most of the workers were displaced and without family.

Sanger: I talked to the man who was in charge of DuPont security, or one of them, and he claimed that there was not nearly as much violence as was rumored.

Hall: Well, that is quite possible.

Sanger: Because rumors would get started. We are talking bodies in garbage cans. He said there was nothing ever like that happening. There were robberies, knifings.

Hall: Yes, that is what I would say, not bodies. [Laughs] That is a little extreme in the middle of nothing, but not all that common. Once a week or every other week you would hear that there had been a brawl and somebody had been cut up, but that is all.

Sanger: Was the weather a problem? Or did you get used to it?

Hall: We got used to it. You get used to almost anything. I was fascinated by that long finger of temperate climate that extends up the river. It goes from the coast, and you see an isothermal that goes up and hugs the coastline, then it goes shooting in and comes back out. Low rainfall. I’m interested in the Horse Heaven Hills there to the south, where the dry farming was.

Sanger: Apparently Wheeler was fascinated by that. I spoke to him and he said that he and his family would often go down there just for picnics.

Do you have a feeling that Hanford isn’t nearly as well known as say, Oak Ridge is, or was, or Los Alamos?

Hall: Without a doubt, I think that’s true.

Sanger: Why would that be? Compared to Oak Ridge, where they were similar in that they were producing materials.

Hall: Well, Oak Ridge had the research effort going there too. As far as I know, there was no major research effort at that time, and not until fairly recently. Even now, Hanford is not really known for its reactor work. There was an attempt to put the breeder there.

Sanger: Yeah, there’s a breeder reactor there. There is more of that now. It was suggested to me by a history professor that Hanford was more of an engineering or industrial triumph rather than anything else.

Hall: I think that’s right. Yes, it was. Oak Ridge had quite of bit of the research and the science going there.

Sanger: I wonder if the remoteness had anything to do with it.

Hall: I don’t think so. It certainly couldn’t be any more remote than Los Alamos.

Sanger: Yeah, that’s true. Also, Hanford really didn’t have any resident at least, really big names, with the exception maybe of Wheeler.

Hall: Well, Wheeler didn’t stay. Fermi was there during the start of the reactor, and he didn’t stay. They wouldn’t stay because it isn’t a science place. I remember when things were settling down, and the reactors were going, we left before D came online, the second reactor, because DuPont felt, “Now we know what the problems are, and we don’t need you people this time.” So the temporaries were cast off. We went back to Chicago in April of ‘45.

Sanger: And that was it for Hanford. Did you go to up here then?

Hall: I stayed in Chicago until November of ‘45, and I came out to Los Alamos then at that time, But the bomb was dropped, of course, in August, and the war was over in—

Sanger: You didn’t get here in November?

Hall: November, yes.

Sanger: So you didn’t attend the test?

Hall: No. That was in July.

Sanger: Do you remember what the perception was of Hanford by your colleagues, say at Chicago, or anywhere else?

Hall: The perception of Hanford was that they were going to gen out the plutonium. The real question was how pure could they make it, because there were two cross things. One, if they maximize the production, then the quality goes down. So there was a trade-off they were worried about. I really do not know how much I can talk about that.

Sanger: So in other words, the more you could turn out, the less pure it was.

Hall: Correct, isotopically pure. But there was no real science there [at Hanford]. Los Alamos was considered to be the fountainhead of the pure science and the good ideas.

Sanger: Los Alamos, many of the people there were theoretical physicists who were involved mostly in just that, pure science. Did you have much to do with any of the superstars who showed up at Hanford like Fermi or [Eugene] Wigner?

Hall: No, I did not interact with them. Very little. It was during the panic time, which lasted about a week I guess, of the poisoning. Fermi was much more evident and available. Compton would show up once in a while, but he was really out of it for the most part.

Sanger: Did you see much of [Norman] Hilberry?

Hall: Not then. Hilberry I got to know when I was a graduate student.

Sanger: Were you at the reactor when it poisoned itself?

Hall: I think I was at a party. There was a group of us just ready to go on the evening shift, and I think there were two groups together. We must have been playing cards or some such thing. John Miles showed up at the house. I think we were at Don Hughes’ house, I’m not sure, but I think it was his house. At any rate, John Miles made the decision that he did not want Hughes to take the next shift. He wanted Henry Newsom. That really riled Hughes, because he thought he was being slighted. He got really indignant.

Sanger: And that is when they knew it was poisonous?

Hall: Well, power just started going down. There was nothing that anyone could do to stop it. It just went down. Of course, it was not known. A few tests were made and I think within a day, Fermi had worked out the kinetics of it.

Sanger: Did you remember a man named Dale Babcock?

Hall: Yes. He was one of the principals.

Sanger: Yeah, I am supposed to talk with him. He is still in Wilmington.

Hall: He was very pleasant, but I was just interacted very casually with him.

Sanger: He supposedly, according to Wheeler, wrote the—

Hall: He was not one of the more popular ones.

Sanger: Really?

Hall: Yeah.

Sanger: Wrote the kind of definitive article on the poisoning, which is in the ancient journal, which I have a copy of.

Hall: Yeah. [Crawford] Greenewalt was another one who showed up occasionally this time.

Sanger: He’s still alive, he’s quite elderly, but he refused to have anything to do with this project because he says his memory is so poor that it would be a waste of time.

Hall: I can believe that. He was really much more interested in his photography and hummingbirds. He did some marvelous pictures of hummingbirds.

Sanger: He became president then, of DuPont.

Hall: Yes. He had the wherewithal to get all kinds of equipment and he had the high-speed cameras.

Sanger: Have you ever been back to Hanford?

Hall: No. Yes—I had to go back, I guess, for one reason one time. I served, much later than that, on the advisory committee for reactor safeguards. I guess they had a meeting there.

Sanger: That was some years ago?

Hall: Yeah. I was there once and I could not find my way around. I couldn’t spot any old landmarks.

Sanger: What did you do after that?

Hall: I came here [Los Alamos] and was working on the weapon design for a number of years. Then Philip Morrison had started a plutonium-fueled reactor, because plutonium was available, and that is the only reason. He was going back to Cornell. My wife and I both were asked to head up that plutonium reactor development, which became known as Clementine.

Sanger: At Cornell?

Hall: No, here Los Alamos. We built and started up Clementine. Then the laboratory here started a reactor development program. So when we started, it was Darol Froman, but he then had to do a job. He had a technical associate director, and those responsibilities took him away, so he asked me to come in. I became head of the reactor division at Los Alamos, a position I held for about twenty years.

Sanger: So you never really left here?

Hall: No. I retired in 1978.

Sanger: How old are you now?

Hall: Seventy-one.

Sanger: Where did you grow up?

Hall: Have I? [Laughs] I was born in New Jersey and went to school at the Newark College of Engineering, Rutgers University. Got my Bachelor’s there. Then I went to Chicago for a Master’s and Doctor’s.

Sanger: In physics?

Hall: In physics.

Sanger: Do you know – maybe you didn’t – a guy named Wilkening?

Hall: Marv Wilkening, yes. He comes up to the opera once in a while, and I’d run into him occasionally.

Sanger: I spoke with him last year. I went down to the Trinity site. He worked with [Herbert] Anderson at the test and all along, more or less, off and on, counting neutrons and instrumentation. He has what seems to be a fairly pleasant life down there now. He’s an emeritus. I guess he built that little physics department at the college.

Hall: And I think he has done a very credible job.

Sanger: Now I guess he is an expert on natural radiation, radon. He is fairly young, he’s sixty-seven. Do you remember a man named Nyer?

Hall: Warren Nyer? Yes.

Sanger: He is at—

Hall: Idaho.

Sanger: Idaho. Maybe he mentioned you as one of the—you were never at Oak Ridge, though?

Hall: No.

Sanger: He said there are six or seven people he knew who were at Chicago, Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos.

Hall: Yes. Wilkening was one of them, and Warren Nyer was another one. Warren Nyer was at Chicago when I first went there from Denver. See, there was an X-10 Reactor that was built, and they went down there to work on it. Then from there they went to Hanford.

Sanger:  I forget—the Newsoms I believe he said were others who had made sort of the rounds.

Hall: Henry came to Los Alamos after leaving Hanford. He went from Hanford and he came here, when we went back to Chicago.

Sanger: Hilberry told me your wife was the assistant director at Los Alamos?

Hall: Yes.

Sanger: That was when?

Hall: Oh gosh, I cannot remember. Up until the time of her retirement. She was assistant to Norris Bradbury and when Norris retired, she retired also.

Sanger: He is still hanging around?

Hall: He is at Los Alamos.

Sanger: Well, I think that is what I was after.

Hall: It is probably more than you want.

Sanger: Well, really it is amazing how the little things sort of work together. The only thing I have asked people is just for my information is, if your ideas on nuclear weapons has changed or remained the same over the years?

Hall: Oh no, definitely changed.

Sanger: In what way?

Hall: Well, when we first came here, really the rationale for coming to Los Alamos was that all the good people at Los Alamos were getting ready to leave. “The job is done, we are through.” They’re going back to other jobs and schools and whatever. It was clearly apparent that if the United States was going to base any of its foreign policy, or its military position, on weapons, it should have any. Because at that time, fall of 1945, there were no weapons, absolutely.

Weapons were obviously crude. Everybody knew what to do to improve them. The improved designs were on paper, but they had to be tested out and proofed out. Initially, it was a necessary thing, if the country were not to be put into the position of having an empty bluff.

Now, that situation is long since gone. We have far more weapons, I think, than we need. The same is true of Russia. Why we keep on building, designing new weapons, which are marginally better, three percent better, or special purpose, something which will go for one particular purpose. The redundancy is just overwhelming. I stopped any interest in the weapon work in the mid-‘60s.

Sanger: And shifted to something else?

Hall: I was then totally involved in reactor development.

Sanger: Is that mostly because you lost faith or belief in—?

Hall: Because I became much more interested in what I thought was a more useful application, energy. Of course, I’m terribly disappointed that the nuclear power industry has foundered so. We’ve come to such a hard time. I have my own ideas about why that is true, but I can’t really substantiate them. They are more or less gut feelings rather than any reasoned—

Sanger: What is that?

Hall: Well, I think one thing, which has worked against us: ever since the start of the nuclear power industry, there was an independent committee and independent agency for safeguarding, for being sure that the reactor is safe. This can be overdone.

If you have no function except to look after the safety, you can be sure you will try to go for the impossible thing of 100 percent safety. There is no such thing. If you hire new people, and say you are at your job and it’s a safety thing, the only way they can get attention is to start pointing the finger and start screaming, “Hey, look at this, hey look at that.” This becomes what is known as ratcheting. You just pile more and more safety features on.

The safety record of the nuclear industry is fantastic. Despite that very costly fiasco at Three Mile Island, nobody was hurt, and certainly, no one was killed. But the cost of that has put the reactor industry into an economic impossibility position.

Sanger: You probably heard about the financial fiasco in Washington State?

Hall: Oh, yes. The cost overrun was fantastic. The WPPs, the falling of the bonds is—

Sanger: Yeah, that also probably also went a certain way toward discouraging people about it.

Hall: There is no question. But I do not think that situation has existed in Europe. But there has been such an outcry against any kind of radiation, low-level radiation. Just a terrible fear. I have spent some time going to meetings and trying to sell nuclear power to the general public, and met these hecklers who would just cry about low-level radiation, “You don’t know what it’s going to do to you,” and whatever. I would counter and point out to them that they ought to move away from New Mexico, because the level of radiation here is three times the national average.

Sanger: Just the natural—

Hall: Yeah, the natural level. We had a group that was making surveys around the country. One piece of road, which had a very high level, they thought at first there had been a spill there. But checking out, it turns out that they had gotten the ore for the road bed from a particular place that has high thorium.

Well, there had been errors. Of course the testing in Nevada with almost a callous disregard for the people in Utah. In hindsight, I think that this was—

Sanger: What was your impression of the safety at Hanford?

Hall: It was excellent, excellent. The Hanford people, they would stress the safety. No job should be undertaken until it was totally analyzed for accident possibility.

I remember there was a lift jack for carrying these heavy materials, uranium slugs, around. You could pump the handle down, and then you could take it off its lifts. But there was one man who had inadvertently kicked the release while he had the handle down, and it came up and hit him in the stomach and knocked him out. No one could use that truck. We had to carry the stuff around by hand while they investigated all the possibilities of getting rid of that truck.

Sanger: What about radiation safety?

Hall: Well, of course, radiation safety was very early, but it was stressed. That was one of the things that Herb Parker was doing. That was his job.

Sanger: Do you recall any serious accidents, as far as radiation was concerned, there?

Hall: No.

Sanger: I think I talked to a man, I forget his name now, who was an MD who was involved in that. He still lives there, and he couldn’t recall any.

Hall: I cannot recall of any, no. Despite the very high levels in the purification and extraction process in the canyons there. That was the 200 Area, not the 300.

Sanger: The 200 was the processing; the 300 was the test—

Hall: The reactors were 700, I think—100. Administration was 700.

Sanger: You did not have anything to do, I suppose, with the extraction of the chemical?

Hall: No. 

Copyright 1989 S. L. Sanger. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of S. L. Sanger.