[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.]
I was one of the four young engineers that Crawford Greenewalt took on when he became head of the technical division under Roger Williams. There were Hood Worthington, Dale Babcock, myself and Bill Kirst. I was a chemical engineer, so was Worthington. Babcock was a physical chemist and I think Kirst was a chemical engineer.
My job was to interface with the University of Chicago Metallurgical Lab chemists, and that turned out to be principally with Glenn Seaborg’s group. That, I might say, was a fortunate thing, Glenn Seaborg, a very broad-based guy. Of all the other academics at Chicago during that period in the Met Lab, I think he understood best what was required. We had a very smooth working relationship. His chemist, Stanley Thompson, invented the bismuth phosphate process to separate plutonium.
The key to the success of the separations operation was really Ray Genereaux’ inventions. He and a guy named Stanley Handforth, who worked for Ray in the design division at Wilmington, developed a technique for remote maintenance of highly-radioactive facilities that had never been done before. Stanley Handforth was a design-engineer working for Ray. The two of them put together this idea of remote maintenance using a shielded crane, remotely operated connectors and the standard cell design. I think that was one of the most innovative things Du Pont engineering ever did. It has been the basis of all major chemical reprocessing plants in this country ever since, and for processing of radioactive materials.
When the separations process began, I think we had a very smooth startup. People felt that end of the plant could take care of itself. The reason for that was, first, the job that Seaborg and his people had done in laying the basis for the process, and second the experience we had had at Oak Ridge with Os Greager and Frank Vaughn and those people at the pilot plant down there in demonstrating the chemistry of the process on a semi-plant scale.
The only glitch we had was the fact we had some Teflon gaskets in the pipe connectors. Teflon is not very rigid and the gaskets crept under pressure and we had to replace them with asbestos gaskets. The reason Teflon was in there is because Genereaux had to design that plant to take care of a couple of different process alternatives. In June ‘44 we had to make a decision which process we would use, and the Met Lab said we have given you all the data, you make up your mind. We decided to go with bismuth phosphate. But, they also had to design the plant to take care of conditions for the lanthanum-fluoride process, which used very corrosive acid. So the gasket material was selected that would be resistant, and Teflon was. It wasn’t an ideal material for the bismuth phosphate process which was much less corrosive. So we went back to the good old standard, blue african asbestos. The Teflon extruded, and didn’t make a very tight seal.
Start up, as I say, was smooth. Operations people were well trained. We had some breakdown of equipment but that was no problem because we had spares to install and number two we could take the bum equipment out and replace it remotely by this Genereaux-Handforth remote maintenance. We were never in any trouble that way. We had a very experienced group of chemical supervisors on that job. They had been running dynamite plants and smokeless powder plants for years and they knew what it took to start up a new plant. They had been on the military explosives circuit, and starting up one plant and moving on to start up another one was a way of life with that crowd.
I left in ‘46. They were scaling back. The war was over, gas rationing was over, people were getting back to commercial work. I went to Du Pont‘s Belle Works, near Charleston, West Virginia.
S. L. Sanger: Hello, Mr. Squires?
Lombard Squires: Yeah.
Sanger: This is Steve Sanger again. Do you have a few minutes?
Squires: Yeah I do.
Sanger: Incidentally, after I talked to you I spoke with George Graves. He said to give you his regards.
Squires: Oh, fine. I haven’t seen George for a couple of years.
Sanger: Yeah, he said it had been some time. He lives in Port Charlotte, but you live in Naples, right?
Sanger: I told you in a letter what we were doing, which is just to talk to people who either were at Hanford or who had some key interest in the design and construction during the DuPont period. I was wondering about what’s the story about that long song or ballad about “Lom and the Bomb”?
Squires: You have to know the guy who wrote it, Charlie Wende.
Squires: I’d been transferred out of Hanford back East. It was the occasion of a going away party.
Sanger: Oh, I see.
Squires: Charlie did that for a couple of other guys.
Sanger: When would that have been in your case?
Squires: That was early in ’46.
Sanger: So you stayed until DuPont left, pretty much?
Squires: No, DuPont left out there in September of ’46.
Sanger: Oh I see. Yeah. Mr. Wende died, didn’t he?
Squires: Yeah, he died in the early ‘60’s I think.
Sanger: What was his job out there?
Squires: He started out working with Hood Worthington’s group in reactor tech. In the design stage in Wilmington he was in Greenewalt’s technical division. Then he transferred out of there to Hanford as a part of the work technical organization.
Sanger: On the reactors?
Squires: Yeah, on the reactors. He worked with Hood Worthington and stayed on after DuPont left with General Electric.
Sanger: Oh he did?
Squires: He was Head of Reactor Tech for General Electric, I guess, until the late ‘40’s. Then I think he left Hanford about 1949 and came back to DuPont doing commercial work.
Sanger: Yeah. Were you in the separation end of it?
Sanger: I talked to Ray Generaux. Of course he was the designer. I take it that you were there during the operations period?
Squires: Yeah. If you talk to [Dale] Babcock and George Graves, Greenewalt had the technical responsibility and then the liaison with the metallurgical laboratory to get the fundamental scientific data of the project so that the design people could work on it. But Ray Generaux was actually involved before DuPont got into it officially, as you probably know.
Sanger: Yeah, I had a long interesting talk with him earlier. He was not there very much when it started, when the actual work began, which I think is when you were there.
Squires: Yeah. The key to the success of the separation operation was really Generaux’s invention. He and a guy named Stanley Handforth worked for him in the design division of the engineering department in Wilmington. They developed the technique for remote maintenance of highly radioactive facilities. It had never been done before. The chemical industry, of course, has a lot of remote operations and we’re familiar with that. But the problem on the chemical end was being able to maintain the plant in the face of the enormous amount of radioactivity we were handling. The success of that was largely due to the ingenious design that Generaux and Handforth came up with to enable you to maintain a plant, change the equipment, and modify it completely and remotely.
Sanger: Are you talking about the lids and the cup lens and so on that they’d gotten from the crane?
Squires: Yeah. That was a very fundamental and a very praiseworthy design. That’s been the basis of all U.S. separation plants ever since.
Sanger: Generaux was fairly modest about that. Babcock had told me to stress that, but he said, “Well, there were lots of people that helped.” He did detail some of the design.
Squires: It was he and Stanley Handforth that had the idea and did the design work that made it possible. I give Ray an awful lot of credit for the success he had in Hanford in the chemical end, because that plant ran very successfully
Sanger: Mr. Handforth was a designer. I frankly haven’t heard his name mentioned before. Stanley Handforth?
Squires: Stanley Handforth.
Sanger: Just the way it sounds?
Squires: Yeah. He was a design engineer working for Ray Generaux in the design division in the engineering department. The two of them put together this concept of remote managing and a shielded crane on the end. The remotely operated connectors were the standard itself designed, which by the way if you go out and look at it now in Hanford, I think it was one of the most innovative things that DuPont Engineering did. And as I said, it’s been the basis of all of the major chemical reprocessing plants in this country and ever since.
Sanger: For nuclear materials you mean?
Squires: Yeah, for the processing of radioactive nuclear material.
Sanger: What was your position there?
Squires: I was one of the four young engineers that Greenewalt took on when he became the director of the technical division there under Roger Williams. There was Hood Worthington, Dale Babcock, myself, and a chap named Bill Kirst. K – I – R – S – T.
Sanger: And that was as a chemical engineer?
Squires: Yes, I was a Chemical Engineer. So was Worthington, and Babcock was a physical chemist. Then I think Kirst was a chemical engineer. The organization was such that Greenewalt had the responsibility as liaison of the University of Chicago and really establishing for DuPont the technical basis both for the reactors and the separation plant and the fuel fabrication. Greenewalt was the technical director. George Graves was the assistant technical director. Worthington, Babcock, myself, and Kirst were the design buddies he had. My job was to interface with the University of Chicago Metallurgical Lab Chemists. And that turned out to be principally with Glenn Seaborg’s group.
Seaborg had the primary responsibility for working out a process for separating plutonium from irradiated uranium. That, I might say, is the other fortunate thing that Glenn Seaborg and the broad-gauged guys know and of all of the academics in Chicago during that period in the Met Lab, I think he understood best what was required. We had a very smooth working relationship. His chemists were very fine people. And there was another guy by the name of Stanley Hanson [misspoke: Thompson].
Squires: Stan Thompson invented the bismuth-phosphate process, which we use.
Sanger: Seaborg has written a four-volume journal of that period.
Squires: Yes indeed. It’s a mammoth thing. You read that day-by-day and you get all of the facts and figures of the whole thing. He did a remarkable job in putting that together from his old notes.
Sanger: I guess it was written later, but it reads as if it were done at the time.
Squires: He had a remarkable grasp of the thing.
Sanger: I suppose you did quite a bit of traveling then between Wilmington and Chicago?
Squires: Yeah. That was the principal job that Greenewalt had and all of his people did a lot of traveling too. I went back and forth to Chicago frequently. The Oak Ridge plant got started in June, and then of course we had a plant down there which worked out the bismuth-phosphate process on a semi-plant scale. It was very successful.
Sanger: When did you go to Hanford then?
Squires: I went out to Hanford in June of ’44 during the last end of the construction.
Sanger: What was that like? Do you remember?
Squires: It was hot.
Sanger: Was it crawling with people or workers at the sites?
Squires: Oh yeah. I must say, the engineering department did a superb job in putting that job together and putting it up.
Sanger: Were you a resident then of Richland or Hanford for a time?
Squires: Yeah. The plant organization under Walt Simon was setup, and there was a technical support group under Stu Bugbee first and then Willard Crane. I had the technical group on the 200 Area, and Hood had it on the 100 Area.
Sanger: Is that when operations began, you mean?
Squires: Yeah. We also had, as you may know, a laboratory in the 300 Area.
Squires: And we also had a mini plant out in the operating area, which was set up on the basis that if we ran into equipment or process problems in scaling up the operation, we’d have a set of equipment that we could use for troubleshooting and development work. That fortunately was never used.
Sanger: Was that built on the end of one of the canyon buildings?
Squires: Yes it was.
Sanger: Yeah, I think Generaux talked about that.
Sanger: What did you say that your actual title was there when operations got going?
Squires: I went out there Chief Supervisor in this technical support group.
Sanger: For the 200 Area?
Squires: For the 200 Area. And then I guess before the war was over in August or perhaps September, I was promoted to the sergeant in the technical group.
Sanger: You probably knew of a man named Os[wald] Greager?
Squires: I was going to ask you about that, because Os Greager was out there the whole time. He went to Chicago, but he started with Greenewalt in our group. He was down at Oak Ridge and headed up a very fine semi-works group down there which did splendid work. Then he went back in the army and came out Commander. He stayed there, and Os has more firsthand experience and can tell you more about it than anybody else.
Sanger: Well, I did talk to him. He lives in Richland. He was very helpful. He lives along the river there.
Squires: Yeah. As I say, he has not only the background of DuPont—being a DuPont chemist himself—he was at the Met Lab during a lot of the later development.
Sanger: He made all of the stops?
Squires: He made all of the stops. He was involved when General Electric took over, and of course from many points of view the job General Electric did out there was bigger and more difficult than anything we did during the war.
Sanger: Why was that?
Squires: Well they had a very difficult assignment. They didn’t expect to keep that plant running for more than a couple years. I think they went into it because they wanted to get some experience firsthand running the reactors and so on. They wanted to get into the power business. Then the Korean War came along and the Cold War. The country needed more weapons. There was a tremendous push for expansion, and they did a marvelous job under very difficult conditions. They were starting out with fewer people than they needed. And Greager was right in the midst of that. So he has not only the DuPont experience but the General Electric experience as well. He should be your expert on the Hanford side.
Sanger: Yeah, we have talked. He is a very valuable guy to talk to.
Sanger: Before I forget it, when you were out there when the separation process began, do you remember any particular problems that developed that either were the basis of this bug in the system or inexperience or not? Or did it go pretty smoothly from the start?
Squires: I think we had a very smooth startup. In fact, I think that people felt that that end of the plant could take care of itself. The reason for that was first the job that Seaborg and his people had done in laying the basis for the process. Second was the experience we had at Oak Ridge with Greager, Frank Vaughn, and those people, and the pilot plant down there demonstrating the chemistry of the process on a semi-plant scale. So there was really no surprises process-wise when we got the equipment going in Hanford. The only glitch we had was the fact that we had some Teflon gaskets in the pipe connectors. Because Teflon is not very rigid and they crack under pressure, we had to replace them with asbestos gaskets. But that didn’t slow anybody down.
Sanger: Was that the first use of Teflon? Do you know?
Squires: No, I don’t know. I don’t think it was.
Sanger: Generaux was talking about that. Teflon at one time, wasn’t it called GX?
Squires: Yeah I guess that was the code name for it. The reason it was in there was that Generaux had to design that plant to take care of a couple of different process alternatives. We had a process called the wet fluoride process, which was also studied at the Met Lab. In June of ’44 we had to make a decision which process they were going to use. The Met Lab said, “We’ve given you all the data, you make up your mind.” Greenewalt made the decision. Then we’d go with the bismuth-phosphate process, which was the right decision. But they had to design the plant to take care of the conditions for the wet fluoride process, which used a very corrosive HF [hexafluoride] and things like that. So the gasket material was selected to be resistant to HF.
Sanger: And Teflon was?
Squires: Yes. That’s the reason why it was in there, but it wasn’t an ideal material for the Bismuth Phosphate Process, which was much less corrosive and didn’t need the chemical resistance. So we went back to the good old standard blue African asbestos gaskets.
Sanger: What’s the first word before asbestos?
Squires: It was called blue African asbestos.
Sanger: Oh, okay. What did the Teflon do? Did it tend to break down or what?
Squires: Oh no. It just extruded out, and it didn’t make a very tight seal.
Sanger: Is that called “flowing?” I think in one of the documents I read it mentioned that the gaskets “flowed.”
Squires: That’s right, or extruded.
Squires: Like I say, that was a minor thing. The startup I thought was smooth operating people, or well trained. We had very few surprises.
Sanger: And all of the remote equipment I take it worked, huh?
Squires: Well, we had some break down of equipment, but that was no problem because, number one, we had spares installed. And number two, we could take the bum equipment out and replace it remotely by this Generaux/Handforth maintenance.
Squires: So we were never in any trouble that way.
Sanger: The operators they had quite a bit of dry run training before?
Squires: Oh sure.
Sanger: Because he was talking about that in some detail.
Squires: We had a very experienced group of chemical supervisors on that job. They’d been running dynamite plants and smokeless powder plants for years during the war. They knew what it took to start up a new plant, because those boys, Monty Smith and that crowd, had been on the military explosives circuit from starting up one plant and moving on and starting up another. It was a way of life for that crowd.
Sanger: That’s the sort of thing I’m after. What you told me about the remote equipment and so on was good. That adds a lot to what Generaux told me. So then you were gone in ’46, huh?
Squires: Yeah, I left out there in ’46. They were scaling back. The war was over and gas rationing was over. People were getting back to commercial work. And I left to go back to the department I was in when I went into the thing [the Manhattan Project].
Sanger: And you stayed with DuPont then didn’t you?
Squires: Yes indeed.
Sanger: How long have you been retired?
Squires: About seventeen years.
Sanger: So you’re what age now?
Squires: I’m eighty.