[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 started with Du Pont in 1929, in chemical engineering research, then plant design. In 1929, before the Crash, jobs were a dime a dozen. I had 10 offers, two from Du Pont. I started at the experimental station, working on the flow of fluids, my main research topic. After 1935, I began designing chemical plants, including some chemical warfare plants. Along came Oct. 5, 1942. I was called into the head of the design division and given the works, that the Du Pont Company had been asked to design a plutonium separations plant at Oak Ridge. This was before Du Pont got into the pile end of it. I was to be in charge of the design. I designed the Oak Ridge separations plant but it was smaller and much simpler than Hanford because of the vastly smaller amounts involved. In fact, we had the basic design of the Hanford project done before we started at Oak Ridge. That is the reverse of what generally happens. Usually, you do a semi-works in order to get some dope for a major plant.
I went out to the Met Lab that month. It turned out they didn’t know what chemical process they would use, wet, dry, you name it. We realized immediately we had to design flexibility into it if we were going to move ahead and get any designing done before we knew for sure what we were doing, before we knew what the process would be.
We came up with a building, eventually it was the 221 or canyon building, with 40 cells for processing, all designed exactly the same. All the same connectors, for liquids, electricity, steam, air, lubrication, instruments. That was a key, standardization of cells.
Incidentally, do you know why we called the main separations building a canyon? Originally we were going to build them with walls, no ceiling. It became apparent there would be radiation to the sky, then reflected. We added a roof, three feet of concrete. We built three canyons, T,U, and B, and used two. Two were 810 feet 6 inches long by 102 feet and 85 feet two inches from bottom to top. The other one was 65 feet longer because we added a lab for handling hot materials. One day some workmen were at one of the 221 Buildings, our designation for the canyon buildings, and the building was just up to grade. The bottoms were about 50 feet into the ground, and one of the work-men said, “I don’t understand anything about it.” The other guy said, “Yeah, I think they’re building it upside down.”
Are you familiar with the interior of the canyon building? Well, let me tell you. You have a cell, rectangular, lids six feet thick, 40 cells in a row, each 17 feet by 8 inches by 13 feet by 20 feet deep. Maximum flexibility was to be achieved by the installation in each cell of 42 pipe and electric connections. These pipes and conduits were to be buried within the concrete walls and to have their cell connections located to rigid tolerances to permit interchange-ability of equipment. Connections not used in any particular cell were blocked off awaiting possible use in the future. A key to the whole operation was that we had a mockup building. In it, we had, I forget, but I think three or four cells that were not surrounded by concrete, but had the same shape, floor, same piping locations. Every bit of equipment and piping that went into a cell was put together first in a mockup, to make sure it fit and to make it possible if something went wrong in, say cell 5, it could be taken out and another set mocked up in the same mockup and put in. This was like a Meccano set. If you didn’t have the right dimensions for everything, forget it.
We standardized connections so when we put a vessel in, it would sit there perfectly in position and then pipings and connections and so forth would go in by the crane, lowered and connected. The connector had a big nut on top and we had an impact wrench, with three lugs around it and we clamped the flange with a Teflon gasket. We made the real first use of Teflon, it was a secret, so we dubbed it GX, for Genereaux.
In order to put the flanges together to make a joint, in piping, say, or electrical or for grease, you had to be able to put the flanges together remotely because later there would be radiation. This was one of the critical things, the connector. We devised it and tested it at the Wilmington shops. What it consisted of was three hooks that would engage on the under side of the lower flange, and a big nut on top which the impact wrench would tighten. The wrench would be lowered by the crane. We had to design it so it did not put too much pressure on the gasket. It was a lot of development. My engineers designed it. I had engineers of every calling on my team, mechanical, electrical, civil, metallurgical, chemical. It was that combination of people and talent that you needed. Assigning the right guy to the right job. But, we were very cost conscious. You know why? I told my people when we get done with this, we go back on Du Pont process design, and I don’t want you spoiled when it comes to spending money.
There were several steps in the separations process. For example, you first dissolved the fuel elements that came from the reactors. Then you, I forget, but I think we centrifuged next and we had tanks with agitators.
The drives for these agitators, well, the fabricator didn’t follow my admonition that everything must be absolutely perfect. Twenty of these were delivered to Hanford and I happened to be out there when they arrived. I had a mechanic take one apart and I found mistakes. Too much grease, no fan blade in a motor, etc., etc. I called the company’s head man in Philadelphia, and said, “Send your top mechanic out here. We are going to take every damn one of these apart at your expense.“ That is why we were successful in not having any failures. Why? BECAUSE WE PAID ATTENTION TO DETAIL. The key to safety and success is strict attention to detail. Not that we over-designed. We tried to have everything as simple as possible. The least you have in a design, the better off you are. It’s a matter of probability. The more pieces, the greater probability of something going wrong.
As I said there were various steps. Rail cars from the reactors, storage of the fuel to let it cool down some more, dissolvers, decontamination, neutralization of the waste chemicals. In the canyon building, all fluid moved through piping. There were no pumps. We wanted as few moving parts as possible. Moving parts have problems. They jam, wear out, fail. What we used were steam jet ejectors.
At the end of the 221 canyon building, where the bulk of the irradiated uranium fuel and other products were separated from the plutonium, we pumped underground to the 224 building, where the plutonium was concentrated and purified further. By then, the activity level of the plutonium residue was lowered, radioactivity decreased as the product was purified, but it remained sufficiently high that direct contact was avoided. There were concrete walls, remote controls and careful ventilation. Any leaks or spills had to be recovered and decontaminated, regardless of how minute. All surfaces had to be smooth and free of pockets and pits.
At the end of the canyon building decontamination cycle, at the 221 building, the product from a ton of uranium was in the form of plutonium phosphate and nitric acid, together with about 75 pounds of bismuth phosphate carrier. Specifications said it should be separated as a pure compound before acceptance by the government. Therefore, before the final isolation steps could be attempted, it would be necessary for the decontaminated slurry to be about eight gallons, from 3,000 gallons to eight gallons. The overall result of this concentration would produce a reduction of solution by a value of about 400.
More processing was necessary for purification and storage, but by then we were down to small quantities. The last process was on a laboratory scale, with low radiation and high toxicity. We designed hoods, with surface pits and blemishes hammered out. Ventilation was done with extremely efficient filters on hood exhausts to prevent contaminating discharge air.
I never saw any plutonium at Hanford. My job was pretty well done near the end of ’44. We were ready to run before the first pile was done in the fall of ‘44. I started on the design in October, ’42. By March of ‘43, we had the concept done.
The construction people had some unusual problems. One of them was in the bottom of the floor of these cells. The floor had to have a certain slope, so any spills would go down the drain. That floor had to be within a strict tolerance of flatness and it had to slope. They said we can’t do it. We can’t come within that tolerance. But they did it. That was the teamwork out there. One of the greatest benefits of the whole project was we had research and design and construction and operating people, all in Du Pont, who knew each other. We had communications. But don’t forget the terrible urgency to beat the Germans.
At Hanford, two elements involved were different from what we were used to. One was radiation, the other was critical mass. With respect to radiation, Johnny Wheeler came down to Wilmington from Princeton and he and I sat up in my office and I said, “Johnny, I need to know how thick to make the concrete in this canyon building in order to protect the people. We had a lot of fun. Finally, he said six feet of concrete. Well, I made it seven. We came up with a simple little thing, which is the radiation protection depends on the density of the material, the shielding. Lead of course is one of the densest of metals.
These are the equivalents to one foot of lead: one yard of steel, one fathom (6 feet) of concrete, one rod (161/2 feet) of earth and a mile of air. That’s what Johnny Wheeler and I cooked up.
Then, I told him, “Johnny, we are going to have a crane with a cab with people in it, for work inside the canyon building, so we have to protect them. The crane cab was mainly made of steel, but we used some lead. Up where this was, we didn’t need as much lead because the people were farther from the material. The crane was to be above the cells and the cab was back of a five-foot thick concrete wall. The cab was protected by the wall. On the crane we mounted a periscope.
Also at that time I heard RCA was developing something that turned out to be television. I went up to Philadelphia and saw it. They had a camera out on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and I could see bridge detail. We didn’t know whether the radiation would make it inoperable or if radiation would harm the lenses in the crane periscope. The radiation didn’t harm them. These television cameras were the only means that we had for the crane operators to see what they were doing. The television camera was mounted on the crane, so the operator could watch from a screen. As far as I know, that was the first industrial application of television.
Now, the crane operators could see what they were doing at the mockup building. We didn’t have to shield them. When they got to the 221 building, they didn’t know they had to do anything different. So, I got two or three of the top operators into the cab, of course there was no radiation yet, and I said, “Gentlemen, I‘m not a crane operator. You are. I think we have to get together and learn how to use what we’ve got.” Oh, they thought that would be terrible. The first thing you know they were getting the biggest kick out of looking through the periscope, with this great big hook going down and hooking on to a wheelbarrow or something down there in the cell area, picking it up and gently putting it down. They had a ball. They were fantastic. The crane operators learned in 10 hours or so. Once they got onto the idea, they could do it. They were like kids. They thought I was nuts.
After the process began, and it was radioactive, they lifted cell lids, which were six feet thick. Each cell had about four, they were stepped because you couldn’t have a straight crack. Radiation would escape. Each of the lids had a bale on it for the crane hook. The lids were installed after the equipment was in. Each came on a railroad flat car. They were balanced. Nobody was down there saying, “A little this way, or that way.“
We installed the equipment remotely, even at first when there was no radiation, because we didn’t want workmen in the cells. That would violate the whole principle. You would eventually have to replace equipment and you could not put anybody in the cells then. So, you had to know how to do it ahead of time. Sometimes during construction, somebody would want to do things faster and not use the mockup building. We had some battles and we had fun, but we were all friends.
On the operating side of the wall, in the canyon building, you have people behind seven feet of concrete. All their instrumentation is on the wall and they can’t see a thing. They can’t see what is going on inside a cell. We did arrange for them to be able to hear when there was a motor or centrifuge running. That helped. If you heard a rough noise something was wrong. If it was humming you were okay.
Getting back to critical mass. The process went through various stages on down the canyon, from cell to cell. You eventually get to a point where the concentration of plutonium was getting greater and greater, getting closer to a chain reaction. You don’t want a critical mass in one vessel. That meant we had to design the equipment to be smaller and smaller. You couldn‘t have a great big tank at the end, and take a chance. Two things we never put up with before, radiation and critical mass. And we never have had people operating something they couldn’t see, and fuss around with, or put together in a normal construction fashion.
We put considerable emphasis on handling the waste. Consideration was given to designing a waste concentration facility but the urgency of getting the plutonium meant we had to put that idea aside. They said we will reduce the volume and store it in underground tanks. We spent days and days going over the specifications for those. We had three degrees of protection, and we x-rayed every weld. The tanks were steel, with concrete surrounding, and we had monitoring devices around them. We put air coolers on top because of the heat, which would come up and we would condense the vapor into liquid.
We never intended that these underground tanks be the final storage. I proposed designing another building, like the 221 building, to concentrate the waste. But I was told, “No, we can’t afford the time.” I said I would like to do it, and on the earliest plans I included a plant for waste concentration. You don’t do away with it, what you try to do is reduce the volume until you’ve got something that is significantly small enough to encapsulate in some way and then bury it somehow.
Did you know I‘m the Holy RPG? Everything on Du Pont construction projects gets a number. Everything ordered from Wilmington gets a half number, like 11/2, and everything ordered from the field gets a whole number, like 100. But there is always a three-letter symbol ahead of the number. At the normal plants the symbol is something to do with the department, but on government jobs they pick the initials of the first guy put to work on it. So that’s why RPG was on everything out there at Hanford.
Stephen L. Sanger: Well, why don’t you finish the story about Los Alamos?
Raymond P. Genereaux: Well, Lonnie Evans and Lom Squires and I went to Los Alamos from here a month before the trial bomb was set off, and spent four days with Oppenheimer. You see, we had been producing the plutonium in Hanford. In order to effect some kind of communication between Hanford and Los Alamos at that stage—this is pretty late, because when we got down there I saw my first big chunk of plutonium.
Sanger: Oh, you did?
Genereaux: Big wafer like that. Before that I had been told by a microchemist in the Met Lab that there were plutonium atoms in here, and we scaled it. This is supposed to be the greatest scale-up in design history.
Sanger: Meaning from the laboratory setup.
Genereaux: In the lab from atoms to chunks.
Sanger: What did you talk to Oppenheimer about?
Genereaux: Well, he took us around and showed what they did after we shipped the stuff down there.
Sanger: You remember what you saw?
Genereaux: Oh, we saw extraction, ether extraction.
Sanger: What is that?
Genereaux: Well, they were extracting some impurities in the plutonium with ether. The three of us got in this little laboratory cubbyhole and I smelled ether and I said, “Let’s get the hell out of here,” because we were all trained in safety. We did not think their safety program was very good.
Sanger: What else did you see?
Genereaux: Well, they showed us the handling of the plutonium from the time they got it in [inaudible], and the whole business and he showed us all about the diagrams of shaping. He told us more than we really needed to know.
Sanger: Did you see it in its form when it got there before they started working on it?
Genereaux: I do not know that I did.
Sanger: Because I would have been told it was kind of a syrupy dark—
Genereaux: I do not know about syrupy, but it was not solid metal by that time.
Sanger: Well, I have talked to people—remember Oswald Greager?
Genereaux: Oh, yes I know Ozzie.
Sanger: And he signed a receipt I guess for the Army for the first batch from the separation plant that went there, that first amount. And he said it was syrupy and dark thick liquid, I mean really thick.
Genereaux: Our last building was, I think, 231 Building.
Sanger: Well, why don’t you just start and just give me a little of your background with DuPont and then go onto the Manhattan Project.
Genereaux: I started in DuPont in 1929 in chemical engineering research at the Experimental Station. It was a marvelous opportunity to be involved in the pioneering research in chemical engineering, and we developed fundamental formulas for all kinds of unit operations of chemical engineering. Are you familiar with that a little bit?
Sanger: Yeah, a little bit. Just go ahead and talk.
Genereaux: From there I went into plant design. I always wanted to get into plant design. I had taken chemistry at Stanford. My junior year I decided that I wanted to be a chemical engineer because I got ahold of a brand new book out of MIT. So that summer I was in New York and I went to Columbia for a six-week summer school in chemical engineering, and liked it so much that I decided that when I went back to Stanford, I graduated, but I took as much engineering there as I could, so that I could qualify. And I went to Columbia and took two years and achieved a degree of chemical engineer, which is somewhere between a Master’s and a Doctorate. When I went to work for DuPont after two weeks, they put me up to Doctorate salary.
Sanger: Oh, they did? Did you grow up on the West Coast, then?
Genereaux: I was born in Seattle.
Sanger: Oh, you were?
Genereaux: And I’m going to ask you when you get back to Seattle to see if you can find any record of my birth. I was born on September 20, 1902 on Federal and Republican streets. The house is not there anymore. It was a bungalow on the southeast corner.
Sanger: Not in a hospital?
Genereaux: Not in a hospital.
Sanger: Well, you should have a record in I would think in Olympia, wouldn’t you? No? Capitol?
Genereaux: I have tried everywhere, but I tell you what, I was baptized there in the Episcopal Church and so I do have that record.
Sanger: Which one? Which church?
Genereaux: Well, I would have to look it up.
Sanger: Nearby? Near where you were born?
Genereaux: Near where I was born, yeah, in Seattle up on Capitol Hill, I guess.
Sanger: Yeah, so how long did you live there?
Genereaux: My name then was Paul Raymond.
Sanger: Oh, it was?
Sanger: Why was that?
Genereaux: My French grandmother’s name was Pauline, so they named me Paul because I was a boy. Two years later my sister was born and she got to be called Pauline. So they did not want to mix up Paul and Pauline, so they switched my name around. So that could be problem. But anyway, Paul Raymond is what I was born.
Sanger: But that was your name when you were born.
Genereaux: Yeah, two and a half years
Sanger: Well, the record would be that then, wouldn’t it?
Genereaux: It would be that. That is right. I can remember a P-I Times Sunday morning paper. You do not remember that?
Genereaux: That is what the newsboys used to yell.
Sanger: Oh, they did?
Genereaux: Yeah. P-I Times Sunday morning paper.
Sanger: How do you spell your last name just to confirm it here?
Sanger: Okay, that is what I thought. Where have you looked?
Genereaux: Oh, I have written to the various departments over the years. I have never gone into get the newspapers out.
Sanger: Yeah, that might work. That might work.
Genereaux: My father was Emile Genereaux.
Genereaux: Yes. And my mother’s name was Elizabeth.
Sanger: What did your father do?
Genereaux: He was a marine surveyor. He was stationed there in the Board of Marine Underwriters, and he inspected ships for seaworthiness before they could go out, for insurance purposes. And he raised several ships up in Alaska. He did a lot of stuff like that.
Sanger: How long did you stay there?
Genereaux: We stayed there until 1915. We moved to Portland, because the French government was about to construct sixty wooden auxiliary schooners; twenty of them in Tacoma, twenty of them in New Orleans, and twenty of them in Portland. And my father was the representative of the French government to see if the ships were built properly. And so we were there for about four years, and I worked after school in the foundation company’s offices. My mother christened the first of the twenty ships and my sister christened the rest.
Sanger: And that is how you got to Stanford, I suppose.
Genereaux: Then I was about two and a half years in high school there. Then I went down to Oakland and had a half of year at the University High School in Berkeley. Then the family had moved to Sacramento, so I spent my senior year in high school at Sacramento and was lucky enough to make Stanford. Two of us made it.
Sanger: Well, how did you wind up with DuPont then?
Genereaux: Then when I finished my graduate work at Columbia in 1929––that was before the crash––jobs were a dime a dozen. I had ten offers.
Sanger: Were they?
Genereaux: I had two offers from DuPont and I decided that I would come down to the headquarters at the Experimental Station, because it would enable me to move around from there rather than being up in the plant.
Sanger: I mean, DuPont was a huge company then too, I suppose.
Genereaux: Yes, it was big then.
Sanger: So you came to the Experimental Station?
Genereaux: I came to the Experimental Station. As I recall, there were about 200 scientists or engineers or whatever you want to call us there at the Experimental Station.
Sanger: What did you work on first?
Genereaux: I worked on—sflow of fluids was my main research topic.
Sanger: What was that used for then?
Genereaux: Calculations of pipe sizes and resistances and materials of construction.
Sanger: How did that lead into the atomic bomb, then?
Genereaux: Well, 1929 to 1935, when I got into design of chemical plants and later on was responsible for the design of a number of chemical warfare plants, which were involved in security secrecy. I learned during that experience how to maintain security even when you had a bunch of people working on something.
Sanger: How do you do that?
Genereaux: You do not tell them anything. They can only know what they need to know to do their job, and that is a difficult thing to discern. And of course, on half the project there was nothing else but that. I put down a few notes here pertaining to security. But along came October 5, 1942 and I was called into the head design division office and given the works.
Sanger: Is that downtown Wilmington, you mean?
Genereaux: Downtown Wilmington.
Sanger: That is the main building?
Genereaux: The DuPont Company had been asked to design this separation plant. This was before DuPont got into the pile end of it. I was to be in charge of the design of the separation facilities.
Sanger: That was the one at Oak Ridge?
Genereaux: Hanford, not Oak Ridge.
Sanger: Oh, okay.
Genereaux: We did not know about Oak Ridge. Well, one of the major things that you should know is that we had the basic design of the Hanford project done before we started on Oak Ridge.
Sanger: Oh, you did?
Genereaux: Yeah. Now that is the reverse of what generally happens. Generally you do a semi-works in order to get something built for the major plant, but they did not know enough about the process at that time. They did not know what they were going to do.
Sanger: How did you do that? You had the basic design for Hanford done before you even what built Oak Ridge?
Genereaux: Yeah. What happened was that, I went out to the Met Lab in Chicago in November of ’42 because we had some people out there working on what to do about this whole thing. And it turned out that they did not know what process we were going to use. Wet, dry, you name it. So we realized immediately that we had to design flexibility in this thing if we were going to move ahead and get designs done before we knew what the hell we were doing, before we knew what the process was. It is quite different to design something for a wet process than it is for a dry process.
We soon realized that we had to design something that could take any kind of a process. What this meant was that we had to standardize it on the setting for equipment, which we then called a cell. Eventually, these buildings had something like forty cells in them.
Sanger: Yeah, each, right?
Genereaux: In each one, and they are all designed exactly the same. There were all different kinds of connections for liquids, for electricity, for steam, for air or lubrication or instruments. That was one of the keys of the whole thing, was the standardization of the cells, so that we could put any kind of a pot or pan in them to do a job.
Sanger: You were the designer on the separation facilities?
Genereaux: I was in charge of the design of the separation facilities.
Sanger: What was your actual title, do you remember?
Genereaux: Design Project Manager.
Sanger: For the separation facilities?
Sanger: Okay. So that must have meant you were at Hanford a good deal of time, doesn’t it?
Genereaux: I had one assistant. We alternated being at Hanford in order to be able to guide and hold the hands of construction, because they had some unusual problems to overcome. We could not tell them “why this” or “why that,” but we could help them solve their problem. One of them was in the bottom of the floor of these cells. A cell would be as big as this room. The floor had to have a certain slope to it, so that any spills would go down and drain out. We could not have it go out on the floor. It really had to pour out, because when we flushed we did not want to have to use too much to flush it out. So that floor had to be really within a strict tolerance of flatness and it sloped. Well, they said, “We can’t do it. We cannot come within that tolerance.”
And I said, “Well, what can you think of? Could we use screed?”
You do not know what a screed is. Screed is a metal, and sometimes could even be wood, that you lay down parallel and then you fill in concrete in between. Then you take a straight edge and you scrape off the excess, and that is how you get you the tolerance that you want. I said, “Sure you can use screed, but they have got to be stainless steel.”
“What?” You know, they were used to ordinary steel [Chuckle].
Well, reason was, we were using acid, you see, and we could not afford to have any corrosion. Well, by golly, they in great glee came to me one day and said, “We did it!”
And that was the teamwork that we affected out there: many, many things that had to be done. And one of the greatest benefits of the whole project was that we had research and design and construction and operating people all in DuPont. We knew each other.
Sanger: That must have saved a lot of trouble, didn’t it?
Genereaux: Oh, gosh communications—and you can go wrong, you know. Do not forget there was a tremendous urgency for this project. I do not know if anybody has pointed that out. But the urgency was, that we have got to beat the Germans.
Sanger: [Frank] Mackie was saying that one of the good things was that the design people were on the scene too and if any problems came up, he said, usually they could call back to Wilmington and get it straightened out so you could go on the next day.
Genereaux: Right. We did it. I was there. I would be there for three weeks, and my assistant—then he would come out and overlap a day, and then I would come back to Wilmington and keep things going in Wilmington while he stayed there and we used the telephone. And of course we had our own secret words, I mean code words, so we did not give anything away. And we did give quick answers, and Frank Mackie is quite right. This is not part of the history, but part of the fun we had out there: the group of us used to play poker every once in a while, and Frank was one of them.
Sanger: Oh, was he?
Sanger: You have probably seen that poem about “Lom and the Bomb.” They have that down at Hagley.
Genereaux: Have you seen this one: “The Battle of Lom and the Bomb?”
Sanger: Yeah, that one yeah.
Genereaux: Well, you see I am “The Holy RPG.”
Sanger: Oh, you are?
Genereaux: See, I’m “The Holy RPG.” I will tell you how that happened. On all our DuPont construction projects, everything that is ordered gets a number so that they can keep track of it. Everything ordered from Wilmington gets a half number, like 100.5. Anything ordered from the field gets a whole number, like 100. But there is always a three-letter symbol ahead of it. At the normal DuPont owned plants, this three-letter symbol is something that has to do with that department. But on these government things, they picked the first guy that is put to work on it. So that is why RPG, which are my initials, is on everything out there.
Sanger: Wheeler said that. He said the freight cars going in had that on it.
Sanger: Do you have any photographs of any of that or not?
Sanger: I guess you could not do that, probably?
Genereaux: No, I could not. But that was a special job of designing that whole car that could take the casks from the pile to the Cooling Building and then up to the 221 Building to dump into the dissolvers.
Sanger: What are some of the other construction problems besides what you just told me about the floor?
Genereaux: One of the things that made for success was that in the cells—I told you that we had this standardization of the connections, so that when we put a vessel in, it would sit in there perfectly in position. And then the piping and connections and so forth were put in by the crane and lowered down on balance, so you could go down and then connect it. And the connector had a big nut on top and we had an impact wrench that put three lugs around it and clamped a flange together with a Teflon flange, a Teflon gasket.
Sanger: Was there Teflon then?
Genereaux: Yep. We made the first real use of Teflon. It was a secret and so we dubbed it GX.
Sanger: Oh, GX.
Genereaux: Can you guess what that came from?
Sanger: Well, from your name. What does the X usually stand for?
Genereaux: It is the end of my name.
Sanger: Oh, I see. Well, so DuPont had developed Teflon by then.
Genereaux: Oh, yes.
Sanger: But it was secret?
Genereaux: It was not in great production and it was kind of secret.
Sanger: And that is where you used it most significantly the first time?
Genereaux: Very significant. We had to have something that had the right consistency, because we had this impact wrench that was done remotely. Are you familiar with anything about the interior of this building?
Sanger: Well, some—just from people talking about it.
Genereaux: Well, let me tell you. Here you got a cell—
Sanger: They were huge, weren’t they?
Genereaux: Yeah, twenty feet wide or something like that.
Sanger: Twenty. Yeah, I think that is probably some of the information I have too.
Genereaux: But flexibility all the way along was terribly important. You did not know what was going to happen, what you were going to have to do. Early in October I went to the Metallurgical Laboratory. By the middle of November we had active design work, which preceded flexibility. What were we trying to—?
Sanger: The diameter of the cells?
Genereaux: The size of the cells? They were rectangular.
Sanger: Oh, were they? Well, aren’t the covers round?
Sanger: They aren’t?
Genereaux: Oh, no they are big blocks six feet thick.
Sanger: Well, then I can find that. I think that I probably have that, because I Xeroxed some things.
Genereaux: Don’t forget this is forty-four years ago. Thirty-eight cells. The cells each were each seventeen feet, eight inches by thirteen feet [wide] by twenty feet high.
Sanger: Seventeen-eight long, thirteen wide?
Sanger: Thirty-eight per building?
Genereaux: Thirty-eight per building. Maximum flexibility was to be achieved by the installation in each cell of forty-two pipe and electric connections. These pipes and conduits were to be buried within the concrete walls and would have their cell connections located to rigid tolerances to permit interchangeability of equipment. Connections not used in any particular cell were to be blanked off awaiting possibly future use.
Now a key to the whole thing of flexibility was that we had a building called the Mockup Building and in it we had two or three or four—I forget how many—cells. They were not surrounded by concrete, but they were same shape, same floor, and same locations of piping. Every bit of equipment and piping that went into a cell was put together in that first.
Sanger: To make sure it fit.
Genereaux: To make sure it fit and to make possible that if something went wrong in cell number five, it could be taken out and another set mocked up in the Mockup and put in. This is like a Meccano set. If you did not have the right dimensions of everything and it was not exact, forget it. You could not stand leaks or anything like that.
Sanger: Well, was each cell exactly the same, since they had different function?
Genereaux: Oh, no, no, no. Different equipment.
Sanger: Each one, okay. But at each building the cells were the same?
Genereaux: Because the process was the same.
Sanger: But they went through a different process usually from one to the next one?
Genereaux: Well, whatever you want to call the process, the step in the process. For example, you dissolved first. I forget whether we centrifuge next, but we had centrifuges that were beautifully built and tested. We had tanks that had to have agitators in them. You know what that is?
Genereaux: And the drives for those agitators and the fabricator did not adhere to my admonition that they must have everything absolutely perfect. Twenty of those were delivered to Hanford. I happened to be out there when they arrived, and I had a mechanic take one of them apart and I found mistakes in them. Too much grease, no fan blade in the motor, et cetera, et cetera. So I call up the head man in Philadelphia and said, “Send your top mechanic out here, we are going to take every damn one of these apart at your expense.”
Sanger: Oh, yeah?
Genereaux: And that is why we were successful in not having any failures at all. Why? Because we paid attention to detail. And today in any complicated thing such as space travel and so forth and so on, the key to safety and success is strict attention to detail.
Sanger: That is one of the things that DuPont is famous for, right?
Genereaux: Yeah. I had to train a lot of my people. It is nice to be, “Oh, I did such and such.” But unless you have gone into detail as to what can go wrong—“Now, what can go wrong with this thing?” Not that we overdesigned, we tried to have everything as simple as possible. The less you have in order to achieve successful design the better off you are, because your problem is a probability. The more pieces you have got, the greater the probability of something going wrong.
Sanger: What would you say was the most difficult part of the design or building those plants?
Genereaux: Well, there were two elements that were involved that were different from what we had been used to. One, of course, was radiation, and the other was critical mass. I do not know if you have heard that term. So we had to naturally mind our stuff on both of those. Now with respect to the radiation, this is where Johnny Wheeler came down from Princeton. He and I sat up in my office in Wilmington and I said, “Johnny, I need to know how thick to make the concrete in this building in order to protect the people, because they were not going to be exposed to the radiation.” And so we sat there and we had a lot of fun.
It finally turned out he said, “Six feet of concrete.” Well, I made it seven. But we had fun and we came up with a simple thing, which I thought you might be interested in: the radiation protection depends on the density of the material you’re shielding. And lead of course is one of the densest of metals, so I am going to give you something. These are the equivalents: one foot of lead, one yard of steel, one fathom of concrete, you know, that is six feet, one rod of earth.
Sanger: Rod, sixteen feet?
Genereaux: Yeah. And a mile of air. This is what Johnny Wheeler and I cooked up.
Sanger: Yeah. Yeah. Well, this is interesting about these equivalents. You and Wheeler worked those out?
Genereaux: Well, I did not know what they should be, but when I told him what radiation we were going to be contending with and where, this is what he came up with. And I said, “First thing I need to know is concrete, because most of it is going got use concrete.” And so we did that and I said, “Johnny we are going to have a crane with a cab and there are going to be people in that cab, so we have to protect them. Well, so the crane cab was mainly made of steel, but they also used some lead.
Sanger: With using these equivalents, I suppose?
Genereaux: Well, up where this was, we did not need to have that much, you see.
Sanger: Because they were further away?
Genereaux: Yeah, and here is the cell and here is the operating wall, and the crane is up here and the cab is on the back of this wall. So the cab is hanging down over here, and here is the main part of the crane that moves all the length of the building.
Sanger: I guess I have seen photographs of that. But the cab was out, though, to say it is here and the cells are over here?
Genereaux: Yeah. [Looking at photographs]. This is the main frame of the crane running on wheels the length of this thing. The cab was hanging here, but there is a wall here. This is the outside of the building, so the cab was protected, and way down here is where the cells are with their tops on. So here is the crane, which would come down with a hook to do things. Now on the crane we mounted a periscope, real periscope, which we had designed specially by [inaudible]. Also at that time I heard that RCA was developing something, which turned out to be a television.
Sanger: That was what I was going to ask about.
Genereaux: Why a television? So I went up there in Philadelphia and saw it. They had it pointed out on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, and I could see detail on the bridge. Well, we did not know that the radiation would make it so that it would not work. We also did not know whether radiation would harm the lenses in our periscope. These were the only means that we had for the crane operators to see what they were doing.
Sanger: Well, what did the radiation do to them? And that would be called what? Remote TV or what?
Genereaux: It was remote, wired television.
Sanger: But it was showing you—?
Genereaux: Oh, it was whatever you call the part of it that looks at something. It was out there on the crane out here, but it wired back in here.
Sanger: So he could watch it on the screen. Well, was that the first industrial or application of that?
Genereaux: As far as I know.
Sanger: Of TV in general, I guess.
Genereaux: Now you remember I talked to you about the Mockup Building and that we had all the equipment and the piping put together there before it could be moved into a building? Well, the crane operators could see what they were doing, because we did not have to shield them.
Sanger: Over at the Mockup Building?
Genereaux: At the Mockup Building. But when they got to get into the 221 Building, they did not think they could do it. So I got two or three of the top crane operators into that cab, because there is no radiation yet then.
Sanger: That was before it begun?
Genereaux: While it was being constructed. And I said, “Gentlemen, I am not a crane operator, you are, but I think we both have got to get together and learn how to use what we got.” Oh, they thought that was going to be terrible.
Well, the first thing you know, they were getting the biggest kick out of looking through the periscope with this great big hook going down and hooking onto a wheelbarrow or something down there and lifting it up and taking it over and gently putting it down. They had a ball. It was just fantastic.
Sanger: It is a little bit like those carnival games I suppose, except you had to look through a periscope or watch the TV to see what you were doing. Well, what did those crane operators do? They lifted the lids, for one thing.
Genereaux: Oh, they had to lift the lids. See. before when they installed the equipment, there weren’t any lids in there yet. Those lids had to be made in a template. I forget how many we had for each cell cover, but about four of them I guess. And of course, they were stepped. With radiation, you cannot have a straight line, a straight crack. If you just put this down on a little shelf, why, it would be easy for the radiation to come out. So these things had to fit down in there.
Sanger: So what there would be lids under lids?
Genereaux: No, each one of these four pieces, that—this is a cell. There is one, two, three, four, and each one was six feet thick with a bale on it. You know what a bale is. So that the crane could pick it up. Well, those were not installed until after the equipment was in place. Why do it? It is just extra handling. Each one of those had to be brought in on a flatcar and lifted up and put in position. So they had to be balanced. We did not have a man down there saying, “Over a little bit. Over a little bit, or tilt it a little bit.” This was a secret, everything that had to be put in the cells and the cell covers by remote control.
You didn’t want them to install the equipment with people around it in there.
Sanger: Is that because of contamination or what?
Genereaux: No, well not the contamination but if they have to go push something over in order to get it to do it, that wasn’t living up to the whole principle that you must be able to replace damaged equipment in case of a problem because you couldn’t put anybody in there then.
Genereaux: So the provision had to be made ahead of time.
Sanger: Oh I see, so you knew you could do it then.
Genereaux: You knew you could do it. The construction division—at one time when they wanted to get things going a little faster, they didn’t want to put up the Mockup Building, so we just had a little battle and took fifty bucks. Well we had fun. They were all friends you see, all those guys out there in construction.
Sanger: Go ahead.
Genereaux: Now so we were talking about radiation. I added a little bit in all cases. The building was—originally we called it a “canyon” because it was just going to have walls and no ceiling.
Sanger: Oh, was it?
Genereaux: That’s why we called it a “canyon.”
Sanger: Oh I see; yeah I wondered about that.
Genereaux: Well then it became apparent that there would be radiation to the sky and then reflected or something like that. So we put a roof on it three feet thick, concrete.
Sanger: What made you decide to do that?
Genereaux: It developed. We reviewed everything. I don’t know whether Johnny Wheeler was in on it, he may have been, but to decide how much, boy, that was quite a design because that’s a big building.
Sanger: Three feet thick.
Genereaux: Big building, three feet thick.
Sanger: Would most of the radiation have escaped when you lifted the lids, is that it?
Genereaux: Oh yes.
Sanger: Did you have to lift the lids? I mean, at first, I guess you put the slugs in that required lifting a lid for that.
Genereaux: I don’t think the lids were in there. I can’t remember that. That could be part of the operation, but the lids were there to reduce the amount of radiation.
Genereaux: Now you realize that here you got people on the operating side of the wall that is seven feet thick and it’s at several levels, and all of their instrumentation is on the wall there and they can’t see a thing. I mean, they can’t see what’s going on inside the cell. We did arrange for them to be able to hear when there was a motor or something in there or the centrifuge running. We put something in there so you could listen to the noise, that helped in operation otherwise it went [makes noise].
Sanger: Something was wrong?
Genereaux: If it was running smoothly and just humming, okay. In other words, we had to think of all kinds of help for the operators to keep that plant going, and they couldn’t see a damn thing. And we had to train those people, I mean, we didn’t, but the operating people [did].
Sanger: Are you through with radiation? I have a question about critical mass.
Sanger: I think Wheeler told me to ask you about that.
Genereaux: Right, critical mass. As the process went through the various steps down the canyon from cell to cell, you eventually get to a point where the concentration of plutonium is getting greater and greater. And you don’t want to have any more in a vessel; you don’t want to have in a vessel the critical mass. So that meant we had to design the equipment to be smaller and smaller, you see what I mean? You couldn’t have a great big tank and then take a chance.
Sanger: Oh yeah. That would eliminate the possibility of getting that much together.
Genereaux: That is right.
Sanger: And did Wheeler help on those calculations?
Genereaux: I don’t know.
Sanger: I think he’s the one that told me that.
Sanger: There was a concern about that.
Genereaux: There was a concern.
Sanger: And that was an example he said of what he did.
Genereaux: This is what I say: two things that we have never put up with before was with radiation and with critical mass. They were the two new things that we had to contend with, we had to really take into consideration, and we had never had people operating something that they couldn’t see and fuss around with or put together in a normal construction fashion.
Sanger: Did you become kind of an amateur expert on physics by the time this was over or nuclear physics, as you’d say?
Genereaux: I got a little bit of it, a little bit on the chemistry of it. And I had nothing to do with the pile, per se. I volunteered to receive the pile product and put it in a building that was a water-filled tank. [Page flipping, [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Three storage buildings requested were assigned numbers with 212 N, P, and R and were to be located in the newly created 200 north area situated from north and mid-point between the east and west areas.”
Sanger: Is that where the slugs went after they left the pile?
Sanger: After they left the storage at the end of the pile?
Genereaux: At the end is a pile.
Sanger: That’s called “lag storage,” right?
Genereaux: Well I guess yes; they had to wait for certain decay for the decay period.
Sanger: That was water?
Genereaux: Yes. [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Consequently, March 1943 the basins in the separation plants were specified for metal storage during the decay period, although the pile basins were retained for temporary storage of the discharge slugs prior to their export to 200 Area and for activated dummy slugs. By May it was also realized that storage of such quantities of metal in the separation would be hazardous with respect to personnel and building equipment as well as to material and process in the event of a catastrophe. Therefore it was designed to provide separate decay storage buildings located at least one half mile from the nearest processed buildings. At the same time the request for storage facility in the 221 Building was cancelled except for the inclusion of one specially designed cell serving as a small pool in each building for emergency use.”
This is how we built flexibility. [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Three storage buildings requested were designed. The design feature incorporated in this building during the decay period was a concrete pool which active slugs were kept under sixteen and a half feet of water. The water served not only to absorb the heat generated by the decay process but also to seal personnel from the radiation. Other features include a monorail system, hydraulic lift, a thirty-ton crane and monitoring equipment. Slugs were brought into the building in a water-filled tank mounted on a specially designed railroad car.” That’s the one you were talking about.
Genereaux: [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “The tank contained two casks, each holding one uranium slug bucket at one half-ton capacity. The casks were massive lead and steel containers with holes in the lids and walls so that water could circulate around the slugs when the casts were immersed either in the tank or in the pool. For safety personnel, all transfers to the cask outside the pool were made with the lids locked, which was accomplished by sliding bars actuated through the rack and pin arrangement by an impact wrench. Safety again. In the 212 Building the lid was unlocked—well that’s getting into detail. All transfers in and out of the 221 Building were accomplished with the cask and special car.”
Sanger: What would be the steps? It would go to what you’re talking about, and then it would go where? What was the next step?
Genereaux: Well there’s a list in here. Contaminated equipment disposal was in cell one and two, in case we want to take out and put in. And then there was a railroad entrance.
Sanger: The metal storage is what you were just talking about.
Sanger: And then from there?
Genereaux: That’s cell number four. Then the dissolvers cells, five, six and seven, that was the next thing.
Sanger: This is in the 221 Building.
Genereaux: This is the 221 Building, thirty-eight cells. So metal solution storage, sewage, extraction, waste neutralization, and a spare. You didn’t know, we might need another step in the process. Crude storage, decontamination—
Sanger: What was decontamination?
Genereaux: Well that’s a chemical step to separate—
Sanger: Any contaminants that were with the plutonium?
Genereaux: Anything besides plutonium is a contaminant.
Sanger: What’s waste neutralization, then?
Genereaux: Well we had a lot of waste in the whole process, and we would neutralize it because it was acid before we shipped it out.
Sanger: That was chemical waste?
Genereaux: Chemical waste. It was all liquid and then we sent it neutralized into the storage tanks.
Sanger: The decontamination was just a further purification?
Genereaux: Now it was from here that we went to the 224 Building.
Sanger: Yeah, okay.
Genereaux: Which didn’t have to have quite the complicated design as we did in this.
Sanger: Because it was less radioactive?
Sanger: Well, was everything moving through piping?
Sanger: I mean, as it went?
Sanger: After it left the railroad?
Genereaux: No pumps.
Sanger: Oh yeah, somebody told me that. I guess it was Greager that told me that.
Genereaux: No pumps. We wanted to have as few moving parts in the cells as possible because a moving part has its problems of jamming or wearing out or failing. So what we did was use steam ejectors.
Sanger: That would just force it out from one cell to the next one?
Genereaux: It would suck it out and move over to the next cell.
Sanger: Would there be anything left or not? Did you have to flush it?
Genereaux: In the tank?
Genereaux: If we had to flush it—
Sanger: Where would that go then?
Genereaux: That would go into the waste neutralization.
Sanger: And then that might contain some plutonium, which then you would retrieve somehow, I suppose?
Genereaux: I don’t know; that’s a process detail which I don’t remember. I didn’t have to be involved in that.
Sanger: Yeah. Everything was moving, though?
Genereaux: Everything was moving from one end to the other.
Genereaux: Unseen. Once we got down to here [pointing to diagram], then that got pumped over to 224 Building, which was parallel.
Sanger: Underground, too?
Genereaux: Oh yeah. It was parallel to the 221 Building.
Sanger: What was that building called?
Genereaux: 224 Building.
Sanger: I mean, what was the name for it, or what happened in there?
Genereaux: This tells all about the piping and each cell and the clamping device, and I haven’t told you about the connector yet.
Sanger: I guess [Dale] Babcock asked me to ask about that, the coupler.
Genereaux: Yeah. Remind me to tell you about that because that’s terribly important.
Sanger: Who wrote this?
Genereaux: One of our people in the engineering department in the design division. We assigned a person.
Sanger: Do you suppose there are any copies of this anywhere?
Genereaux: I don’t know. [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Concentration: 224 was called Concentration Building. After processing in the separation plant at 221, the activity level of the pure plutonium residue was reduced to such a degree that the design of processing equipment and shielding was modified on the assumption that vessels, after being washed, could be worked on directly for maintenance purposes. For some shielding, a remote control operation was still necessary and the process required similar equipment so the same type vessels and centrifuges were used but were modified when savings could be affected.”
“Even though the radioactivity decreased as the product was purified and concentrated, it remained sufficiently high that direct contact had to be avoided. This required separation of process equipment from personnel by concrete or metal walls, remote-controlled operations, and careful ventilation. Also the high value of the product plus the probably failed results of any quantity of plutonium absorbed into the body made it necessary that any spills or leaks would need to be recovered and decontaminated, regardless of how minute. This and the need for completely clean process equipment before it could be approached necessitated all sources to be smooth and free and pockets and pits.” This is some of that detail that I was telling you about. The end of the decontamination cycle was carried out in the 221 Building, remember that?
[Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Product from a ton of uranium would exist in the form of plutonium phosphate and nitric acid together with about seventy-five pounds of bismuth-phosphate carrier. The specifications were that it should be separated as a pure compound before acceptance by the government. Therefore, before the final isolation steps could be attempted, it would be necessary to concentrate the decontaminated slurry to about eight gallons from 3,000 gallons. This would be accomplished as follows and so forth in this whole part of the process. Overall, result of this concentration would produce a reduction and solution divided by a factor of about 400, etc., etc. The process description together with a flow sheet was received by the design division from the explosive department on August 3, 1943.”
Another thing that’s involved in this whole thing was the speed with which we did this job. I started on October 5, 1942 and by March we had most of the concept for this design.
Sanger: That is amazing.
Genereaux: [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “After thorough review by design and discussion with TNX, it was believed advantageous to transfer the concentration operations away from the massive shielding of the 221 Building into a more normal type of building, where the equipment could be cleaned and maintained in the usual manner. Therefore the latter stages of decontamination as well as the concentration operator would be performed in a separate concentration building 224. One of these was required for each separation plant. The characteristic layout of these buildings was somewhat similar to the 221 Buildings, but the absence of massive shielding requirements resulted in more simplified and less cost to design it.” And there’s another factor: we are very cost conscious. You know why, what I told my people?
Genereaux: “So when we get done with this and you go back to DuPont design, I don’t want you spoiled.” Well the layout of each building employed six working areas or cells which were designated as cells A and F and that’s that part.
Sanger: Where did it go after that one?
Genereaux: It went to the next building, purification and storage. Building 231 is the Purification Building.
Sanger: And that was further—
Genereaux: Further processing, but now you’re down to smaller quantities. You really concentrated down; you don’t have a great bulk of all the uranium and all that stuff.
[Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “The final process steps involved—the same types of equipment is used but on a small semi-works or laboratory scale with little radioactivity but high toxicity and value of product. Specifically designed hoods enclosed the equipment, all metal parts of which were ground free of pits and other blemishes.” And if you don’t think we hammered it in, because that’s all stainless steel.
[Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Closely controlled ventilation and air conditioning were required, as well as extremely efficient filters on the exhaust from the hoods to prevent contaminated the discharged air. Original plant layout envisioned by the design division called for the provision of a product purification building 231 in each of the two 200 areas. At that time, it was planned to carry out both concentration purification steps in these buildings and on the basis [of] Metallurgical Laboratory estimates and preliminary layout in accordance with this concept was prepared. But by early May, it was decided definitely that the concentration step would be formed in the 224 Building.” That’s the concentration.
Genereaux: You’ve gone into that. [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Then in the latter part of October 1943, TNX made a survey of facilities required for product purification, and the results of that indicated two buildings could not be justified for this part.” So we just built one.
Sanger: Then that was the last—
Genereaux: That was the last step. Now we did have a building that’s called 213, which was a storage building.
Sanger: Do you remember something called the Isolation Building, or is that maybe the same?
Genereaux: I think maybe 231.
Sanger: Because that might be the same thing.
Genereaux: [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “The underlying reason for processing individually is that each batch after purification would contain [classified information is blanked out]—at this time might exceed the critical mass so that the chain reaction might be started. However, further study of properties of the finished product subsequently performed indicated that the critical mass was larger than had been originally anticipated and that the full size plant batch could be isolated without fear of spontaneous decomposition. This information was reflected in a later reduction of the number of process runs from the originally specified nine to a total of six.”
[We were] always looking for how to reduce facilities, simplify things.
Sanger: You don’t remember seeing it on the final Hanford stage?
Genereaux: Seeing what?
Sanger: The plutonium.
Genereaux: No, no I didn’t see any plutonium there. See, my job was pretty well done.
Genereaux: At the end of ’45. We were ready to run before the pile was ready to run.
Sanger: You mean ’44?
Genereaux: Yeah, ’44.
Sanger: Do you remember how long it took to build a separation plant?
Genereaux: You’d have to see that in the construction.
Sanger: I read in the Hagley—I didn’t see how this could be so—but it said like three or four months is all it took to build one of those buildings. Does that seem likely to you?
Genereaux: This particular building? The 221 Building?
Sanger: Yeah, that seems like an awful hurry to me.
Genereaux: It took longer than that. When people see steel going up, why, they think a building is done.
Sanger: Look, they must mean ’43 here, don’t they? They must be ’43 in every one of these [looking at photographs].
Genereaux: Oh yes, yes, yes.
Sanger: Don’t you think?
Genereaux: Oh yeah.
Sanger: Because that’s only three or four months.
Genereaux: That’s right.
Sanger: Well, go ahead if you got any more to add on that.
Genereaux: I do. One thing I wanted to tell you was that one day, some workmen were at one of the 221 Buildings, and it was just up to grade. I mean, the bottom of the thing was about fifty feet down into the ground. We were just up the grade and one of them said, “This is the damndest thing going on around here. I don’t understand anything about it.”
And the other guy said, “Yeah, I think they’re building it upside down.” [Chuckle]. I thought you might get a kick out of that one.
We were talking about secrecy, and when you have to indoctrinate somebody in some aspect of secrecy, it’s important to realize how to maintain a secret. Well I have my principle electrical engineer and I had him in my office one day, and so I told what he needed to know, just some little aspect of it. Well his eyes got big, and anyway he got up and opened the door and left the door wide open with people going back and forth in the corridor and stuck his head in and says, “My God, Ray, this is Buck Rogers’ stuff.”
I said, “Come back in, come back in. I have failed. I did not teach you how to keep a secret; you cannot give it away by implication.”
“Oh, I get the picture.”
So any time I had to indoctrinate somebody I told them that story too; that kept the climax, to get them to know.
I told you that everything was bought had my initials with a number on it.
Genereaux: Well in order to leave some clothes out, I had my wardrobe trunk shipped out there and it had RPG on it. Well I got out there and on the first shot and I couldn’t get my trunk. It had come, but it didn’t have a number after it. What do I do? I said, “All right, just put a half on it.” See? Zero and a half.
Sanger: That’s funny. Where were those initials?
Genereaux: On the top of the trunk.
Sanger: Say, on a crate of equipment or something. Where would it be on that?
Genereaux: Oh on any equipment? Oh yeah, they would be on the order, it would be on the object itself.
Sanger: Say if they brought a freight car of centrifuges or something, where would it be on that?
Genereaux: On each centrifuge.
Sanger: On the car itself too, or not?
Genereaux: I don’t think on the car. Not on the car that delivered them from Massachusetts to Washington. Are you a native of the state?
Sanger: No, I’m from Iowa.
Sanger: Anyway, go ahead.
Genereaux: I was going to tell you, when it was announced that Hanford was the site, two of the guys were in my office, one of them said, “Oh that’s wonderful; it’s my home state.”
So I said, “Well where were you born?”
“I was born in Tacoma.”
“Oh, how wonderful.”
And the other fella said “Not me, I was born in Everett. Where were you born, Ray?”
And I said, “Seattle.”
Sanger: Oh yeah.
Genereaux: So there’s the three of us.
Sanger: That’s funny. I wouldn’t have thought that most people would have even heard of Hanford. I mean, even if they lived in the state, it was so tiny.
Genereaux: Oh yeah, well, let’s see. I’m going to tell you one other anecdote. General [Leslie] Groves, I got to know him very closely, and most of the problems that were involved where everybody and his brother was concerned about whether the pile was going to work and all that stuff. And he came to me one day and he says, “Ray, can I give you any help?”
And I said, “Yeah just keep everybody on the pile and keep them off my back. [Chuckle] So I can get things done.”
When I went to Met Lab, I went up into the laboratory and here was a guy around 6’5”, a big guy, and he was doing this microchemistry.
Genereaux: It wasn’t Seaborg. I knew Seaborg. At Oak Ridge we had a gadget which took the bucket of slugs from the little pile there to carry them from the water trench to get them into the dissolver of the separation facility, which was on the other side of a big wall. So somebody devised a thing which we called a dinosaur’s neck.
Sanger: And that was all done behind shielding too, right?
Sanger: That was true also to Hanford, I suppose?
Genereaux: Now I wanted to tell you about the connector and the impact wrench and a number of other things. In order to be able to put flanges together to make a joint in piping, whether it was electrical or grease for lubrication or for liquid or for gas, you had to be able to put those two flanges together remotely. So this is one of the critical things; the whole thing was the connector. We devised and tested it out down at the shops, and what it consisted of was three kind of hooks that would engage on the underside of the lower flange, and a big nut up here which—the impact wrench could be lowered by the crane and go “Brrr” and bring them right up together. You can see that we had to design it so we didn’t put too much pressure on that gasket. And so it was a lot of development in doing that and one of the souvenirs I wanted was a miniature of that so I could hang it on my watch fob or something like that.
Sanger: And that was the first time that had ever been done?
Genereaux: It had never been done.
Sanger: Well, who did that?
Genereaux: My engineers.
Sanger: A group of people working on it?
Genereaux: I had engineers of every calling on my team. Some mechanical, electrical, civil, metallurgical, you name it. Chemical, of course. It was that combination of people and talent that—you had to assign the right guy to the right job. I put down secrecy, urgency, radiation, critical mass, and the wet process candidates. Since it took a long time for them to know what the process was going to be, we had to develop something that you could put any equipment in and that was the flexibility that was involved.
We designed a major plant before the semi-works, as you know. The key items in separation design were the connector and the impact wrench, standardized cells in the canyon, the Mockup Building, the cranes with the periscope and television, radiation protection for the operators, remote operation, sound detection, attention to details, and scale up from atoms of plutonium. And the key items I jotted down that pertains during construction was the mockup assembly.
Sanger: Was there a mockup in Wilmington, too?
Genereaux: The DuPont Company has a machine shop called Wilmington Shops, and this is where we did the work on the connector, on the impact wrench, on the periscope—any of the items that we had to keep secret. So we blanked off a part of it and did all of that right there, and we had top mechanics in the Wilmington Shops.
Wilmington Shops was originally begun years ago in order to manufacture equipment for DuPont plants when nobody else did. I mentioned the mockup assembly for construction. Cleanliness—you couldn’t have any dirt inside the pipes when they were installed. So they might clean them, but they put something on the ends of it while they were moving it from the Mockup Building, with all the dust blowing around in the desert to get to the 221 Building, and that was a big problem.
I mentioned about the screens for the floor of the cells. This was cooperation with—construction already had something done that they had never had to put up with. The cell cover—they said, “We can’t make those uniform.”
And I said, “Well, how about making some templates?”
So they got some templates, huge things, and they cast the concrete in those templates, and that’s how you got uniformity. And then I mentioned to you about the crane operation, that was more fun.
Sanger: How long did it take those guys generally to learn that?
Genereaux: They learned that, I’d say, in a matter of hours, maybe two hours. Once they got out of the idea that they couldn’t do it, then they were like kids. It was like a grabber. They thought I was nuts, trying to train some crane operators how to do it.
Sanger: That’s funny.
Genereaux: I mentioned to you about design representatives in the field. There were no delays in answering questions.
Sanger: That must have saved a good deal of time.
Genereaux: It saved a tremendous amount of time. Lots of stuff you can’t put on paper or people won’t interpret it right, maybe.
Genereaux: So [00:36:00] they’d come around with a drawing, “What’s this?” And if I or my representative, when he was out there, couldn’t answer directly, he got on the phone and talked to the guy that did the drawing, “Joe what’s this thing up in the upper left hand corner, what is that?”
Sanger: Did you have any problems with interference from say the Army on this?
Genereaux: I can’t say that I did. The Corps of Engineers had a representative in Wilmington that was supposed to approve our drawings. We eventually fixed it so they didn’t have a thing to do with the process drawings, structural lines and so forth, that they might know something about. But I told General Groves, I said, “You got to put people in there that aren’t going to hold us up. We want instant action.”
Sanger: And that worked out all right?
Genereaux: Worked out beautifully.
Sanger: What about out there on the site? Was there a Corps of Engineers person?
Genereaux: Oh yes. They were there, and of course they had their responsibilities and they reported to Groves. Gil[bert] Church was the head of construction on the site. Unfortunately he died and he was a terrific guy, a personal friend of mine.
Sanger: Did any of the Met Lab scientists come out there much?
Genereaux: Oh yes.
Sanger: Who was the one who would be with what you were doing?
Genereaux: Charlie [can’t remember last name].
Sanger: I guess there was a fella named Pearlman, but I think he was later.
Genereaux: I knew Pearlman. He was a scientist. I got to know him a number of years later when we formed a plutonium committee, the government did, and about six or eight of us toured around every site that had anything to do with plutonium to see what the situation was, what they were doing, and so forth.
Sanger: But there wasn’t any one Met Lab that was there when the construction of the separation was going on that you remember?
Genereaux: Well you see, at Met Lab there were a number of DuPont employees who were put on the Met Lab role. And some of them eventually went to Hanford for operations or for research or for whatever developed.
Sanger: I think that Os Greager had worked with DuPont, and then he kind of went into the Army for a bit and then he stayed at Richland.
Genereaux: He stayed there and he worked for General Electric. You see in 1948, I guess it was, GE was running the place up there, and they were having a hell of a time with the design and construction of facilities. So a whole bunch of us from DuPont were transferred up there, and I became assistant manager of design and I had my own top design people with me. And in order to get communications going, I sandwiched one in between each one of their people so that—you know, those guys hadn’t had the training.
Sanger: How long did that go on?
Genereaux: February until September I was there. Of course, we had people in construction too; we had to take over the construction—I mean management of the construction. So we had our own people out there to help straighten out function of design and collaboration with construction, because the design people didn’t know the construction people.
Sanger: Yeah, what were they constructing then?
Genereaux: They were constructing another separation facility and another process reactor.
Sanger: I think they built seven or eight all together.
Genereaux: Well, they just didn’t have the advantages that we did of all functions under one heading, one company.
Sanger: Was Seaborg out there much during your phase?
Genereaux: No, I got to know him later. Seaborg was awarded the [Perkin Medal] for the first synthetic dye stuff. He was awarded it and had to give a talk at a dinner in New York, so about six of us who knew him got on a train and went to New York for this thing. We had to have our ties on and dinner jackets. On the way up, we had a couple of drinks. We got to the hotel and so on the way up the rest of the guys said, “We don’t know how to tie bow tie.”
Well I wear them most of the time and I said, “Well I’ll tell you what, I’ll tie it for a drink.” [Chuckle]
Anyway, when the fella who was from Wilmington who was helping Glenn Seaborg get dressed—and he had to be in tails—came up and he said, “I’m having a hell of a time trying to get Glenn dressed; I don’t know how to tie his tie and all that kind of stuff.” So I went down and helped get him all fixed up.
At the dinner, he was up on a raised pedestal and we were down at the tables, six or eight of us. So when he got up to deliver his speech he said, “Before I do this, I want to acknowledge a wonderful relationship with a group of men from DuPont who are right here. They will help you in any circumstances.” [Chuckle] Then he gave his talk. He was a terrific guy.
Sanger: I spoke to him briefly. He came to Seattle a while back for a meeting and I talked to him a little bit about Hanford. He said it was the most exciting time of his life out there, I mean the whole thing, the Manhattan Project.
Genereaux: Well they had that accelerator [at Berkeley]. Of course, he was one of the great inventors of the transuranic elements.
Sanger: Yeah I asked him something about that and he said, “Well, read chapter eleven of my book.”
Genereaux: For the separations, we had to go into metallurgy of course, tremendously. And in order to withstand the type of acid situations we had, we finally honed in on 2512 columbium-stabilized stainless steel, and hardly anybody made it.
Genereaux: We didn’t know what shapes and we didn’t know what thickness we were going to make the vessels, and all that kind of stuff. But we knew we had to order ingots or we’d never have them ready to roll when we knew what we needed. So we cooked up a number of how many tons of this stuff to order. I can remember taking the order down to TNX to Monte Evans and saying, “Monte, I would like to order a million dollars’ worth of stainless steel.”
[And Monte said], “What the hell? How do you know what you want?”
Well I said, “We don’t. We haven’t designed the vessels yet, but we’re pretty sure that this is the right amount and unless we order it now we’re going to be delayed on delivery of the equipment.”
Sanger: Did you have any difficulties with materials that you remember on the procuring them?
Genereaux: We had very high priority. I forget what it was; A1A or something like that.
Sanger: That’s what Mackie said too, that he didn’t recall any serious problems.
Genereaux: No, no, but the secret of it was develop a list, equipment and material list and you determine what kind of delivery you can expect. And so you order accordingly. And that is one of the things that holds up the start of plants; somebody goofed and they did not order the things in time.
So I had one man whose principle job was to maintain those lists and as we developed the whole thing, we saw that there were only a few things yet to be done. And rather than go through the whole list again to see what had not been done, I said, “We are going to have what I am going to call a negative list of what has not been done. So we extract everything off of there and on a new list, a negative list, so that you can hone in, and you are not going to leave anything undone.”
Sanger: Did you ever get involved in anything as big as Hanford after that?
Genereaux: Savannah River.
Sanger: You helped do the same thing there?
Genereaux: I was responsible for looking at everything that was going on in that time, I could ask all the damn fool questions of “why you are reinventing the wheel.”
Sanger: You mean overall, not just for the separation.
Genereaux: No, no, the whole thing. It was 1950 or something.
Sanger: When did you say you retired?
Genereaux: September of 1967.
Sanger: Were there many women at Hanford working as technicians, do you remember?
Genereaux: I do not recall one.
Sanger: I mean, as far as your group was concerned, you do not remember anyone?
Genereaux: No, nope. We would have maybe secretaries.
Sanger: Probably the women, I imagine, came along later?
Genereaux: Yes, there were women later, like after GE took over.
Sanger: Do you remember what your feelings were when the bomb was used, either the first or the second?
Genereaux: Well I can tell you that I had nightmares all the way through the design.
Sanger: Because of what?
Genereaux: Because of what I thought the consequences of this thing were going to be.
Sanger: Is that throughout the whole experience, before—?
Genereaux: Yes, when I knew what it was all about, because I was told the whole thing right from the beginning.
Sanger: So you knew it was for a weapon, etc.
Genereaux: Oh yes, right.
Sanger: What did you feel? What were your feelings when you heard about it?
Genereaux: Well I just felt that it is a devastating thing, but we are in competition with the Germans and we certainly do not want them to beat us if this is going to be the crowning glory—not the crowning glory, but the winning weapon. So that urgency was what drove us, and we knew we had a job to do.
Sanger: What about after the Germans surrendered and you were still working on it?
Genereaux: Well we were just waiting for the whole thing to be done. The tests were given, as I said, the three of us went out. Monte Evans, did I mention about him?
Genereaux: Did you see him?
Sanger: No, he is apparently not feeling—he is not well.
Sanger: I have not talked to him, I was in touch with him. He lives way down there. I am going to call him, I guess. He lives way down in Florida.
Genereaux: The three of us went there, as I mentioned to you, a month before the Trinity test.
Sanger: Did you know that was coming up?
Genereaux: Oh yes, he told us.
Sanger: Oh, but you did not stay for it, I guess?
Genereaux: No, it was going to be a month later. We were not invited; we had work to do.
Sanger: Were you at all surprised when they used the bombs against Japan, or was that just assumed that that would be done to end the war or what?
Genereaux: That was the only target that was available, because the European war was over.
Sanger: Yes. People have speculated that maybe that second bomb was not necessary. But on the other hand, who would know, I suppose.
Genereaux: Well, I do not know enough about that except that I think it says somewhere that Hiroshima was not the ideal target, but circumstances called for it. Nagasaki was.
Sanger: Yes, it was more of a military-industrial target, that is for sure.
Genereaux: That could be the one-two punch.
Sanger: Yes, well people have written books about that, but of course it is a long time ago.
Genereaux: It is a long time ago, and a lot of people failed to think in terms of what was going on then, not in terms of today. I was only forty years old when I started on that thing. That does not mean much to you.
Sanger: A lot of the guys were quite a bit younger, were they not?
Genereaux: Oh yes.
Sanger: You knew [Col. Frank] Matthias, I suppose.
Genereaux: Oh yes, I knew him.
Sanger: He lives in Danville, California.
Genereaux: Oh is that right? Well he was Corps of Engineers, of course.
Sanger: Did you have much to do with him?
Genereaux: No, see he had the construction phase of it at Hanford, so he and Gil Church had their relationship. My relationship out there was directly with the people who were constructing separations facilities.
Sanger: What was just the life in general like, could you recall, when you went out to see it? Was it just an incredible amount of activity, or what?
Genereaux: Oh, everybody was really intense on getting the job done. Those of us who were transient lived in what is called Transient Quarters in Richland.
Genereaux: And there were couples that were living out there. Charlie Harrington was one of them, and he lives in Wilmington. And his wife was there. So there were dances and dinner parties, where people would have you for dinner. Or we could go on trips around, like up to Mount Rainier or go up to Yakima. Of course, we had Red Points [ration cards] and gasoline t5ickets were hard to get.
Sanger: Well you probably did not have a great deal of free time did you when you were there?
Genereaux: No, no.
Sanger: How long might you stay at any given time?
Genereaux: I might have stayed as much as three weeks, but mostly two weeks. I would be out there for two weeks and home for three, let us say.
Sanger: Now that was the only thing you were working on, right? You did not have other projects?
Genereaux: No, not then. I had just finished up a couple with the Chemical Warfare Service. Went out in West Virginia, at Moundsville. And I had previous ones with the Chemical Warfare—Rocky Mountain Arsenal and stuff like that.
Sanger: I believe that Greager said that he was in Chemical Warfare before he went to Hanford.
Genereaux: I guess so, but not in connection with what the DuPont company was doing with the Chemical Warfare Service.
Genereaux: [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Floors, walls and cover blocks call for unusually careful working to fill in all pinholes so that active materials would not lodge therein and make the immediate area unapproachable.”
The walls of these cells were all rubbed down with bricks in order to smooth them, and then we painted them with a very special paint.
[Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “All of these surfaces were specified for painting with a special paint that offered resistance to the acid conditions. It was smooth enough to permit easy washing by water sprays in the cell walls, and was adequately adherent to the concrete. Contrasting colors were specified to assist the crane operator in handling blocks and equipment. Cleanliness and freedom from corrosion that would plug the steam jet siphons were of constant concern in design and construction.”
Flush the pipes before you ever put them in. “Special sampling devices were designed to permit safe sample-taking from cell vessels. All pipe extending through concrete was bent in special curves to avoid direct paths for radioactivity.”
Sanger: How much emphasis, do you remember, was put on getting rid of the waste? Do you remember much about that?
Genereaux: Yes. Consideration was given to designing a waste concentration facility. But the urgency of getting the plutonium—they said, “We will put that aside and we will reduce the volume, but we will store it.” And that was in these tanks, underground tanks. And we spent days and days going over the specification for them and modifying them and so forth. We had three degrees of protection on those things. And then when we came to building those big tanks, welding the steel on the thing and X-raying every weld, well, we ran into some awful bad welding. It was most difficult.
Sanger: But that was all corrected, I suppose?
Genereaux: All corrected.
Sanger: Well, they were steel, and concrete around them.
Genereaux: Yes. [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Special gaskets were required to withstand the very corrosive conditions mechanical stress involved in making a connection with an impact wrench. Vessels were fitted with noise pickups and vibration detecting devices.” I mentioned that to you. System operators could not see the equipment.
Sanger: What did they call Teflon then, something else?
Genereaux: We just called it GX, so that nobody would know.
Sanger: So DuPont invented Teflon?
Genereaux: Oh yes. Well, it was really an accident. It was over at the dye works, over across the river at Jackson Laboratory, and they had cylinders of this—some particular gas. And they went to open up the valve and none came out. But they weighed it and it weighed the same as it did when it was, so they cut it open and they found this goop down in there. That was Teflon.
[Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Purchase order RPG sixteen and a half was soon placed on the Whiting Corporation for design fabrication of the required number of cranes.” So it was big, huge cranes. “Incorporated in the design was an additional load of sixty-five tons at the cab end to take care of the unusual cab and shield, both of which were designed and provided by DuPont. The overall span was fifty-eight feet with an effective travel distance of the traveler of thirty-two feet. A seventy-five-ton and ten-ton hook was suspended from the main traveler and a monorail was installed under each crane girder. Each monorail carried a hoist with two independent drums. One drum had one-ton capacity.”
Sanger: Did they mainly use the cranes for repairs, or what?
Genereaux: To install equipment.
Sanger: And also if they needed to open them up for repairs?
Genereaux: Oh yes. But as far as I recall, they did not have to do that.
Sanger: There was not any of that?
Genereaux: [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “The control cab mounted on one end of the bridge was designed by DuPont. This was to shield on the top and the upper half of the sides was four and a half inches of steel, with three inches on the lower half of the side, one and a half inches on the bottom. To provide further protection to the operator, a five-foot thick concrete barricade extended the full length of the building.”
Sanger: That is why they had to have the periscope to the TV?
Genereaux: [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works”] “Unless there were some means of directing visually the motions of the crane with the attachments provided, maintenance would be exceedingly complicated or virtually impossible. To simplify the operation and yet permit manipulation of all controls within the shield, the cab was planned. Also, from the inception of the work to provide some form of viewing device to enable positive vision of the field of operation over the barricaded wall.
The original conception of a signing device envisioned a periscope mounted on the crane bridge, supplemented with a short range, wired television set suspended from the crane hook. The use of these two items would enable the operator to view the overall field of operations through the periscope and the individual working area through the television set. Both of these types of instruments were constructed and considered seriously by DuPont as early as October.”
A member of the DuPont Chemical Department Experimental Station, a great guy that had considerable experience with lens application, was loaned, and he helped us out on this whole development of the optical device. Paul Morgan was the one that built it.
Sanger: You designed the separation facility at Clinton, too?
Sanger: Was it pretty much the same, or was it quite a bit simpler than the one at Hanford?
Genereaux: Oh, much simpler. It could be almost like the 224 Building, the second building.
Sanger: Oh, is that partly because they were smaller amounts or what?
Genereaux: Smaller amounts. Well, we give plenty of protection, but much smaller amounts.
Sanger: You know, when I was down there yesterday, I was noticing some photograph of some of the trenches for waste disposal. What was that for, do you know? Was that something different from the steel tanks?
Genereaux: Trenches for waste disposal?
Sanger: Yes, it looked like they were just trenches, no lining, no nothing, just big trenches [00:24:00] outside.
Genereaux: Well, we would not put anything bad on that.
Sanger: That is what I thought; maybe it was some other sort of waste that was not radioactive or particularly toxic. I do not know, it did not say in the thing.
Genereaux: No, we were particularly careful. And these big underground tanks we had monitoring devices all around them so that if there was a leak, we would know it. And we had to put air coolers up on top of them, because the heat of it would evaporate. So they would come up and we would condense that, condense the vapor into liquid, so it would go back down.
Sanger: I have heard secondhand from telephone calls that there has been some development in the waste question out there from what you are talking about from those original tanks. Periodically there would be reports on leaks and so on because it has been so long.
Genereaux: Well, we never intended those to be the final things.
Sanger: Well that is what I figured, yes. But apparently the government never perhaps changed it or removed the waste, so they eventually deteriorated.
Genereaux: It would have taken another building like 221 Building to do it, and I proposed designing it. And they said, “No, we cannot afford the time.”
I said, “I could do it.” When we first started the design of the major plant, it was to go at Oak Ridge. And in anticipation of topographical surveys of the area, I got custom survey maps of the thing, and I had them blown up. Do you know how fine the lines are on those things?
Genereaux: Well, they were this wide.
Sanger: Oh, they were?
Genereaux: And I laid out the full plant as a plot plan, including a plant for doing about the waste.
Sanger: What would you call that? What would you call a plant to do that? Did they have a name for it, waste decontamination or something?
Genereaux: Well it would have to be waste concentration because you do not do away with it. What you are trying to do is reduce the volume, reduce the volume, reduce the volume until you have got something that is significantly small enough to encapsulate in some way and then bury it somehow. Now you know that that whole thing has been worked out beautifully.
Sanger: Yes, well probably now they glassify it.
Genereaux: That is right.
Sanger: Yes, well that apparently was a problem at Hanford, I suppose, was these thousands and thousands of gallons of waste, which apparently became sludge, I guess, eventually.
Genereaux: Yes, with some sludge in it.
Sanger: Yes, I have not seen the stories, I do not know what they say, but –
Genereaux: It all depends on who you are talking to.
Sanger: Oh yes, I imagine that if there was a problem, some of it may have happened because DuPont left, I suppose, and then it became someone else’s responsibility.
Genereaux: It was September ’45, I believe, when they left.
Sanger: Yes, they left right away. I guess that was always understood, that they would not operate it.
Genereaux: That was not an option. We turned it over to General Electric.
Sanger: I remember that Matthias, I believe, he said he stayed until very early in ’46 and then he left the Army too, I think, and became a dam builder in South America. Well, I think that is probably about it.
Genereaux: [Reading from “The Design and Procurement History of Hanford Engineering Works,” DuPont Corporation, December 1945] “The 200 Area construction: the layout began March 27, 1943. Organizing for construction July 1, 1943, Northeast and West Areas. The West area had T and U. The 200 West concrete T was [poured] 10/12/43 to 5/13/44, 100,122 cubic yards of concrete. The U Plant began the concrete [pouring] on 1/27/44 to 10/11/44, and that turned out to be 124,512 [cubic yards if concrete].
Building 231 is the Concentration Building. Building 221-C was canceled June 3, 1944.
200 North, 221, N, P, and R were the lag storage. Twenty feet, nine inches deep.
200 West started June 26, 1943 essentially complete on November 1944, 98% complete. Construction forces were removed from the 200 T on October 8, 1944 at midnight.
Process manufacturing started December 6, 1944. 221-T head and added December 21, 1943, sixty-five feet long. Design started December 1, 1942, essentially completed August 17, 1944. Pretty darn fast.