Tag Archives: Hanford

In the Wind

An upwind neighbor, 16 miles from my childhood home, N-reactor not only contributed to atmospheric releases, but dumped radioactive strontium-90 into the Columbia River at rates up to 1000 times safe drinking water standards.

An upwind neighbor, 16 miles from my childhood home, N-reactor not only contributed to atmospheric releases, but dumped radioactive strontium-90 into the Columbia River at rates up to 1000 times safe drinking water standards. It operated until 1987, the last of the plutonium producing reactors.

This image is a work of a United States Department of Energy (or predecessor organization) employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

Growing up near Othello in the 1960s, we developed a macabre pride over being so near an important target for Soviet missiles. We knew that something vast and threatening was happening just over the hill from our home—it was only eleven miles from our house to the nearest of Hanford’s nuclear plants. But we didn’t live with fear. Like Richland High School, whose football team was called The Bombers, and whose helmets sported a mushroom cloud, we took pride in having the world’s largest plutonium factory in our back yard. Truth to be told, we were even a bit jealous of the fact that most of the workers at Hanford lived in places like the Tri Cities and Sunnyside. On the other hand, rumor on the playground at Lutacaga Elementary School was that, if the Russians took out McChord Airforce Base, Othello’s radar station would be in command of the entire west coast. Continue reading

Crossing Over

A two-horse-power ferry provided passage across the Columbia River at White Bluffs.

A two-horse-power ferry provided passage across the Columbia River at White Bluffs.

Drive down any freeway in the state, and you’ll see the same dull gray pavement, with tarry black repairs. The roads look the same on both sides of the mountains and whether they are on dry land or bridges. We’ve come to take these roads and bridges for granted, to the point where we can estimate to within minutes just how long a trip ought to take. But it wasn’t always so.

After they offed the Astorians, the Hudsons Bay Company established routes that provided for the safe distribution of trade goods and transportation of furs gathered over an entire year. In auspicious places, the English built forts to store the furs that came from far north in what is now British Columbia, and from the Snake River country and Montana. Continue reading

The Forgotten Train Wreck

News of the wreck was suppressed. It is not known how many GIs lost their lives when this troop train derailed.

News of the wreck was suppressed. It is not known how many GIs lost their lives when this troop train derailed.

World War II brought many changes to the bucolic way of life people were used to living in Eastern Washington. A huge chunk of sandy real estate south of Saddle Mountain had been condemned and occupied by the government, and nobody knew what they were doing there–and if you got too nosy, they’d shoot at you. On the north side of the mountain, the Yakima Firing Range had been extended into the Lower Crab Creek valley. Fighter and bomber pilots flew missions in the skies above the canyons and scablands that used to stand silent in the blistering heat.

Yet below the mock combat, farmers and ranchers continued to plant crops and herd livestock to feed the country. Oscar Danielson died early in the war, leaving the running of his Crab Creek ranch to his eldest son, Walter. Because he had a job farming, Walter was excused from serving in the armed forces. Not so the next younger sons.

George, the second son, joined the Army and received training as an engineer. His unit was shipped off to North Africa in 1942. Years later, George would tell me that he had “passed through Kasserine Pass about an hour before Rommel took it.” A year or so ago I read Rick Atkinson’s book about Americans in North Africa, An Army at Dawn. In it, I learned that the engineers had been left to defend Kasserine Pass against Rommels Panzerkorps. My uncle was too modest to admit the role he had played in buying extra time for the American retreat through Kasserine Pass.

Lawrence, the third son, also served in the Army in Europe in World War II. His stories I never heard, and indeed, his own family heard little about what he witnessed in Italy until very late in his life. War is hell, so they say.

Even the only daughter, fourth child in the family, was fated to marry a man who served as a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy during the war. But somehow, they all came home alive and whole.

My father told me once about the problem Crab Creek ranchers had with the flyers during the war. Bomber pilots trained with dummy bombs–casings filled with powder (flour, most often) so that their strikes could be noted from the air. But the fighter pilots used live fifty-caliber ammunition, interlaced with tracers so that they could see what they hit. Some of the pilots used to strafe cattle along the creek. Ranchers, howling their protests at Moses Lake Army Air Base in Moses Lake (later, Larson Air Force Base), were told that the pilots would be disciplined as soon as their plane’s tail number was reported. Of course, by the time ranchers Continue reading