In the center of one of the nation's most concentrated communities of atomic technicians works a one-time Oklahoma farm boy, raising pigs.
More precisely, Glenn Horstmann, an animal resource manager for Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory, raises swine, a Hanford Miniature Swine, 180-pound descendants of Louisiana swamp pigs who found their way to North American on the second voyage of Columbus.
Here in the desert wasteland of southeastern Washington State, there is more than a tenuous relationship between pigs and plutonium. The animals, it appears, share many human physiological characteristics, including similar teeth, bones and skin. This and their size makes the Hanford Miniatures ideal research stand-ins for man for experiments to determine, among other things, the effects of various levels of radiation exposure.
Each working day, more than 12,000 scientists, technicians and construction workers pass the windows of Horstmann's lab. They drive-down a four-lane, 35-mile-long highway, which leads to more than a dozen nuclear installations, reactors, and fuel fabrication, waste extraction and test facilities.
Established in wartime secrecy to produce plutonium for the first generation of atomic weapons. Hanford is now caught up in an economic boom. More than $4.5 billion in construction is under way within its 570-square-mile perimeter. Many of the nation's premier energy and defense contraactors have located here to get "hands on" experience with newdevelopments in nuclear energy, under the benign sponsorship of the Department of Energy. Hanford has become the apple in this young industry's eye, a prototype nuclear energy center.
Here, in steel and concrete, in files and in computer banks, exist the sum total of man's short experience with the atom.Here is the continuous record, the technical data, the detailed health evaluations of every employe - whether for an hour or 35 years.
Hanford exists as sort of an atomic Rorschach test, with pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear forces examining the same records and seeing different things.
The industry points to its layer of built-in safeguards, training programs, an unmatched safety record, and statistics which show that Hanford workers live longer than the average American.
But the reservation has long been plagued by leaks of radioactive waste, the result of hurried wartime production which sawy material that would remain active for tens of thousands of years stored in steel drums that decayed in 20 years.
Now, Hanford is a center of controversy following the publication of a disputed study by Dr. Thomas Mancusco, a University of Pittsburgh research, which shows that exposure to low-level radiation - amounts previously considered safe - increased four types of cancers among Hanford workers.
Hanford has become the focus of the ongoing, highly emotional, intrinsically political - but still peaceful - atomic war.
Two-thirds of the approximately 110,000 persons in the three major towns which surround the reservation are economically dependant on the nuclear industry. Their defense of atomic power is as sober and earnest as the signs which the line the highway into Hanford ("Remember, security prevents and protects").
Nuclear operator Lee Ann McFaden, 24, is a second generation atomic worker. She was a carhop before landing her $300-a-week job at Rockwell International's waste disposal plant. Only 4 feet 11 inches tall, she stands on a high platform to operate the remote control manipulators that handle high-level radioactive waste. Separated from the material by three feet of lead-lined, green tinted glass, McFadden works as closely to the deadly waste as anyone. Yet she says she is unworried by the Mancusco report and scoffs atantinuclear critics.
"Those people are just scared by something they don't understand," she says.
Tom Doyle heads the health and safety committee of the local Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, which represents 2,100 workers at Hanford. Doyle came to work here in 1944 when security was so stringent that a senator named Harry Truman was denied access.
"The problem," says Doyle, "is the secrecy which has always surrounded this place. For years, the only thing people thought of when you said nuclear power was a picture of an atom bomb."
At home in Doyle's dresser drawer is a little bronze pin with the outline of a mushroom cloud and the words "Manhattan Project." It was given to all workers who produced the plutonium that went from Hanford to Los Alamos to Nagasaki.
"From the point of view of the nuclear industry, that was the worst catastrophe that has ever happened," he says.
Doyle believes that some of the industry safeguards are too lax, that the readings of exposures are inaccurate. Yet, like an auto worker who can criticize that industry without demanding the prohibition of cars, he is in full support of the expansion and development of nuclear power.
Exxon Nuclear recently completed a $12 million fuel fabrication plant here.
Battelle has an $18 million research laboratory and facility.
United Nuclear of Falls Church long has operated a dual-purpose reactor which produces both weapons-grade plutonium and steam to drive an 860-kilowatt generating plant.
Rockwell International has invested $17 million to upgrade the 6-square-mile waste disposal plant.
Westinghouse Hanford is nearing completion of a $540 million engineering development laboratory containing a sodium-cooled, fast-breeder test reactor.
Whatever the merits of that advice, it would be best to avoid Hanford. Airplanes arriving at the local airport are packed, even on so-called quiet days. And by car, it's far, and off the beaten track. A four-foot fence surrounds the entire perimeter of the reserve, which constantly is patrolled by a team of 300 guards. The main roads are blocked by additional checkpoints. The nuclear facilities are surrounded by high fences and security devices.
It was the isolation and the ability to secure the area that brought the Army here in January 1943. Less than a month earlier, Enrico Fermi had demonstrated the first controlled chain reaction under the University of Chicago stadium. The Army and Du Pont Co. began looking for a site to produce plutonium. They needed two things; pure cold water and massive amounts of hydroelectric power.
In the East, the Army chose Oak Ridge. In the West, they picked a semi-circular site bounded by the Columbia River on one side and by a low ridge called the Rattlesnake Mountains on the other. It was semiarid farm country criscrossed by parched clay roads. History will note that a bumper fruit crop that year slowed condemnation proceedings and substantially upped the price per acre.
In 1942, the Village of Hanford contained 125 souls. A year later, it was the site of the nation's largest construction camp, with 45,000 persons at work on eight nuclear reactors. Most of them lived in trailers, reportedly the world's largest trailer camp. Hanford boasted a shopping center, bus line, schools, theaters, and churches. It also claimed a national per capita beer-drinking record.
A white collar administrative center was set up 30 miles away at the Village of Richland. The homes there were mostly prefab.
At Hanford, the engineers were racing a target date for the invasion of Japan, which was to begin in October 1945. Contrary to standard engineering practice they even scrapped plans for a pilot plant. By 1944, the reactors were completed. The Town of Hanford was totally abandoned. The only thing that remains is the name.
After the war, Hanford continued production. By 1960, the government had $1 billion invested in the region. It also had stockpiled an embarrassing quantity of weapons-grade plutonium.
In 1963 came the completion of a ninth reactor, the "N" reactor, more sophisticated than the wartime once-through facilities which returned radioactive effluents into the Columbia. With nothing else on the horizon, business leaders faced the return of their community to sagebrush and citrus groves.
Instead they organized a group called the Tri-City Nuclear Industrial Council and went lobbying in Washington, D.C. They pointed out that the Hanford area still had the same amenities that brought in the Army: isolation, security and land. Now it had something more elaborate facilities, scientists, and a well-educated work force. It also had a population that had lived contentedly with the atom since 1943.
After much politicking, the government agreed to continue its investment in Hanford, but stipulated the contractors assist in the diversification of the area by reinvesting the equivalent of their first five years' profit into non-nuclear-related developments.
Thus, Atlantic Richfiled (now Arco), which at that time had the contract for the waste management project, also built the 150-room Hanford House hotel, a cattle feed lot and beef packing plant, and put $1 million into a risk capital investment firm to assist small industries to locate in the area.
Battelle took over the government laboratories, then built a $12 million office and research complex and a $6 million environmental and life sciences laboratory, and contributed toward construction of a university graduate center in Richland.
Douglas United Nuclear (the aircraft firm has now divested itself) took over operation of Hanford plutonium-producing reactors, then built another $4 million laboratory.
On the other hand, Richland has no recognizable downtown, no public transit system. Newcomers complain of school overcrowding, and the nuclear plants have gone to staggered work shifts to avoid traffic jams.
One Rockwell engineer, a Los Angeles refugee from the collapse of the B-1 bomber program, complained it took more than a month to get his home telephone installed.
With a high percentage of well-educated scientists. Richland might be well as a bedroom community beside a major university. (The seven-member town council has two Ph.D.s) But stuck in the middle of the Washington desert, residents have had to make their own fun.
There is local culture for those so inclined. The Mid-Columbia Symphony Orchestra has a paid full-time director, the town has a light opera company, the graduate center is well attended. Advanced courses in nuclear science are popular, even among nontechnical atomic workers.
Some concede that the geographical isolation also has its political rewards. "Environmentalists don't care nearly as much about what happens in this side of the mountain," said D.J. Cock beram, general manager of Rockwell's atomic division.
The Tri-City Nuclear Group continues to actively promote the community and atomic power. Its leading officers include the owners and editor of a local newspaper.
"You won't find much antinuke news in the Tri-City Herald," volunteers a local executive. "I've never seen the Seattle Times take a negative position on anything that relates to Boeing," retorts the newspaper's president, Bob Phillip.