Bill Painter Oral History

Dublin Core


Bill Painter Oral History


Hanford Atomic Products Operation


An oral history interview with Bill Painter for the B Reactor Museum Association. Painter worked in the 200 Area at the Hanford Site during the Cold War.


B Reactor Museum Association


Hanford History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project.





Oral History Item Type Metadata


Gene Weisskopf


Bill Painter


Battelle EMSL Auditorium


Video Interview of Bill Painter

October 8, 1999

at Battelle’s EMSL Auditorium

Interviewed by Gene Weisskopf, BRMA

Videotaped by Nick Nanni, Battelle




            PAINTER: Army experience on Okinawa, and it was nice and warm there. I got discharged at Fort Douglas, Utah, and the temperature was 20 below zero, and I was about to freeze to death, so I decided that I would go up and visit my brother who lived in Seattle. I got to the bus station and I met a fellow that I’d known before I ever went into the service, and he said he was going to Richland, Washington. I had no idea where Richland, Washington was, what happened there, anything about it, but I was well acquainted with his older brother and his sister-in-law. So on the trip up here we decided that we would stop here at Richland and visit his brother, and then he would go with me up to Seattle and visit my brother. Well, I got here, and it was between quarters in college, and I didn’t have very much money just coming out of the Army, and they were tearing down the old construction town of Hanford, and so I said What the heck, jobs were easy to get out there, and I said I could make a little bit of money and go back to school next quarter. So it was six years before I got to Seattle to see my brother. And I went, worked for Mohawk Wrecking Company, tearing down the old construction town of Hanford. And then I decided, well, I found out what was going on at Hanford, and I decided that I would see if I could get a job at Hanford since it paid more than being a laborer out at Hanford. And so I started hitting the employment office, and this was when DuPont was here, and they kept stalling me off and saying, well, they didn’t know what things was going to happen. And I just kept working at Hanford, and finally they made the decision that General Electric would come in here, and then I was told at DuPont employment that when General Electric come in, I would have a job. So the 9th day of September, 1946, General Electric came in the first of September 1946, the next day I went to work for General Electric Company. And my grandfather had been a farmer and had two big steam thrashing outfits, and I’d helped on the steam engine a little bit. And I had no idea what kind of jobs there was out here at Hanford, so I decided that I was qualified to be a power operator, work in the power plant. And they said “Well, we don’t have any openings in the power operations right now, but if you’ll take a patrolman job, it’s easy to transfer.” Well, I found out that was not quite true. It took me six years to get off patrol. And in the meantime I’d taken an ICS course on instrumentation and basic electricity and so on, so I applied for a transfer to the instrument department. And, like I say, six years after I came out here I transferred to the instrument department.

            WEISSKOPF: In what area was that?

            PAINTER: I was working in 200 East at the time, and I went to work in the instrument department at the hot semiworks. And part of the program was that I went as the bottom rate instrument trainee. And we would go to school one day a week; originally they said for 56 months, it ended up that we only went 48 months. So I worked for four days a week at East area and West area, and the tank farms, hot semiworks, B Plant, and went to school on Fridays. And I worked there till they started constructing PUREX building. And about the time it was getting ready to start up, there was a lot of instrument people that wanted to go to PUREX, and they was going from other facilities on the plant. So I was transferred from East area to the UO-3 Plant in West area.

            WEISSKOPF: To the old U Plant?

            PAINTER: It was the old U Plant. Uranium extraction. So I worked in the uranium extraction building, and uranium oxide, UO-3 Plant. And by this time I had enough seniority that I was eligible to take the instrument specialist examination. And I took the test and passed it and became an instrument specialist. And I worked there about another two months, and then it was put under the plant down ‑‑‑ I’ve forgotten now, the old 234-5* building, anyhow. I forget what we called it at that time. But, anyhow, I was transferred to the 234-5 building. PFP I think it was called at that time.

            WEISSKOPF: Plutonium Finishing.

            PAINTER: Plutonium Finishing Plant. So I worked the line at the Plutonium Finishing Plant. We made weapons pieces at that time. We had separations facility for the recovery of plutonium, and we had the analytical lab, and get moved from one job to the other. But most of the time, after you’d been there a while and became very well acquainted with the plant, they tried to keep you. If you was working in the analytical lab, they kind of liked to keep you in the analytical lab. But I was never put in one position. I moved from one place to the other. And then, finally, when they built the 236 Building, the new extraction building after they’d had the incident in the old recouplex *(phonetic) building, I was sent there to follow the construction of the facility. And so I followed construction on the plant there. And after the construction was over, I stayed basically in the 236 Building, or the recovery building. And all through the time that I was in 234-5, well, even when I was at the U Plant, I always considered that I was quite lucky, I got to work with a lot of engineers and a lot of people that I had a lot of respect for and I think that the company thought very highly of. Milt Zalinski* (phonetic), the originator of the ‑‑‑ at that time we called it Zalinski powder, but it was the continuous calcination at U Plant for uranium oxide, one of the finest gentlemen I ever met. Another name that came to mind was Bob Lyon* (phonetic), who was an engineer in the chemical separations there. But there was a number of them that I got to work with that I thought I was lucky to have a personal relationship with. And then after I got down to Z Plant, although I didn’t agree with all of the management directives, there was certain people, Bob Olsen* (phonetic) was the facility manager when I was there, Les Brecky* (phonetic) that taught me the philosophy of unit price, which I agreed with 100% ‑‑‑

            WEISSKOPF: Could you just explain briefly what that was?

            PAINTER: Well, unit price was ‑‑‑ Mr. Brecky’s theory was that if we could produce a weapons piece cheaper, higher quality than anyplace in the United States, we would get the contract. And since the money all came from the Department of Energy, or AEC or DOE, whichever one was in, it was important to have something that you could hold up and say “Hey, we can do it cheaper than Savannah River,” or “We can do it cheaper than someplace else, so we think we should have the contract to continue doing it.” Of course, there’s a lot of politics involved, so you needed every little thing you could get to help push your side. While I was there at Z Plant, of course, like I say, we was making weapon pieces and recovering plutonium, I had the opportunity to work on a stepping* motor lathe control system to cut weapons pieces. And with another instrument specialist, Matt Napora* (phonetic), we worked with an engineer from Schenectady, New York who was the stepping motor specialist for General Electric Company, two mathematicians from downtown someplace, I have no idea where their office was, they spoke a language that we didn’t understand, but it was a very interesting, to say the least, job on the stepping motor to cut a weapons piece at that time. There was 27,000 steps on the tape to cut the piece. And we determined one day, Matt and I, that when we got back to zero after cutting the piece, we was not where we started originally. And we was able to determine that we were missing two pulses someplace on this tape. So the mathematicians came out, and we talked it over, we showed them that we was not returning to zero. And, like I say, they was speaking a language that I didn’t understand. And finally one of them says “I know where we’re missing those two pulses.” I was really impressed. They went back to town and made a new tape, it was the big tape decks, what we had, came back out, and the two pulses were in there. We never did use the system to cut weapons pieces, but they did take the system and they made the measurement device to measure the final inspection measurements of the pieces using the same principles and everything, and they did the final measurements using it. And for this, Matt and I got the general manager’s award and a nice little sum of money that bought me a new set of golf clubs and a few other small items that was highly appreciated. And then later on I was working in the 236 Building, and we had long glove boxes, extremely long glove boxes. And to put equipment into the glove boxes for failures, we’d go in the end of the glove box, and we had to move it down to the location where it went. And so we had a crane ‑‑‑ not a crane, but a hoist, that was on a long shaft that had a worm thread cut into it that you could move equipment up and down the glove box. The glove box was approximately 2½ feet thick, deep, and, oh, maybe 70 feet long, something like that. Well, one day I went downstairs to do a job, and the engineers were in there talking, and one of the maintenance engineers was there, and they were going to cut a hole through the front of the glove box and run a pipe in for a new chemical addition. And so I said “Hey, you can’t do that. We got to have access to the length of that glove box to move equipment back and forth.” And he said “Well, we’re going to do it anyhow.” So I went over to see the head manager of the maintenance department, and they were in a staff meeting. And I knocked on the door. I talked to the secretary and I said “Is it all right if I knock on the door?” and she said “Sure.” So, anyhow, I went into the staff meeting and I explained to them why they could not put this pipe through the glove box. Wes Shick* (phonetic) was the manager at that time, and he said “I agree with you 100%.” So I always thought that this had a lot to do with later on Wes come and said “Hey, I have a unit manager’s job open, and I’d like for you to take it. You’d be over the instrument department.” And so I said “Let me think about it a day or two,” and I ended up taking the job. And then later the fellow that was right below the manager, I forget what his title was at that time, he retired, and I was offered this job. So it was second level maintenance manager in Z Plant. And as time went on, the manager changed, and there were two or three changes, and then finally the manager that I was working for went to T Plant for the strontium cesium encapsulation, and I was asked if I would like to have the job as manager of the maintenance of all the labs, the safeguards equipment, the reclamation, and so I took the job. I stayed on that job until I retired.

            WEISSKOPF: How many years was that?

            PAINTER: Oh, gosh, don’t ask me time. I never was able to keep track of events or times. But I had a gentleman that worked out there, his name was George Puckett* (phonetic), that had a photographic memory for dates. If I needed to know a date when something happened, or how long a period of time, I just had to call George, and he’d say “Well, that was on October 17th, 1973,” or 1980, or whatever.

            WEISSKOPF: How about what year you retired?

            PAINTER: Well, I’ve been retired now for ‑‑‑ ‘89, I think I retired in ‘88.

            WEISSKOPF: (inaudible)*

            PAINTER: I’ve been retired more than that.

            WEISSKOPF: What’s his name, George?

            PAINTER: George Puckett.

            WEISSKOPF: Go ask him.

            PAINTER: Yeah. No, you can’t ask him. He’s dead now. Let me think about it just for a second. I retired ‑‑‑

            WEISSKOPF: Was it before (inaudible)*?

            PAINTER: Almost 15 years ago. It will be 15 years in April that I retired.

            WEISSKOPF: Okay.

            PAINTER: And I kept my clearance for one year by request of my boss, but I told him that I would never go back out unless it was a dire emergency, I would not go back out as an escort. At this time the paperwork shuffling was coming in, and I knew that that was not my ball of wax. I’d always worked under, like I say, the principle of unit price, and I did not want to become a paper shuffler. Budget was bad enough.

            WEISSKOPF: Okay. That’s good. A good recap of everything you did there in some sort of chronological order. Could we go way back to the beginning?

            PAINTER: Sure.

            WEISSKOPF: Sort of a generic question I’m always interested in. But where were you when Hanford became known to the world, and what did you know about the dropping of the bombs?

            PAINTER: I was just landing on the island of Okinawa when the bomb was dropped. And I always called him the Mad Colonel that we had. His one desire in life was to lead the invasion into Japan. And needless to say, I didn’t agree with what he wanted to do at all. So when the bombs were dropped, I thought it was the greatest thing in the world.

            WEISSKOPF: Did you understand what it was?

            PAINTER: Oh, yeah. Yeah. We got all the news, the services had the radio station there on Okinawa, and on the ship, what we was unloading from. We got all the news, the same as anybody else in the country. You know, we didn’t get detailed, the size of the bombs and everything. To say the least, I was very happy at the events. And I knew in my own mind that if I went in with this colonel that the chances of coming home was kind of slim. I think that it would have been a high death zone if we’d invaded Japan. I think the Japanese people would have taken up arms, and it would have been horrible. There would have been a lot more people killed on both sides than the ‑‑‑ the bombs would have just been a small amount compared to what would have died going into Japan.

            WEISSKOPF: When did you find out the connection between Hanford and the bomb?

            PAINTER: I heard the word Hanford, but it had no meaning. You know, it was like saying someplace over in Pakistan, or something like that. Hanford, Washington. Never heard of it.

            WEISSKOPF: Were you already here before you realized that the Hanford was the one where they made the bomb material?

            PAINTER: Yes. I was on my way to Seattle, like I said. Well, I had heard that Hanford was where they made the Big Boy bomb, or the material for the Big Boy, but it had no meaning whatsoever. When I was talking to the gentleman I came up with about Richland ‑‑‑ I’d heard of Walla Walla, and ‑‑‑

            WEISSKOPF: (inaudible)*

            PAINTER: Well, when I was a kid, or a young man, I had a Model T Ford, and Walla Walla used to have Model T Ford races, like the racetracks are today, and I always thought, you know, it would be nice to go to Walla Walla, Washington and race Model T Fords. I never did. And, again, you know, Hanford, this fellow I came with said he was going to Richland, Washington. Well, I’d never heard of Richland, and I had heard of Pasco, and I don’t think he knew anything about Hanford, either. He was just coming to visit his brother, like I was going to do.

            WEISSKOPF: Did you ever think that your job was short-term, that you’d be moving away?

            PAINTER: Yes. When I first came up here, like I said, I was only going to come for a short time and then go back to school. And I happened to meet a little girl down at the old drugstore downtown Richland, and things kind of matched. And 1947 I got married to this girl, and she didn’t especially like the idea of moving to Logan, Utah, where it was cold and icy and everything. And by that time I thought well, this is a pretty good location. I like the climate, I like the people I knew, so we just stayed here. But there was many times in the early days when ‑‑‑ of course, when you started off you was on the bottom of the list as far as layoffs, and often thought there was a possibility might get ROF’d. And then when I transferred to the instrument department, of course, I started all over on the seniority list, and once in a while they was having layoffs, and so I’d just kind of sweat them out. And I seemed to have just enough seniority that I would be 10 or 12 people above the cutoff mark. So I ended up staying here 39½ years working out at Hanford.

            WEISSKOPF: It was a brand new industry. Did it feel like it was an exciting industry to be in?

            PAINTER: I thought it was. I enjoyed ‑‑‑ for many, many years I looked forward to going to work every day. I can’t say that, you know, the people I talk to today, but I actually did, I looked forward to it. And it was very interesting to me, and I took an interest in the chemical end of it, and I took an interest in other parts, the instrumentation. I thought to be a good instrument man you had to know as much or more than the operators about the chemical process so you could make sure that the instrumentation was working properly. Or in the analytical lab, or safeguards equipment, or anything else, you had to know more than the people that was using it on how they were going to use it and what they should expect out of it. Like I say, I enjoyed my work out here, and I looked forward every day till, oh, about the last two years. Well, I was going to retire when I was 60 years old. I just had a goal to retire. And they decided to redo the oxide line at Z Plant, and I did a lot of the design work on the ‑‑‑ we had two oxide lines on the ‑‑‑ one oxide line. So my boss asked me if I would stay until we redid the second oxide line and got it in service. So I agreed that I would stay till it went hot. So instead of retiring at 60 like I planned, I worked till I was 62. But in that two years I said when the plant goes hot, that’s when I retire. So when they set the date when the plant was going to go hot, I told my boss that the last day of that month would be my last day at Hanford, and I wanted no retirement parties, I wanted nobody to know about anything except my boss and his secretary.

            WEISSKOPF: And how did that work out?

            PAINTER: It worked out fine for me. But my secretary is still bitter about it to this day. She didn’t know until 3:00 in the afternoon on Thursday that I would not be back to the project, and she was very upset about it.

            WEISSKOPF: She had to find somebody else to work with?

            PAINTER: No. They had a man coming in to take my place, and that was the problem, she didn’t mix well with him at all. But I see her every once in a while. She still lives in Richland, and she at least smiles at me, talks to me now, and she’s forgiven me.

            WEISSKOPF: In terms of instrumentation, could you give us the most typical instrument you ever worked with, or the most interesting, or the one that comes to mind?

            PAINTER: Well, what always comes to mind mostly for me is the Foxboro* Company (phonetic). I guess you could almost call me a sponsor for Foxboro Company. I thought the Foxboro Company made the best chemical measuring equipment that was made in the United States at that time. And so I was always fighting, whenever we’d change any process, was to have Foxboro equipment brought in. In fact, Minneapolis Honeywell made threats that they was going to go to court and have me as a witness as to why they could not get a bid in on equipment at Hanford at the Z Plant. And it was kind of hairy for a while there, but it faded away. I guess they got contracts for other ‑‑‑ Minneapolis Honeywell made very good equipment, but I didn’t think their process equipment ‑‑‑ they made great recorders and that type of equipment, but I didn’t think their process equipment compared to Foxboro.

            WEISSKOPF: Like give an example of a piece of process equipment.

            PAINTER: Well, we measured flow, we measured specific gravity, we measured weight factors in vessels, we measured temperatures, and controlled minute flows. In the process in the plutonium extraction, we measured flows that ‑‑‑ can I say what I want to on this tape?

            WEISSKOPF: Yes.

            PAINTER: Well, I used to say that some of our flows per hour, my boy that was in junior high school could pee more than was going through the control valves. We were measuring down into the like 15 liters per hour, full scale, and we would be measuring part of that. We’d be measuring and controlling maybe 3 liters per hour, which is, you know, that’s not very much. It was so small that I used to have difficulty ‑‑‑ they’d have a problem at night, and they would have a pipefitter open the line, and he would say, “Hey, it’s about plugged.” You know, 15 liters per hour. He wanted to see a flow that he could really see. So we had to do a lot of explaining on how small of a flow that was. To measure that flow, we measured it with orifice meters and we measured it with magnetic flow meters.

            WEISSKOPF: Could you explain what a magnetic flow meter was?

            PAINTER: Well, a magnetic flow meter has two electrodes, and it’s like a generator. As the fluid goes past the two electrodes, the fluid was the conductor, and it was like generating electricity, and it actually generated micro amperage, and we measured it and controlled with that. Of course, on the orifice meters, you’d measure the differential ‑‑‑

(Tape ran out)

            PAINTER: ...difficult, and we had problems. We took cans of plutonium waste and dissolved them in dissolvers. And there was ceramics, there was all kind of material in this waste. And to dissolve it and to get it into process, we had to use acids and so on that was extremely hard to control. And the acid part we used would try to eat up the vessel that we was using, so we had to have what they called kinar*, a plastic, lined dissolvers, and we used such things as hydrofluoric acid, and nitric acid, and different acids. But on our flowmeters, since there was electrodes, when they manufactured these meters they put O-rings on where the electrodes came into the flow stream. It was platinum electrodes. But the O-rings would fail, and it would only take a drop or two of liquid to get inside the magnetic flowmeter, and it would eat the wire connection off of the platinum electrodes. Well, if it ate the wire off of one side, the meter would only ‑‑‑ it would still record, and it would still generate electricity, but it would only generate half as much. So then I came up with the idea of measuring the signal that was going to the control valve. So if the control valve all at once opened up and doubled the opening, you knew that there was definitely something wrong. And that would give us a chance to shut the process down and go down and double-check the flowmeter. And the other concern that we had about these flowmeters was that they had copper coils and so on on the inside, and the containment part of the flowmeter was big enough that if the insides dissolved, you could have a critical mass. So if it failed, we wanted to get it out of there, and open it up and clean it up, dump it out and get it out of there ASAP.

            WEISSKOPF: Maybe that’s interesting. Where was that and what process was it where you were dealing with this?

            PAINTER: This was in 236-Z. We was recovering plutonium.

            WEISSKOPF: When you say plutonium waste, what is plutonium waste?

            PAINTER: Plutonium waste could be anything from plutonium buttons that we was reprocessing, it could be lathe turnings, it could be ceramic containers where the melded plutonium for pieces, it could be what they scraped out of hoods, dirt, electrical wiring. Anything.

            WEISSKOPF: How did you know how much plutonium was in there, in a vessel that you were dissolving, as far as criticality goes?

            PAINTER: We, by our system, knew in our columns what we were tapping off, we knew the concentration of plutonium.

            WEISSKOPF: Based on what?

            PAINTER: Neutrons. We had the neutron counters in various places on the columns, and when the neutron count would get up to a certain place, then we’d start tapping off the...

            WEISSKOPF: I thought plutonium was an (inaudible)*.

            PAINTER: It is, but there’s also neutrons. And so the vessels and anything in the hood was always concerned about criticality, see. Even though we operated on a unit price system, our number one goal was always safety. Production was very, very important, but safety was most important. And we had had one incident, and we sure didn’t want another incident.

            WEISSKOPF: In the 234?

            PAINTER: In the 234 Building. We had the incident in the recouplex, which was the old separations facility, and when they had the incident, then we shut down that facility. It needed to be shut down. It was obsolete and almost impossible to maintain.

            WEISSKOPF: Let’s talk about that. As far as hazards in an industrial setting, there were dangers on the job, there were chemical dangers, radiation dangers, equipment dangers. Did you ever run into any hazards, where you got hit by a car, or...

            PAINTER: No. Probably the worst thing for health, for me, was when I was working tank farms, when we was removing the uranium from the old tanks for the uranium recovery, we had periscopes in the tanks, the problem tanks, what they’re talking about today still. And there was sludge and everything in these tanks, just like there is still today. And we had sluice nozzles like they use in mining to cut the sludge, to dissolve it, get it into a liquid condition where we could take it out. But we had periscopes that went down into the tank, and periodically someone would turn one of the sluice nozzles on the light of the periscope, and of course it exploded, just the heat from the light, so we’d have to pull the periscope. And there was no buildings in the tank farms. You pulled it up into a plastic sock with a crane, and they hosed it down with the hose as they pulled it out of the ground, and the idea was to take a crew of 14 people and replace the light bulb.

            WEISSKOPF: Replace the light bulb?

            PAINTER: Replace a light bulb. And, of course, these light bulbs were in a bracket to hold them in place so they could be turned and moved to look at different parts of the tank, and then there was electrical connections to the light bulbs. And you would go in and maybe have, from the time you’d all dressed up in plastic and masks and the whole nine yards, and you would go in and maybe have 30 seconds to do your part of the job. And you’d have a burnout. A lot of times we’d take a double burnout, and then we couldn’t work in the radiation zone for a period of time. But I never had any ill effects, but I always was concerned about it healthwise.

            WEISSKOPF: How did that affect schedules when you ran into those kinds of problems?

            PAINTER: The problem at that time was, like I said, sometimes we’d take 14 men to change a light bulb. And we had a small shop up at the hot semiworks at the time, and you’d go back there, and this was the prototype for the REDOX building. But there wouldn’t be enough work, clean work, for 14 people to do. So there would be days that you’d sit there and act like you was busy, which was very difficult for me. That was the most difficult thing that I knew of, was trying to act like you was busy. Especially when visitors were coming in, and since it was the prototype for REDOX, there was always visitors coming to see what the process was doing, and so on.

            WEISSKOPF: When you say the hot semiworks, which building is it?

            PAINTER: Hot semiworks was at C tank farm area in East area, and it was the prototype for REDOX, which was in West area. REDOX was the separations plant before PUREX was built. From the old B and T Plants, which was the batch process, REDOX was the first continuous separations plant that was built. I never worked at REDOX. I don’t know anything about REDOX, other than, you know, I knew they had columns and ‑‑‑ but I never worked in the facility.

            WEISSKOPF: One thing I’m always curious about is everything was kind of top secret. You had a clearance, right? And how does that affect one’s work in Hanford in the early days versus later on? Were you free to know everything?

            PAINTER: You was basically free to know what you worked with, or the part where you was working. You wasn’t free to know everything. I had a top secret clearance, so I could look at documents on what we were doing. I could look at ‑‑‑ everything was secret. You know, things that you would not even today think was secret. Temperatures, and configuration, how we coated weapons pieces, how we measured weapons pieces, how we count weapons pieces, what did they look like, how did you measure them, how did you take the components and know that they were fit together, and so on. This was all of course top secret. You had the clearance to know enough about it to do your job, but other parts, no.

            WEISSKOPF: Even though you had a clearance, you weren’t free to go and hang out at the reactors and ask questions, or anything like that.

            PAINTER: Oh, no. No. And at that time, in the Z Plant, they had sections in there where you would go through doors. To go in through that door, you’d have to be checked, make sure you had a top secret clearance. Sometimes you had to sign a book to go in, that you went in at a certain time and you came out at a certain time.

            WEISSKOPF: Did everybody in your position have a top secret clearance?

            PAINTER: Everybody that worked in Z Plant. They didn’t all have top secret clearances when they came in. They had to have a minimum of a Q* clearance. But we had power and ventilation equipment in the facility, and we had equipment that you could work on with a Q clearance that was not in the top secret zones. And so we had ‑‑‑ our department at that time, in the instrument department, I think was like 12 people, or 14 people, and there was probably two or three people waiting to get a top secret clearance. But they couldn’t go into the areas where we was checked, double-checked to go into.

            WEISSKOPF: Have you ever been followed up since you retired, with all that vast knowledge?

            PAINTER: No. But I’ll tell you, it scared the daylights out of my mother when the FBI, who was doing the investigating at that time, was talking to the neighbors, and schoolteachers, and so on.

            WEISSKOPF: You were applying for your top secret?

            PAINTER: Yeah. And my mother had no idea what I was doing, and she didn’t know whether I was headed for Walla Walla State Penitentiary or what. It made her awfully nervous. And of course the neighbors, they wanted to know what was going on, too, when the knock would come at their door and “Hey, do you know William Painter?” “Yeah.” “What do you know about him?” And of course they would never say what the reason was, that it’s job-related.

            WEISSKOPF: And I guess when you went home at night you couldn’t talk about work too much.

            PAINTER: I didn’t talk about it, and I was never asked about it. It was just, I think, during the war that this set up a custom here in Tri Cities that you didn’t talk about your job when you got home. I know the story went on right after I came up here that one of the teachers, right after they dropped the bombs, asked the students ‑‑‑ this was a grade school class ‑‑‑ asked the students, she said “Do you know what they’re doing out at Hanford?” And this little girl said “Yes, I know what they do out there.” And the teacher said “Oh, you do? What is it?” She said “Well, they make toilet paper.” She said “What,” and she says “Why do you think they make toilet paper?” And she says, “Well, you know, it’s hard to get toilet paper, and my daddy brings a roll home,” and he did about once or twice a week.

            WEISSKOPF: And on the bus going out and coming back you wouldn’t talk about work?

            PAINTER: Not normally, no, you didn’t. What I did on the bus, I worked shift work for a few years, and we either played poker, or we played bridge, or we played hearts. Some of the people read. Some of the people slept. I happened to think I was a poker player at that time, and I found out I wasn’t.

            WEISSKOPF: Give us your morning routine.

            PAINTER: Well, I decided early that ‑‑‑ I joined a car pool for a while, and we had a couple people that we had to get out of bed, and I said that’s not going to work, so I started riding the buses. I would get up about quarter to six in the morning, and my wife would get up the same time. She would fix my breakfast while I bathed and got ready to go to work. And at ten after six I’d go in and eat breakfast, at six-thirty she’d have my lunch made, and I’d grab my dinner bucket and go to catch the bus. And it cost all of a nickel to ride out to work.

            WEISSKOPF: Did you walk to the bus?

            PAINTER: Walked to the bus. It was only two short blocks. Very short, easy to do. And they told us at that time that the nickel was so you was paid carrier for liability insurance reasons. And when I was at Z Plant it was 33 miles. The bus at my place ran right around 6:31. You could almost set your watch on it. We was the second stop on the bus, so they always left the first stop at a certain time, and by our stop it was a couple minutes later. And we started work at 7:48 out on the projects. At that time we had to go to the old bus terminal, which was on Wilson Street in Richland. And we’d get off the bus, there would be people who were going to the 100 area, people that was going all different areas that would ride the bus to the bus lot. Then you would transfer onto the bus that was going to the area where you worked. And you would go out, for instance when I worked at East area, you’d ride out to East area, you’d get off the bus, you’d walk through the badge house and you’d show your pass and you’d pick up a dosimeter and pencils. Then you’d walk inside, then you’d get on the bus that went to the building where you worked. So you went from an area driving from a total pickup, to an area transfer, to a building transfer. And you got to the facility where you was working and start work at 7:48. And we had a 30 minute lunch period, and we quit at 4:18. Let’s go back on that. The buses left the area at 4:18. We would get on the bus about 4:00 and ride up to the area badge house, go back through the badge house, turn in our pencils, turn in our dosimeters, get on the bus that was going back to the bus lot. At the bus lot we’d get on the bus that was going to the street where we lived. And I’d get home about 5:15 or 5:20 in the evening.

            WEISSKOPF: That’s a long day.

            PAINTER: Yeah, it was a long day. It was almost 11 hours. But like I say, in the early days I played poker, I played hearts, I played all different kind of card games on the bus. Read a lot of times. But later on, when I got into the management end of it, then I used the bus time to do work that I would have had to do at home, so I didn’t mind riding the bus. I never considered going back into a car pool all the time I was out there.

            WEISSKOPF: (inaudible)* smoking.

            PAINTER: Well, the smoking would get so bad in the back of those buses that you couldn’t see the cards you were holding in your hand. There would be pipe smokers, there would be cigar smokers, there would be chain smokers. And I can’t say anything against them, because I was a smoker too at that time.

            WEISSKOPF: What was the situation at work? Where were you allowed to smoke at work?

            PAINTER: At work, most of the shops you could smoke in the shops. In the radiation zones you could not smoke. Like Z Plant, there was a 10-minute break in the morning and a 10-minute break in the afternoon that you could go over and have a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette. Or in Z Plant there were offices on the back side that were clean, and you could go in the offices at that time, or either go into the control room and have a cigarette if you wanted it.

            WEISSKOPF: In the control room?

            PAINTER: Yeah. But I quit smoking by that time, so I had no problem. I figured 20 years of smoking was long enough.

            WEISSKOPF: Going back to the uranium UO process, that was in U Plant.

            PAINTER: That was in U Plant.

            WEISSKOPF: West area.

            PAINTER: In West area. Originally, when I first went there, we were processing old material that had been in the tank farms from day one.

            WEISSKOPF: Were they piping that in?

            PAINTER: Yeah. Yeah. We piped everything into there from all the tanks in both East and West area. But it was old material, and so it had had a chance to decay a lot of it. And so we had two parallel lines that we were using to recover uranium, and the zirconium and all the other byproducts we just sent back to the tank farms. But then when we started getting on the newer stuff, we couldn’t clean it up enough with one line, so we took our parallel lines and put them in series. So basically we’d run it through twice to get all of the byproducts.

            WEISSKOPF: You were using equipment in the cells like the building was designed for originally?

            PAINTER: Yeah. Well, it had been modified.

            WEISSKOPF: How many cells did it take for one line, do you think? You had 40 cells in the whole building, right?

            PAINTER: I don’t remember whether we had 40 or ‑‑‑

            WEISSKOPF: Twenty sections, 40 cells?

            PAINTER: Yeah, I think it is, yeah.

            WEISSKOPF: And you had two lines running.

            PAINTER: Right.

            WEISSKOPF: So that each was using no more than 20 cells.

            PAINTER: Right.

            WEISSKOPF: Why couldn’t you get it as clean as they did in T Plant and U Plant originally?

            PAINTER: Well, because a lot of this half-life stuff, it was too hot for specs.

            WEISSKOPF: It wasn’t any hotter than when they first did a fresh batch 10 years earlier?

            PAINTER: Oh, yeah. Yeah. A lot of the half-life material. You know, there’s half-life material that is nanoseconds, and there’s half-life material that’s thousands of years. But I think the cesium and strontium was the two bad ones, what we were trying to make sure we got all of it out.

            WEISSKOPF: Were you bothering to get out any more plutonium, or was that done initially?

            PAINTER: Plutonium was not a ‑‑‑ basically, we wanted to recover uranium.

            WEISSKOPF: And lots of it, right?

            PAINTER: All of it.

            WEISSKOPF: Because there were many tons of uranium.

            PAINTER: Oh, yeah, there’s tons and tons of uranium. Only a very small part of the uranium that was in the original reactors ever made it to plutonium, and so we was recovering the unused uranium. And like you say, it was tons and tons of it.

            WEISSKOPF: You lowered the tanks by taking out uranium, but your process created waste too?

            PAINTER: Oh, I’m sure it did. Although we used a lot of nitric acid, and we had a nitric acid recovery system in the facility. I don’t know where ‑‑‑ we sold the nitric acid. Now, when I say selling it, it may have went to Savannah River job or it may have went someplace else. I don’t know just where it was, but we measured the nitric acid that we recovered out of the system.

            WEISSKOPF: Wait a minute. Recovered out of the waste banks or out of your own process?

            PAINTER: Out of both.

            WEISSKOPF: Really?

            PAINTER: Yeah.

            WEISSKOPF: Was it hot?

            PAINTER: I’m sure it was contaminated, but it was reasonably clean. I don’t know just how clean it was. Like I say, I don’t know exactly where ‑‑‑ we just measured it, and we sold it. And whether we were selling it to the Atomic Energy Commission to go to some other plant or where it went, I don’t know.

            WEISSKOPF: Where were you in U Plant for that kind of work? Where was your day spent?

            PAINTER: Usually, for the most part, I was in the separations building. I worked in the separations building until ‑‑‑ we had pot calsigners* at that time to make powder out of uranium, which was like a big mixing pot with a big agitator in it, and it had electric elements cooking it. And you’d cook it down until it was a powder, and then you would take pipes that had a vacuum hooked to them and you would manually go down in these tanks manually, we called them idiot sticks, and you would manually move the pipes up and down in the powder to suck the powder out of these pots.

            WEISSKOPF: Was that in the canyon?

            PAINTER: No. No.

            WEISSKOPF: Outside of it?

            PAINTER: It was outside. The radiation was so low that uranium was not ‑‑‑ you didn’t worry about uranium like you did plutonium. Uranium was a natural element. Uranium was a kidney seeker. If you got it, most of it went out of your system in your urine. So it was not like plutonium. Plutonium being a bone seeker, it went to your bones and it stayed there. When you were working with the powder, you wore respirators or masks. But when we started the first continuous calsigners, then I went over to the 224-U, the adjoining building, not the canyon building. And I went over there on that process to put that in and help follow with construction, and went on through, and that’s where I met Milt Zalinski. Like I say, he was the father of the process, one of the best, greatest guys I ever come across in my life. Not only process-wise, he would answer any question that you thought you could ask. And what I liked about Milt Zalinski was that he would try to give you an answer, and he was not a bit backward and say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” And in a couple days you’d get a page that Milt Zalinski was looking for you, contact him at his office, his phone number or whatever, and Milt would tell you what the answer was. Or if he had told you something that wasn’t quite true, he’d say “Hey, what I told you the other day was not true at all.” And, you know, I admired him for doing that. We had some people that would never admit that they ever said anything wrong or made a mistake. Milt was in national magazines on chemical separations and so on. Another man I met out there was Jim Lowe. Jim got the Kaufman* Award from General Electric Company, which I think they only gave out one or two a year, or something like that, in all of General Electric Company, a very smart guy and a very nice guy. And I was able to work with him, and it was just a great experience. I loved it at that time. Like I say, I looked forward to going to work.

(Tape ran out)

            WEISSKOPF: ...people weren’t so easy to get along with.

            PAINTER: Well, that always happened. Not very often, thank heavens. There was times when there was problems with people.

            WEISSKOPF: Never got ahead of you? Never got to be too much.

            PAINTER: Never got too much with me. I think I was pretty well able to work with about anybody out there. And I had friends in all departments. And like I say, I worked in different buildings all over the 200 area, and I knew power people, I knew operations people, I knew RM people, I knew ‑‑‑ and that was another thing, when General Electric Company was the only company here, you were more of all one family. After they split them up, then you went different ways and you lost track of a lot of people and a lot of people you didn’t know.

            WEISSKOPF: Did you feel like everybody was going to be doing this kind of work in 20, 30, 40 years? Did you have visions that this was just the beginning of the nuclear industry and where it might go from there?

            PAINTER: I had the feeling that ‑‑‑ I got a set of books, DOE put out a set of books on all different kind of things about atomic energy and about peaceful use of the atom. And by this time, my wife was a schoolteacher, and I found out about this set of books, so I asked them if it was possible ‑‑‑ these were books that was open to anybody, just general information. And so I was able to obtain a complete set of these books for my wife to use in school. And they were just little pamphlets, they were just giveaway type pamphlets. But I thought yes, you know, that this was the coming thing, and I didn’t think the people would ever have the fear of it that has been created. And I still think that we had ‑‑‑ I know that we had one of the best safety records of any industry anyplace. I read about building the dams and bridges and so on, where they expected one death for every million dollars spent. You know, if we’d have had anything like that, the whole world would have panicked. It’s all right for other industries, but it’s not all right for the atomic energy industry. And I’m not for being careless, you know. I don’t think ‑‑‑ I always said that atomic material was like ultra high pressure steam, or ultra high voltage electricity. You work with it, but you respect it, and you don’t take chances with it. I think that you learned to work with it and do it properly, that it’s a safe thing to do.

            WEISSKOPF: Do you remember when the Nautilus was built and sailed under the polar ice cap?

            PAINTER: I remember it, yeah.

            WEISSKOPF: Did it strike you as Yeah, now we see where all this is going?

            PAINTER: Well, yes. But there was other ‑‑‑ you know, they tried to develop an atomic airplane engine. And we got reports and talked to people. We got visitors from all different facilities and so on, get to talk to them, that was working on different projects. And it was mind-boggling, some of the ideas and so on of what they had for atomic. But I was always curious. I used to ask the fellows, I was telling you about the mag flowmeters what we had, that the electrodes would leak, and we had quite a few atomic submarine people come out to the plant, and I’d ask them, I’d say “How the hell do you test O-rings on a submarine?” They used O-rings on periscopes and everything. They said “It’s easy. You go out and dive them. If they leak, you come in and replace them and repair them.” I was then trying to replace little O-rings on a magnetic flowmeter, and I guess we did the same thing, when they leaked we replaced them.

            WEISSKOPF: What kind of pressure was that particular one under?

            PAINTER: Our pumps were 220 volt pumps and probably put out ‑‑‑ well, our columns were six stories high and they had to overcome the back pressure of a column, so I’d say they was, I don’t know, 40 pounds, 50 pounds pressure, just a random number.

            WEISSKOPF: Not like a submarine.

            PAINTER: Not like a submarine.

            WEISSKOPF: A little bit more about the T Plant. Did you know the crane operators, did you know guys who were hanging out in the canyon?

            PAINTER: Oh, yeah. Well, one of our responsibilities, we had measuring equipment in the canyon, in the cells, that we would have to replace, so you got to know the crane operators, you got to know the operations people. And our crane operator did all his work through periscope, and that was another responsibility we had.

            WEISSKOPF: With instruments, you mean?

            PAINTER: Yeah. Was to maintain the periscopes. So we had had times when we’d have to go in and put up scaffolding. Well, the ironworkers would put up the scaffolding for us, but we’d have to go up and grease the tubes on the periscopes and change out the optics and redo them.

            WEISSKOPF: Was any of that equipment affected by the radiation that it dealt with? Fogging of glass, or anything like that?

            PAINTER: I don’t think so. I think it was more fumes and dust and things like that. Our problems of high radiation was not like it was in the reactors. One of the materials that we used a lot of was Teflon. And we made gaskets out of Teflon, we made all kinds of things out of Teflon. There was a study made that Teflon would break down under radiation, and so somebody said “Well, we’re going to outlaw Teflon.” Well, Teflon is almost inert to chemical process. It was a great material for us. And we said “What are we going to do if they cut it off?” And they said “Well, it can’t stand the radiation.” Well, they never took into consideration the difference in the level of the radiation in the reactors compared to the level of radiation at our place. So eventually somebody wised up and said there may be better material, and we found some better material than Teflon, but we never stopped using Teflon, thank God. I don’t know what we’d have done if we had had to stop using Teflon. Because we had gaskets like you can’t believe in the process. All the jumpers were sealed with Teflon. Most all the pipe fittings, what we used, had Teflon inserts in them.

            WEISSKOPF: And when you were working in U Plant, was it still all remotely operated as it had been during the initial bismuth phosphate separations?

            PAINTER: The canyon?

            WEISSKOPF: Yes.

            PAINTER: Yeah. Yeah, the crane operator ‑‑‑ that was another thing I used to admire, is how they could look down in those cells with that periscope and disconnect jumpers and so on, and raise them up, big cell blocks, what they’d have to take out first, set them over to the side, disconnect the jumper, and they may ‑‑‑ the jumper, the piece of equipment that failed may be three or four levels down, they might have to remove three or four other jumpers to get to it. And then they’d bring it up and set aside, or take it down to the canyon away from the open cell, and then go in and clean it up to where we could go in and work on it. Of course, you was in double coveralls and masks and all the breathing apparatus and so on, but at least you could go in and work on it.

            WEISSKOPF: When the tanks were empty, it was safe to be in there?

            PAINTER: Oh, yeah. Yeah. In fact, the canyon being so long, you could have the jumpers off in a cell that was a long ways away from you. It didn’t matter how much was in the tank, this wouldn’t affect you. The old rule was that by the square of the distance you get away from the source, the level goes down by the square of the distance.

            WEISSKOPF: Did you ever get to ride in the crane?

            PAINTER: I’ve ridden in the crane, because we had the periscope or the eyepieces and all were in the crane, and we also had radiation monitoring equipment in the crane itself. And so we’d go in and be working on them while he was doing his work, if we was working on the recording outfit or something like that that didn’t have anything to do with his periscope.

            WEISSKOPF: How big was the cab, that two guys could be in there at the same time?

            PAINTER: I’d say the cab on the outside was probably 10 foot square. And it was hanging over on the back side of a wall from the canyon, and it had like a vault door going into it.

            WEISSKOPF: Did it have its own air supply at that point, do you remember?

            PAINTER: It had its own filtration and so on. It always amazed me, like I say, how those crane operators could, you know, looking down through a periscope with one eye.

            WEISSKOPF: Do you think somebody gave them a plan for what they had to take off?

            PAINTER: Oh, yeah. All the jumpers and everything was numbered, they had letters and numbers on them, so they knew what they had to remove and in what order they had to remove them. And then they had, you know, they had to make up the jumper. It had a ‑‑‑ I don’t remember now what they called it, but it had a three-prong piece that went around to pull the jumper in and tighten it up so it didn’t leak and so on, yeah. They had to put the jumper in, then they had to bolt it down, so to speak, for leaks and so on.

            WEISSKOPF: Switching subjects and filling up the tape towards the end, what would you have been doing if you hadn’t ended up at Hanford? Go back to where you were a teenager and before the war.

            PAINTER: Well, when I went to school before I went in the Army, I was going out in civil engineering. And probably if I hadn’t gone into the Army, I’m sure I wouldn’t have got out of school in four years, because I didn’t have that much money. I’d had to have some open periods there to earn money. But I’d have probably finished out in civil engineering. And I don’t know, I don’t really think civil engineering would have really been my field, but that was what I started in.

            WEISSKOPF: When was the first time you heard the words atomic energy?

            PAINTER: When they dropped the bomb.

            WEISSKOPF: Not before then?

            PAINTER: No. Had no idea about anything as far as atomic energy. I had chemistry in high school, and I had chemistry in the lab in the first semester of college, and it was never mentioned at that time that I ever knew of. Maybe I was asleep that day that they mentioned it, I don’t know, if they did.

            WEISSKOPF: Is there anything you feel like, some subjects you can either mention now, or talk about now, or save until next time? Is there anything you want to fill in that we didn’t touch on?

            PAINTER: Well, I was asked, you know, how much did you ever work in the 100 areas. The only time I ever worked in the 100 areas was downtime for the reactors. And I only worked at B Reactor one time.

            WEISSKOPF: Working on the instruments?

            PAINTER: Yeah.

            WEISSKOPF: Like what aspect? Why did they have to bring you in?

            PAINTER: Well, burnout. They had all of the back side was covered with thermomes* for temperature measurements, pressure gauges for all the I don’t remember how many thousand pressure gauges they had there. But the back side of the reactor would be a burnout situation, and they would burn out their people ‑‑‑

            WEISSKOPF: Better explain what burnout is.

            PAINTER: Well, they’d get them out of radiation that they was allowed per week, or per day, or per whatever period. And they would be wanting to get the reactor back up in the shortest time possible, and in the 200 areas we had thermomes, the same thermomes as they was using for measuring temperature in the B area, so we’d work our shift in our home plant and go over work in B area on swing shift, or graveyard, or maybe Saturday or Sunday, just to get the reactor back up and operating again.

            WEISSKOPF: You were working on the rear face of the reactor?

            PAINTER: Rear face and sometimes in the control room.

            WEISSKOPF: How did you have to dress up in the rear face?

            PAINTER: Coveralls.

            WEISSKOPF: Was it wet back there?

            PAINTER: It was wet, yes. I was trying to think how much, what we had to wear as far as liquid. It wasn’t very much. It was down at the time, of course, and water was ‑‑‑ you know, the rods were in, and...

            WEISSKOPF: Water was still flowing, though, through the tubes? When you took a thermocouple out, did water come out too?

            PAINTER: No. The thermomes were in wells. They were in their own wells. If you dropped anything, the pool was right below you and you didn’t recover it. It just went splash, and especially it was embarrassing if you dropped the last ‑‑‑ we had a lot of special tools made up to get into places and turn objects and whatever was needed, and if they were down to the last tool and you dropped it in the pool, it was kind of embarrassing to tell them on the front side whoops! And they would just say “Well, come out, we’ve got other ones being made.”

            WEISSKOPF: Was there ever any job on Hanford that you never did but you always thought would have been a good one? Anything else look more exciting?

            PAINTER: Well, I kind of wanted to work in PUREX when it first opened up. I thought my best field was the chemical processing, the instrumentation for chemical processing. Analytical labs, I could do most of the jobs, but I didn’t think that I was the best person in that lab to do the job. I knew there was other people that knew the equipment and everything a lot better than I did. But I thought in the chemical processing line that, knock on wood, that there wasn’t any better than I was for the instrumentation, and knowing the process, and knowing what to do to take care of the problems.

            WEISSKOPF: Did any phases of your career ever get boring? You mentioned the one where there wasn’t anything going on, but when there was stuff going on, were there some jobs that you were glad to get out of?

            PAINTER: Oh, there must have been.

            WEISSKOPF: You changed a lot, right?

            PAINTER: Yeah.

            WEISSKOPF: It was a growing industry.

            PAINTER: Yeah. And like I said, I wanted to go to work every day. It was an interesting ‑‑‑ if they had asked me if I wanted to work on Saturday or Sunday, I probably, back in the early days, I’d have said yeah, you know, with no extra pay or anything. The salary was never a major item to me. I wanted to be the highest paid man in that department, but I wasn’t out saying “Hey, we should have our wages doubled,” or anything like that, “We’re more important than somebody else.” So that was not the incentive for me, salary. I just enjoyed what I was doing. I liked working with the people, and most of the people, like I say, the engineering department and so on, they showed an appreciation for what I was doing, and it was just good, interesting work. And, you know, when people are saying “Hey, you did a good job. Thank you,” and “Please help us out on this,” “Help us out on that,” and there was a lot of it ‑‑‑ my wife and a lot of people always said that I should have been a design engineer and not come up through the instrument field. But I did a lot of design work, but not as a design engineer. The old process, what we had out there, to change the design on something, you could write what they called an FCN or a Facility Change Notice. And if you came up with an idea that you thought would help, you could talk it over with everybody and make a Facility Change Notice, and it would go through engineering, and they’d have to sign off on it, but you could change the whole design of process, which made it very interesting to me.

            WEISSKOPF: A man who liked his job.

            PAINTER: Yeah.

            WEISSKOPF: That’s nice.

            PAINTER: And when I followed construction, when they built 236-Z, I followed the whole mechanical end of it: The electrical, and the piping, instrumentation, safeguards, the whole nine yards. So it was very interesting. I worked with a lot of different construction people. You talk about frustrations. I did have some frustrations on that job. We had two DOE people, and DOE had just went through a big lawsuit. And the people what we had, I don’t want to say anything bad about DOE, but we had two people out there that they just could not tell the construction people no. Construction worked them over for every bit of money they could possibly work them over for, and they wouldn’t change anything out. You’d tell them it was wrong, that we didn’t want to do it that way, that the drawing they used was just a typical and it was not the drawing that showed exactly how things had to be installed. For example, the high pressure side of an instrument might be on the right instead of on the left that was on the typical. And even though you told them that it had to be changed, the piping had to be in to the other side, and you’d get the drawings and everything, they would go by that ‑‑‑ they’d install it wrong on purpose so that they could get a change order to change it back for dollars. And that just burned me. That wasn’t my philosophy at all, and that was quite frustrating. Then DOE would not back me when I tried to fight them on it. They said “Hey, let them install it backwards, and then we’ll give them a change notice to change it.” So there was frustrations at times. But all in all, you know, it was still, it was a great job.

            WEISSKOPF: Well, good.

            PAINTER: One thing I did, like I say, when I first went over to the instrumentation, I was on the bottom of the trainee list. And I got to U Plant, and I got assigned with a man named Bob Rhodes* (phonetic) who was a technician. And Bob Rhodes was a very critical man, and if he didn’t have any faith in what you did, he was very difficult to work with. If you had to be separated, he’d check both ends to make sure that you did your job right. And I’d heard a lot of words about Bob Rhodes, and I got assigned to work with him. And Bob and I hit it off great. He’d tell me what we needed to do, and I’d do my end, and he’d do his end, and I never had a speck of trouble with that man. And as a result, I progressed much faster in the instrument end at U Plant than the normal rate for a trainee. So while I was still a trainee, I was asked all the time to do journeyman work, and this caused a little bit of friction union-wise, but it gave me the opportunity to learn the process and to learn the instruments at a much faster rate than I would have ever had otherwise. And Bob never questioned. If I’d say I found so-and-so and it was in such-and-such a condition, he never questioned me, he never went back to double-check, and I made damn sure I never gave him a reason to question me or go back and double-check.

            WEISSKOPF: Why do you think the instruments were used throughout the site but each area had its own group of instrument people?

            PAINTER: Yes.

            WEISSKOPF: Why didn’t they just have one team of instrument people?

            PAINTER: Well, they had a manager over the whole deal, but the teams were separated. And it was because you’d learn to do the job, you’d learn where the equipment was, you’d learn the requirements of the job, you’d learn what you had to do for radiation, you could do the job in much shorter time and much more efficient time. But if a new job came up and somebody applied for it, and they had whiskers, seniority, you might get moved out of your job to another area to fill in where somebody had left. That’s the way before I went to U Plant, that’s the reason I went to Z Plant in the first place was to take the place of a man that had gone to PUREX. Harry Shaw* was another manager out there that I really thought a lot of. He came to work out at Hanford, I think from the Denver Ordinance, and he had a degree, but he went up through, he started right at the bottom of the plant, in the instrument department, and ended up as the vice president of Arco*. And I worked for Harry later on, and he was a smart enough man that you didn’t give him alibis. Alibis to Harry was always you had failed some way or you wouldn’t need an alibi. And it hurt a lot of people to work around Harry, because Harry would not accept alibis. Or, you know, he may have to accept it, but he didn’t like it and he always questioned it. But I thought he was a great person to work for, because you didn’t BS him, you didn’t beat around the bush, and you might as well tell him right out front what went wrong and say what we did to correct it.

            WEISSKOPF: A different tack. Were there any women working on the line with you, operators?

            PAINTER: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we had ‑‑‑ the analytical lab was full of women, of course. To start with, all the operators were men, but later on they had female operators. But most of the women that I got acquainted with, the female operators mostly came in after I was already in management. But in the analytical lab I met a lot of women.

            WEISSKOPF: You weren’t exactly trained for your job when you came out of high school.

            PAINTER: No.

            WEISSKOPF: Where were they pulling people later on? What kind of people would hire out at Hanford?

            PAINTER: Well, later on, then, they started Valpariso* Tech in Indiana, we had got quite a few people from their school.

            WEISSKOPF: Specific training?

            PAINTER: Yeah. And we had people that quit college, you know, second or third year, that either couldn’t cut it, money or whatever reason, that had a lot of training in dynamics chemistry, electronics. We got a lot of people out of electronic type schools. The program that I went through out here, and they finally dropped it, and instead of sending one day a week, like I went through, going to school on the project, they started going to Columbia Basin [College]. And they paid all their fees at Columbia Basin.

            WEISSKOPF: Always in some kind of training because you were always changing jobs, you could always learn from it?

            PAINTER: Oh, there was always learning to do. And, you know, the computer came in, everything was ‑‑‑ first of all, you know, you didn’t have any continuous process ‑‑‑

(Tape ran out)

            PAINTER: all the instrumentation changed. The old went out. A lot of the instrumentation that came in was experimental and died a natural death. It didn’t sell, and you couldn’t get parts for it. The communications parts came in, the safeguard equipment came in. It was kind of exciting, really. I never did get to learn everything about all of it, but I knew just enough to speak to my people about it. And, you know, if I went out in the field to look at what they were doing, I knew what it was supposed to do. And I may not know all the technical ways that it was doing it, but it was a very interesting job.

            WEISSKOPF: Did you ever see how they do chemical separations fuel processing in France or countries that have a lot of commercial power?

            PAINTER: No. At one time there was a program that came up, we was going to do laser separation, chemical separation, and the plant was supposed to be in Z Plant to do this. And a lot of the design work came in, and I got to go to a lot of the meetings, and look at a lot of the designs, and how they were going to do it and everything, but it never did come about.

            WEISSKOPF: How would you use a laser to separate out materials (inaudible)*

            PAINTER: Well, I don’t know whether I can tell you that or not. But, anyhow, they shoot a laser through it.

            WEISSKOPF: Is it something that DuPont might use in a nylon factory? Was it just a normal process they were going to adapt?

            PAINTER: No. I don’t think so. I think this was all originated in the labs down in California.

            WEISSKOPF: And when you said you probably couldn’t tell me, is that because you don’t know or it’s probably something you shouldn’t talk about?

            PAINTER: Both. Both. Both, yeah. Because I don’t know what the classification is on any of that stuff.

            WEISSKOPF: If you had a guy come in from a nylon factory, DuPont or Dow engineer worked on a factory, almost like a chemical engineer, would he understand what’s going on in the uranium plant or (inaudible)*?

            PAINTER: I think so. You know, he may not know everything about it, but he would pick it up real fast. Basically, you know, most of the chemical processes are pretty standard.

            WEISSKOPF: Whether you’re pulling out gold or copper or anything (inaudible)*

            PAINTER: Well, a lot of these know the schools in the chemistry department, and in their studies and what have you, they’re doing analysis and separating and so on. I know the ones that we got into the chemical processing, the engineering people that come out, not all of them was through the atomic field, there was a lot of them that had chemistry degrees, or physics degrees, or something like that. They knew what you was talking about. They’d heard about it some way. And they may not know all the details, and the weights, and the percentages, and what have you, but basically they knew what it was.

            WEISSKOPF: Because the people who first designed the process were chemists.

            PAINTER: Yeah. Right.

            WEISSKOPF: Nuclear (inaudible)*

            PAINTER: Right.





Bit Rate/Frequency




B Reactor Museum Association, “Bill Painter Oral History,” Hanford History Project, accessed April 16, 2024,