One Cold War Era Hanford Worker Remembers His Days On the Site

Oct 31, 2011
Originally published on October 28, 2011 5:31 pm

RICHLAND, Wash. — Sunday is the National Day of Remembrance honoring Cold War nuclear workers. In the Tri-Cities, Washington, dozens of the people who worked at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to help make plutonium for bombs gathered Friday. Correspondent Anna King met James Bresina , and she has this audio postcard about his time on the nuclear site.

When I started out there I was what they call a 'youth opportunity trainee.' I made $1.25 and hour for my wages.

My name is James Bresina, and I worked at Hanford from 1966 to 1995. It was very secretive. Very tense.

Our main project was to keep the reactors running. And all the employees would volunteer just to do what they could do to keep the reactors up and running. It was a great time. We had a mission.

The old hands like myself remember the Cold War. But the young people that are coming up now they don't have the faintest idea –- anything about the Hanford site or why the Tri-Cities is even here.

There's a lot of stories. Since I was the junior guy in the shop I ended up always working in the hot shop. Which is where you worked on contaminated parts. And the millwright next to me in the hot shop broke the valves down and sent them over to me to take off the chrome plating that was on the stems. I would get them in 55 gallon drums and machine the chrome off.

I asked the radiation monitor if it was OK if I didn't wear gloves. And he says 'sure, no problem you don't need gloves, they're low radiation.'

To make a long story short, he threw one in that wasn't de-coned, and it was hotter than a pistol. So the radiation monitor they washed my hands. And they ended up having to take off the first layer of my palms to get the contaminates out. But I got cleaned up. But everyone from the shop came and clapped their hands and says 'hey, congratulations, you're now one of the guys.'

My folks came here in '43 to work on the Hanford site. They loved it here. And so here I am, and I always will be here.

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