By Simreet Daliwal
In a quiet corner of central Washington, the Hanford Nuclear Site exists as a reminder of patriotism, anger, and survival. The people who work there clock in every day to clean up and maintain the nuclear waste that threatens to poison Americans. Since the day that Hanford opened in 1943, the necessity of working for the betterment of the United States has existed in the thoughts of Hanford workers. However, the context around that patriotism has shifted greatly over the years.
The day the atomic bomb hit Japan, workers at Hanford rejoiced. The accounts from those workers describe feelings of relief and pride in bringing the war to an end. They saw it as the necessary means to end a war that was killing people all across Europe and hurting others around the world. They had done their part for America despite never having left. The secrecy, difficult living conditions, and work had a clear objective. The day the war ended, it was all worth it.
After the Second World War, Hanford plunged into its second era of work. The Cold War brought more secrecy and even more patriotism. The emphasis put on scientific progress was felt intensely at Hanford. It was a site that directly aided the United States’ efforts in surpassing the Soviet Union. If an active War began, the U.S. would be armed with nuclear weapons. A past worker at Hanford recalled training sessions that taught workers the many traps Soviet spies might set. Don’t drink heavily, commit adultery, or participate in any other activity that may warrant blackmail. In other words, protect your country. If Hanford workers had been behind the scenes of the Second World War, they were the stars of the Cold War. The stress was momentous. Eventually, the nuclear arms race would have to come to an end.
In a sense, it did. Production at Hanford ceased in the late 1980s. The cleanup process, however, turned into a different kind of war.. Workers who discover leaks and the ill effects of living around nuclear radiation fight a war of their own. They struggle to be validated and heard. Those who can suffer social consequences and even lost their jobs There are workers around the site who are sick due to radiation, and other exposures. Yet, most people in the United States (and even Washington) do not know of their battles. Worse, even, the whistleblowers do not know who the enemy is. Are they waging war against the people they work with, the contracting company, or the United States government? Is it worth it to go public with your findings if it means throwing your career away? Is it patriotic to stay silent or blow the whistle? Will their War ever end?
About the author: Simreet Daliwal recently graduated from the University of Washington, majoring in Medical Anthropology and Global Health. She grew up in Auburn, Washington and has always had a special interest in the human aspects of Hanford. She believes it is an important piece of Washington and American history, the many lives that were affected must be shared and their stories heard.