From the late 1940’s to the late 1980’s, the United States was engaged in a “Cold” War with the Soviets and Soviet-bloc countries. After more than forty years of indirect and direct conflict, In 1989, the Soviet Union dissolved. This action served as validation that the United States had achieved “victory” in this clash of ideals.
During the duration of the Cold War, the United States lived under the constant threat of a nuclear attack on our home soil. The chief mechanism for us to combat that threat was to assure that the United States maintained an edge in nuclear weapons – and that the Soviets were acutely aware of this edge.
The Cold War was won because the United States was able to maintain this formidable nuclear deterrent. The victory was not an easy one, however. Billions of dollars were spent to achieve this victory and our environment was undoubtedly harmed in the process. More importantly, thousands of men and women gave of themselves for the common goal of achieving victory for the United States.
The Hanford Site played an enormous role in our Cold War victory by producing the plutonium required for the country’s nuclear arsenal. That production came at a cost however, because the process to produce this invaluable product was both very dangerous and very secret.
Thousands of workers at Hanford and other nuclear production sites across the country were the “soldiers” in our battle to win the Cold War. These extraordinary people went to work every day knowing that they were working around some of the most dangerous and hazardous materials known to man. In addition, the work that they were doing had to be done in the strictest of secrecy. Workers were forbidden from discussing any aspect of their work, even to their spouses or family because the threat of espionage was ever-present.
At Hanford, a total of nine production reactors operated at one time or another during the Cold War with the purpose of irradiating uranium-based “ fuel” elements, along with five massive processing plants where the plutonium was separated from the irradiated fuel elements in a long and complex process involving a series of chemical “baths”. These and hundreds of other support facilities at Hanford were instrumental in the site being the workhorse in Cold War era plutonium production.
By the end of the Cold War, Hanford had produced most of the plutonium in the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The process that eventually yielded the plutonium (in tiny increments at a time) entailed tons and tons of chemical by-products and repeated exposure to radiation. Though the best known safety practices were employed, many of these “Cold War Patriots” – those at the symbolic front lines of the Cold War – became ill because of their work.
In addition to their contribution of producing plutonium in the most dangerous and secretive of work environments, Hanford personnel also contributed many noteworthy technological advancements that helped improve the plutonium production process both at Hanford and at other sites as well.
This website is a tribute to the Cold War Patriots and was launched on October 30, 2009, the first “Cold War Patriots Day of Remembrance”, a Congressionally Resolved day to honor those who went above and beyond to assure that the United States retained a superior nuclear weapons advantage and a formidable deterrent to Communist aggression.
U.S. Senator Patty Murray and U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu have provided comments on Cold War Patriots Day
If you are a former nuclear worker and have experienced, what you believe are, work-related health effects, please see the following links and information.