Richland/Hanford, Washington, April 1999

Hanford Reservation

In April of 1999 I'd been unemployed for awhile, but my company Fluor flew me to Richland, Washington for an interview with their Hanford restoration project.

I arrived at noon on a Wednesday and my interview was the next day, so I had lots of time to drive around. After discussions with a real estate agent and a look at several apartment complexes, I headed to the site. Hanford is about 650 square miles, and in the recent years they had shrunk the fences as there is State Highway 240 through the southern portion of the site. This was one of the fenced in lab areas about 5 miles north of Richland. The small unreadable sign in the middle of the picture is an old AEC radiation sign...I drove about 5 miles further north past some of the WPPSS nuclear power plants (including the only one they actually put on line--now known as the Columbia Generating Station) to the main gate where I had to turn around. The next day, the superintendent I would be working for gave me a $10 dollar tour of the entire site including the old Hanford town site that they kicked people out of in 1943, plus all of the work areas, entombed reactors etc., where plutonium had been produced for the first atomic bombs. We walked around atop some of the buried tanks that contained radioactive waste, one of the projects was figuring out what to do with them. Subsequently I found out that cameras were not prohibited on this trip but of course one doesn't play tourist on a job interview...

The view from my hotel 4th floor balcony looking northeast.
Fluor Daniel office
The Fluor Daniel office in downtown Richland. The personnel and design folks were in here, my office would have been elsewhere, probably on the Hanford site.

Richland had a population of 35,000 and is located on the west bank of the Columbia River as it heads south just before joining with the Snake River, bumping into Oregon and turning west. It is one of the "Tri-Cities" which also include Pasco (where the airport is) and Kennewick. The 3 cities were all about the same population and although they shared a common newspaper they didn't get along too well otherwise. The cities have sort of "grown" towards each other to form one urban area with one big mall. Richland, of course, was taken over with all land and buildings owned by the government (when I met with a real estate agent I was made aware of the various standard housing models that had been constructed during the war). The houses as well as barracks rooms were established and rented out only to Hanford workers, although the town was never "fenced off" from the public. The real estate was sold off to the residents in the late 50s. There were several flights per day in and out to each of Salt Lake City, Portland, and Seattle using 737's or commuter planes.

Columbia River
Looking southeast along the Columbia River running trail which was 1/4 mile east of the hotel. I explored it on foot the morning before the interview...
Columbia River
Looking north/upstream. The Columbia River wrapped around 3 sides of the Hanford/Richland area.

The superintendent was very encouraging about me being hired...I was a bit tempted to rent an apartment, but I knew better. I was told that my position was almost funded...but a couple of weeks later I was told it was not.

In 1999 it seemed to me that this project might be good long-term employment...although the major site cleanup efforts, such as dealing with the waste in those underground tanks, had yet to be designed...and the treatment facility is still incomplete. Yawn. Fluor would continue to be involved with various Hanford contracts to this day.

I would remain unemployed until December 1999 when I was hired for a shutdown at the Murphy Oil refinery in Meraux, LA, just east of New Orleans (the refinery was flooded, causing an oil spill, during Hurricane Katrina...and was later sold to Valero in 2011).

Two good references...Wikipedia has an excellent detailed article about Hanford...and--what prompted my update to this photo page, in April 2023 a joint venture including Fluor won a $45 billion 10-year contract to manage the waste in those underground tanks and operate the treatment plant for that waste--the plant is currently being tested by Bechtel (18 April 2023 Engineering News-Record article).