AHF Receives Grant from M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust

AHF Receives Grant from M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust

The B Reactor at Hanford

The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) is pleased to announce a $198,000 grant from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust of Vancouver, WA for interpreting the history of the Manhattan Project and its legacy. One hundred thousand dollars will be awarded outright with $98,000 contingent on raising a one-to-one match.

As Richard Rhodes, Chairman of AHF's Board, commented, “Murdock’s generous grant will help preserve many more stories of Manhattan Project participants, including African-Americans, Hispanics, women and others who are underrepresented in official accounts. This project will provide valuable insight into the human dimensions of the Manhattan Project and its continuing legacy.”

The focus of the grant is the world-changing developments in nuclear science and technology in the Pacific Northwest during World War II and the Cold War and their continuing social, economic and environmental legacies. These new resources will enrich the experience of visitors to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which has units at Hanford, WA, Los Alamos, NM, and Oak Ridge, TN. They will also be available to students, educators, journalists, museums, documentary filmmakers, and other audiences online.  

The project has two major components. First, AHF will develop two interpretive programs for its responsive “Ranger in Your Pocket” website (www.RangerInYourPocket.org). One program will address the environmental legacy of the Hanford site in eastern Washington State. A series of audio/visual vignettes will examine techniques developed to monitor radioactivity and to control exposure, and the environmental and health consequences of plutonium production operations at Hanford.

Today, one of the most pressing concerns at Hanford is the leakage of the underground tanks storing radioactive nuclear waste. Ray Genereaux, who served as the Design Project Manager for DuPont on the chemical separations plants during the war, explained in an interview in 1986, “We never intended that these underground tanks be the final storage. I proposed designing another building, like the 221 building, to concentrate the waste. But I was told, ‘No, we can’t afford the time.’”

Genereaux and others will provide insight into the pressures of meeting production schedules that would shortchange environmental considerations. AHF will draw from the accounts of veterans, “downwinders,” historians, government officials and other experts to examine Hanford’s environmental legacy from multiple perspectives.  

African-American worker at Hanford

The other “Ranger in Your Pocket” program will focus on the experiences of African-Americans at Hanford during the Manhattan Project and Cold War. The program will highlight the contributions of the thousands of African-Americans who worked as laborers, construction workers or operational staff during World War II. Their contributions and the discrimination they faced have often been overlooked in historical scholarship.

C. J. Mitchell, who came to Hanford in 1947 and eventually became a human resources specialist at Hanford, shared his story with AHF: “I couldn’t buy a house in the city of Richland in 1965 because I was black. In 1976, when I first moved in to where I am now, I got a phone call that said, ‘This is the Ku Klux Klan, and you’re next.’ I’ve gone through all of that.”

Second, the project will expand the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s “Voices of the Manhattan Project” website. As part of the project, AHF will transcribe and publish over 30 interviews recorded in 2005 with the scientists and engineers who tested the early designs for nuclear reactors for the Atomic Energy Commission in Idaho. As Bill Ginkel, former Manager of the Idaho Operations Office, explained: “We were building things that had never been built before. In many cases, the only solution was one you had to dream up. No one had done this before.”

AHF will also record and publish nearly 100 new interviews with Manhattan Project veterans, family members, experts, and others around the country whose lives were affected by the project and its legacy. Priority will be given to minorities who worked on the project, residents such as farming families who were displaced, and “downwinders” affected by contamination. The oral histories will provide a valuable resource for scholars, museums, documentary filmmakers, journalists, students and the public. By the end of the project, the “Voices of the Manhattan Project” website will have well over 600 fully transcribed video and audio interviews available online.

Cindy Kelly, President of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, said, “We are very grateful to the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust for its generous support. We look forward to working with the National Park Service, Department of Energy and local partners to develop resources for visitors to the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park as well as audiences worldwide online.”

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The M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, created by the will of the late Melvin J. (Jack) Murdock, provides grants to organizations in five states of the Pacific Northwest—Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington—that seek to strengthen the region’s educational and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways. For more information about the Murdock Charitable Trust, please visit www.murdocktrust.org