Featured Daughters

Daughters of Hanford: Products of a southeast Washington nuclear reservation

Daughter products (def.): Isotopes that are formed by the radioactive decay of some other isotope. In the case of radium-226, for example, there are 10 successive daughter products, ending in the stable isotope lead-206.

- Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Leona (Woods) Marshall Libby  helped build the first large-scale nuclear reactor in the world -- the Manhattan Project’s B Reactor. She helped build this machine of war at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Plutonium created at the reactor made the first plutonium-armed atomic bomb. Marshall Libby worked as an American physicist working with her now-famous mentor Enrico Fermi to help win WWII. She was a lone woman on many of the projects she undertook in her field during the Manhattan Project. She moved to Washington in 1944 to work with her husband John Marshall.  One of Marshall Libby’s main credits is helping to figure out the problem of xenon poisoning in the B Reactor – that gas shut down the chain reaction inside the B Reactor. Later, she was asked what she thought of the use of the bomb and her part in it. In an audio interview made available by the Voice of the Manhattan Project she says, “When you’re in a war to the death, I don’t think you stand around and say is it right?”  More-->

Shirley Olinger

Shirley Olinger has a deep Daughters history with Hanford. Olinger is the daughter of Kazuko Nishimoto from Nagasaki, Japan. Their family remarkably survived the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped there during World War II. Olinger was a top U.S. Department of Energy manager for the cleanup of some of the waste left over from making that bomb. Now Olinger’s daughter Sarah McCormick is a 2015 graduate of Richland High School – home of the Richland Bombers.  More-->

Michele Gerber worked for Westinghouse as a historian for the Hanford site. She holds a Ph.D. in history from State University of New York at Albany. She’s worked on the history of the site for various contractors and as an independent historian for 25 years. Gerber has filed many FOIA requests to dig information out of Hanford like historical documents from WWII and the Cold War. And she served on the National Academy of Sciences committee of declassification of Department of Energy documents. Some of the things she found: An 18-volume DuPont company history of early Hanford operations. She also uncovered many documents of environmental studies in the early years at Hanford and numerous early photographs of the site and its workers. Gerber says Hanford is now stymied in bureaucracy and she’s disappointed that there are so many barriers to accomplishing cleanup work. More-->

Frannie Smith

Frannie Smith remembers singing songs about dinosaurs as a young child. That’s when she first knew she loved science. Her parents encouraged her to follow her love of fossils and rocks into a career. Today she works as an environmental mineralogist. In labs like this one she’s looking for ways that radioactive constituents can be trapped so they don’t move as fast in the environment. They may adhere to different materials like minerals, rocks and soil. Smith hopes this work will help clean up contamination and will help humankind sustain cleaner nuclear energy into the future.  More-->

Jane Hedges

Jane Hedges remembers playing on north Richland docks as a child. She and her friends would dive into the bracing cold of the Columbia River to cool off. As an adult, Hedges learned more about her hometown’s history and the contamination looming just upstream at the Hanford nuclear reservation. She returned to Richland in 1997 and began work on Hanford issues for the Washington State Department of Ecology in 1999 where she now serves as the state’s lead watchdog over cleanup at Hanford.  More -->

Ellen Prendergast-Kennedy

Ellen (Prendergast) Kennedy notices the things others might pass by, like a brown flake of stone on the Hanford Reach National Monument. A dime-sized speck of mud-colored rock caught her eye in a sea of brown earth and rock studded with sagebrush and wildflowers. The tiny fragment was likely made by humans long before Hanford was built. Kennedy has worked at Hanford as a cultural anthropologist and archaeologist for more than a decade. In this position, Kennedy has built a close relationship with Northwest Native American tribes.  More -->

Zelma Jackson

Zelma Maine Jackson lives in the Tri-Cities, Washington, and says she’s the only African American woman geologist perhaps for hundreds of miles. In the early 1980s, fresh out of graduate school at the University of Washington, she drove over the mountains to her new job in the desert. She expected to find another city kind of like Seattle awaiting her. When she arrived, she says, “I thought, ‘what the hell did I get myself into?’” Jackson says the mission of Hanford cleanup drew her to stay long past those first few tough years. More -->

Liz Mattson

Liz Mattson works to make younger Seattleites like her care about radioactive waste in Eastern Washington – sludge and contamination as old as their grandparents. First she has to decode Hanford lingo and help people understand it. Mattson says cutting through bureaucracy and red tape is a huge part of her job with the Seattle-based watchdog group Hanford Challenge. More -->

Patty Murray is Washington state’s senior United States Senator and considers herself the persistent mom of cleanup at Hanford. She says part of her role is to remind her colleagues of the country’s responsibility to clean up nuclear messes left over from WWII and the Cold War. Murray was first elected to the Senate in 1992, and as a longtime member of the influential Appropriations Committee she has supported cleanup efforts at Hanford by securing billions of dollars for the site in the federal budget each year. When funding cuts have threatened cleanup work, Murray has fought for averting layoffs and continuing critical cleanup efforts. More -->

Natalie Swan protects the Treaty of 1855 between the Yakama Nation and federal government at the Hanford site. She’s a member of the tribe and also works as a biologist for the Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration Waste Management program. She reviews documents, attends meetings and is on the Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council as an alternate representative for the Yakama Nation. Swan says Hanford is a complex waste site, and protecting the treaty and cleaning up the environment are important to future generations in the larger Northwest community. Swan says her job is also close to her heart. She says she works at Hanford to protect her grandchildren and their grandchildren. More -->

Sue Olson, 94, came to Richland in 1944 from the Oak Ridge nuclear site in Tennessee. She worked throughout Hanford as an executive secretary. She took notes and shorthand for every department on the site. She also worked in the labs at Hanford, calculating the numbers from radioactive samples. Eventually, she landed a job working for the assistant general manager of Hanford, Wilfred “Bill” Johnson. She says back then, “It was all business to win World War II. And afterward, during the Cold War it was that way too.” Olson worked at Hanford during a time when everything was classified and secret. She had top-secret clearance and locked her filing cabinet each night before going home.  More -->

Susan Leckband is feisty about Hanford cleanup. Iowa-born, she brings a Midwestern sensibility and no-nonsense approach to the Hanford Advisory Board – a group of stakeholders which develops public advice for the federal government’s consideration. Leckband is the vice-chair of the board, led it for six years and has been a member since 1995. Earlier in her life, she came to work for a Kennewick-based telephone company, but ended up making a career on nearly every part of the Hanford site for 23 years. She was a senior administration assistant for multiple Hanford contractors. More -->