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Talk to Terrie: National Bureau of Standards’ Contribution to the Manhattan Project

February 4, 2019

February 4, 2019

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A few weeks ago, a post on Cold War Patriots Face book page resulted in a number of responses from the public detailing their experience with nuclear weapons.  The experiences they shared ranged from working on a weapons load crew at air force bases, being stationed in Berlin during the Cuban Missile Crisis to being a child of a person who worked at a Department of Energy (DOE) facility.  I thank all of those who took the time to comment.  It is a pleasure learning your history.

Unfortunately, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA) does not cover those who served in the military or family members of workers employed at sites covered by EEOICPA.

What may surprise some of you is that not every facility which worked on the development of the atomic bomb during WWII is covered under EEOICPA either.  One such site is the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) which was located on Van Ness Street in Washington, DC during WWII.

NBS was heavily involved in the Manhattan Project,,

Some of its leading physicists, chemists and mathematicians were assigned to the Clinton [Oak Ridge] and Los Alamos Laboratories at the request of the War Department.

The Van Ness Street location was designated as the Central Laboratory for the entire Manhattan Project.  This site was responsible for analyzing the purity of the uranium used at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge and also developed methods to melt, cast and fabricate uranium.  The Central Laboratory was also responsible for the procurement of uranium ore and had “analytical control of the materials used in the piles.” Pile was the term used during that time for reactor,

This is an obscure site.  Most people probably don’t know that NBS was such a vital agency during WWII.  I discovered it way back when DOE was involved with EEOICPA claims.  DOE set up a discussion group for stakeholders to exchange information.  In March of 2003 it was hacked and permanently shut down.  Fortunately, many in the group had already exchanged personal emails and were able to keep in touch.

That’s how I “met” Ginny.  Her father worked at NBS at Van Ness Street during the Manhattan Project. It was suggested that she submit a Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) petition because dose could not be reconstructed for that facility.  I assisted her with document research.  We had many long talks and emails.  We became fast friends despite never meeting in person.  We celebrated our children’s weddings, the births of our grandchildren and everything in between.

She located this newspaper article picturing her father sitting 5 feet away from a radium sample and being “perfectly safe”.

The petition was approved by the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health and sent to the Secretary of Health and Human Services for approval.  Days before the Secretary was to approve, the site was de-listed due to a legal interpretation of what is a covered facility.

Many individuals have contributed to protecting our country against foreign adversaries.  I thank them all.

For a short history on the Manhattan Project, please click here.