Michele

I moved to Richland in 1987 because my husband was transferred here. I was an unemployed Historian & began looking into the then-prevalent news reports that said Hanford might have leaked some radioactivity into the environment. I started going to the local libraries and reading original historical documents just then being declassified from secrecy. Soon I was fascinated, and began requesting many more documents through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process. Within two years, I held the record for the most FOIA requests ever sent to the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office. I read everything, took classes in chemistry and statistics to understand the documents, wrote letters all over the country, and got my parents to pay for a research trip as a birthday present. I wrote On the Home Front: the Cold War Legacy of the Hanford Nuclear Site and it has now been published 4 times. I then took a research job at Hanford & worked there for nearly 22 years. I left the site in October 2011 & now consult all over the world.

There are three reasons I stay involved with Hanford: Money, safety & lessons in democracy. Money: Hanford costs the US taxpayers (that’s us!) a LOT of money. Low estimates place the amount still needed at $115-Billion – a number so huge it can’t really be understood. If we don’t spend the money wisely, it will dry up and cleanup will stop. We have to make wise investments with the cleanup money we get. Safety: If cleanup is not done well, thoroughly, and with intelligent priorities, the Columbia River may become irrevocably contaminated and that situation would be unsafe & simply intolerable for our entire region. Lessons: Hanford is so rich in lessons about secrecy & openness, the limits of federal power, the meaning of “right to know” and “need to know,” the risks & benefits of new technologies, and many other lessons that every generation – I believe – needs to study Hanford to learn how to balance risks & benefits, be fair, involve citizens, and not over-define national security.My most compelling topics include the Vitrification Plant (is it safe & can it perform?); the Central Plateau waste sites & burial sites (we need to know more information & do more digging); and B Reactor (is it a disgrace that no professional historian is guiding the interpretation, facts & stories presented there). Another key topic is that fact that Hanford is not being taught in schools & colleges (a gaping hole in curriculum & knowledge).

To connect with Michele Gerber or another mentor, please click here.

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