THE HANFORD NUCLEAR RESERVATION is located on 586 square-miles of desert in southeastern Washington State near the Tri-Cities of Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. For more than forty years, Hanford released radioactive contamination into the environment while producing plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal during the Cold War era. Although the majority of the releases were due to activities related to production some were also planned and intentional.

Uninformed Hanford workers, their families, and other downwind residents became literal guinea pigs for radiation experiments carried out at the facility by the former Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense, and civilian sub-contractors including DuPont and General Electric from 1944 to 1972.

Although civilians were informed of Hanford's plutonium-production activities officials in charge kept secret the growing number of radioactive releases, experiments, and other environmental safety hazards resulting at the facility. During the mid-1980s, increasing public suspicion over Hanford activities forced government agencies and their civilian sub-contractors to release formally classified documents through a request under the Freedom of Information Act. With the release of these documents in 1986, the public has been able to piece together a devastating chronicle of atomic weaponry production that consequently poisoned the people it was ironically meant to protect. Thousands of area residents from towns and farms surrounding the Hanford Site and beyond have suffered an array of health problems including thyroid cancers, autoimmune diseases, and reproductive disorders that they feel are the direct result of these releases and experiments.

Safe as Mother's Milk examines these important events through declassified historical photographs, media, and documents available online at various government archives, including the Hanford Declassified Document Retrieval System and Human Radiation Experiments Information Management System (HREX).

This chapter outlines the historical context of Hanford's plutonium production activities, which included secret radiation experiments initiated through the once classified Manhattan Project.