Hanford history: Photos show some of the 50,000 workers at Hanford's peak in 1944

HANFORD -- Sixty-five years ago the Hanford nuclear reservation was booming.About 50,000 workers were racing to build the reactors, processing plants and support buildings needed to produce plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, and then the Cold War nuclear weapons build up.

This Labor Day weekend the Herald pays homage to those early Hanford workers with a collection of government photos of work on the site that year culled from the Department of Energy's historic archives.

In 1944, Hanford was operating night and day, said historian Michele Gerber of Richland. "It was the peak," she said.

In September of that year, B Reactor, the world's first full-scale production reactor, began operating.

By the end of the year, D Reactor also went critical and T Plant was working to separate plutonium from irradiated fuel.

Workers were recruited from across the nation to come to Eastern Washington for a top-secret wartime project.

The work was demanding. Most workers labored 50-hour weeks with just one day off.

Just as now, the weather usually was too hot or too cold. But in 1944 workers also had to contend with the "termination winds."

Desert winds regularly whipped up dirt and sand from the site's many bare-dirt construction sites, causing discouraged workers to line up for what would be their final paycheck after each dust storm.

Workers didn't know what they were building until after the world's second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and days later WWII ended.

Today, Hanford continues to dominate the Tri-City economy as its largest employer while workers clean up the massive environmental contamination left from WWII and Cold War work.

It employs about 12,000 workers whose paychecks account for abut 32 percent of the payroll for the local community.

* Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.