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Interview with Duane L. Lawrence, June 24, 2004

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2004-06-24
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Narrator affiliation: Quality Control Division, Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company (REECo)
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Lawrence, Duane L. Interview, 2004 June 24. MS-00818. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1hm52x0j

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Nevada Test Site Oral History Project University of Nevada, Las Vegas Interview with Duane Lawrence June 24, 2004 Las Vegas, Nevada Interview Conducted By Shannon Applegate © 2007 by UNLV Libraries Oral history is a method of collecting historical information through recorded interviews conducted by an interviewer/ researcher with an interviewee/ narrator who possesses firsthand knowledge of historically significant events. The goal is to create an archive which adds relevant material to the existing historical record. Oral history recordings and transcripts are primary source material and do not represent the final, verified, or complete narrative of the events under discussion. Rather, oral history is a spoken remembrance or dialogue, reflecting the interviewee’s memories, points of view and personal opinions about events in response to the interviewer’s specific questions. Oral history interviews document each interviewee’s personal engagement with the history in question. They are unique records, reflecting the particular meaning the interviewee draws from her/ his individual life experience. Produced by: The Nevada Test Site Oral History Project Departments of History and Sociology University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 89154- 5020 Director and Editor Mary Palevsky Principal Investigators Robert Futrell, Dept. of Sociology Andrew Kirk, Dept. of History The material in the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project archive is based upon work supported by the U. S. Dept. of Energy under award number DEFG52- 03NV99203 and the U. S. Dept. of Education under award number P116Z040093. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these recordings and transcripts are those of project participants— oral history interviewees and/ or oral history interviewers— and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U. S. Department of Energy or the U. S. Department of Education. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 1 Interview with Duane Lawrence June 24, 2004 Conducted by Shannon Applegate Table of Contents Introduction: moves to Las Vegas, NV, goes to work for REECo in various positions ( 1972) 1 Work in Quality Control Division ( electronic cabling) and Training Department 2 Discuss design and function of Underground Nuclear Weapons Testing Orientation Program ( UNWTOP) for security community ( 1980) 4 Talks about security aspects of UNWTOP 10 Outlines other training programs at NTS: hydraulics maintenance, electronic cable maintenance 12 Details how electronic cables work during tests 13 Becomes electrical superintendent at NTS, work on prefabricating cables 15 Relationship with and impressions of laboratory scientists at NTS 17 Community involvement in Las Vegas, NV 21 Recounts work as fundraiser for REECo, and earlier positions as schoolteacher in Montana and working for American Red Cross 21 Commuting to and working at the NTS 25 Details work in Quality Control Division ( cabling) and testing 27 Relationship with supervisors, labor issues ( job security and layoffs), management- worker relationships, social activities ( parties, barbeques) 30 Details procedure for sealing off tunnels for testing 37 Cleaning tunnels for reuse after a test 41 Emphasis on safety in tunnel preparation and testing, tests that vented: Baneberry ( 1970), Mighty Oak ( 1986), and idea as to what happened 43 Variety of animal life at the NTS 46 Experience with antinuclear protesters at the NTS 47 Views on nuclear energy and testing and need for public education, and concerns about transport of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain 51 Public fears and need for further education on “ nuclear” issues 56 Conclusion: Issue of secrecy surrounding work at NTS, weapons as part of U. S. defense structure 60 UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 1 Interview with Duane Lawrence June 24, 2004 in Las Vegas, NV Conducted by Shannon Applegate Shannon Applegate: OK, so just some brief background and then what led you up to working at the test site. Duane Lawrence: Right. When I came to Las Vegas I came here as the executive director of the American Red Cross. And at that time the United Way was attempting to make a change in their administration of nonprofit agencies in the Las Vegas area, and this was a pilot test that they were going to do. The national Red Cross asked me to fight the situation because they felt that this would be dangerous to the total Red Cross picture, if it was allowed to be done. So I organized with several of the other executive directors of agencies in Las Vegas, told them what was going to happen, and so we organized an executive directors meeting to argue with what the United Way was attempting to do. The pressure within the United Way hit us right square between the eyes because the executive director of the Boy Scouts, the executive director of YMCA, the executive director of another agency, I don’t remember what it was, I think it was Focus, and myself as the executive director of the Red Cross were all terminated within a week of each other. When that happened, then I was at a point of, where was I going to work? And my wife was tired of moving every couple of years, which I had with the Red Cross, and so I just started looking around for some employment and the CEO of REECo, Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Company, was on the board of directors of the United Way. He saw what was happening and he called me and asked me if I would be willing to go to work for REECo. So I started working out at the test site at that point in time. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 2 And what year was that? That would’ve been 1972, I think it was. And why was what the United Way doing so dangerous to the Red Cross? They wanted to control all of the equipment and ownership of the Red Cross. In other words, all of our typewriters, all of our cars, all of our various kinds of equipment that we used as office equipment there, that was to be owned by the United Way. They wanted all the secretarial staff to work for the United Way. They would pay the salary. The only staff people, professional staff people, would belong to the Red Cross agency. And that was the same thing they were going to do with the Boy Scouts, that was the same thing they were— so we would own nothing. So was it just a power struggle or—? It was a power struggle. But it was a money thing, is the way the United Way saw it. And so we fought the thing. Well, it never came through. They never developed it. And so on. But then I started working for REECo and the very first task that I was given was to establish a fundraising program for REECo. So you didn’t start off as an electrician. No. I worked just a short time to get that fundraising organization going. And then after I finished that, then I started in the electronics section, in the radio communications section, because I had spent four years in the Navy as an aviation electronics technician and so I was experienced in working with electronic equipment and so on, radios and this sort of thing. And that’s where I first started. And I did that for about two years. There was an opening in the quality control position, so I applied for that and I was transferred over to the quality control division and worked in quality control for I think it was three years. And what would you do? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 3 We tested diagnostic cables as it was being fabricated by the electrician. In other words, they would make the cables that would be used to work from the event site to the recording devices. Those big long cables that were so expensive? Right, they were long— right. And so that was my job as a quality control on those cables, to make sure that they met the specs that they have— How would you test them? We had a variety of equipment that we used: a high potter that we’d usually put between ten and twenty thousand volts on a line to make sure that it wouldn’t short. We would look at it with what was called a TDR, and that’s a time domain reflectometer, which would look at the full length of the cable and see if there was any ohm imbalances in the cable, if it’s got a dent or— [ 00: 05: 00] Ohm? Ohm. A resistance reading. The process there was to make sure connectors were put on right, that the cable hadn’t been damaged, and this sort of thing. So between the two tests we could guarantee that this was a good cable. And that was pretty necessary because that’s how they got all the data, right? And so I did that. And then there was an opening in the training department, and so I applied for that position in the training department within REECo. And since I had taught high school for six years and I had a degree in education, I felt that that’d be a good place for me to go to, so I moved into the training department. And in the training department we did a whole variety of kinds of work. The concept and the attitude that the training department had was one of safety management training; it was work management training, to attitude program training. So we did a variety of courses. First of all I taught several setup courses. One of them is defensive driving, and there were a couple of others very similar to that. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 4 Because the test site, didn’t they have a lot of accidents? Not really. But it was just a matter of making sure that we didn’t have accidents, so every employee had to go through the defense driving course. Oh really? That’s interesting, because I had heard that they had called 95 the Widowmaker? Well, that’s part of it but that was not a part of the test site. That was getting to the test site. Right. Was that part of the training though? Yes, in a sense it was. But defensive driving is a good program for everybody, whether where they are is in the process. We did that. Then I started developing a variety of different courses. I taught a course on time management. I taught a course on quality control. I taught a couple other courses in different programs. One of the big programs I did was for the Teamsters: to understand hazardous material handling requirements so that they’d understand DOT rules and regulations; DOT being the Department of Transportation. Because even though they were on a government property and everything they transported was within the government property, they still had to comply with all DOT rules and regulations on transporting hazardous material at the test site. And a lot of people weren’t aware of that to start with, and that was part of my responsibility: to teach all the Teamsters and staff people the responsibilities of compliance with DOT rules and regulations on transporting hazardous material. So that was a week program that all Teamsters had to go through that were involved in transporting or driving vehicles. And so I did that. And then I had a couple other programs that I worked in. Another one that really became a real fun course, and one I really enjoyed, was called Underground Nuclear Weapons Testing Orientation Program, or we called UNWTOP. And that was a program that was designed for the security community. Security community would be those in CIA [ Central Intelligence Agency], UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 5 State Department security, military intelligence communities, and so on. Part of the reason this course was asked for was that these people would come out to the test site and they would see these big drill rigs sitting out there in the desert, drilling a hole, and they’d say, Well, why don’t you take it down in the day and then set it back up at night? Well, they had no concept of what was involved. They had no concept of the processes that were going on in preparation for a weapons test. And so the people in DOE [ Department of Energy] said, We need to set up a training program for these intelligence people so they can have an idea of what we’re doing here, so at the same time that they can see what we’re doing, they can look at information coming from another country and determine what level they are in the progress of their development of nuclear weapons. Now when did this start? When did the training program start? I started that probably in 1980, thereabouts. And you started it? [ 00: 10: 00] I was one of the primary writers of the program. And so what we did, we had three people on our staff to put the thing together. We had one person from the security program with DOE; we had an officer from the Air Force base at Albuquerque where they did a program down there on weapons programs for the Air Force. And so the three of us basically worked together as a team in a sense. I gathered a lot of the preliminary information and then the rest of us kind of put the whole thing together. So I did research up at Livermore, I did research over in L. A. [ Los Alamos] in the film libraries where they’d done early testing of weapons, I did research in Washington, D. C. at CIA headquarters— What was your security clearance? It was high. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 6 Were you Q or were you higher? Is there higher than Q? Well, there’s special clearance ratings that I had besides Q. OK. So that got you into where you needed to be. Yes, it got me into where I needed to be. But I’d put these various pieces together. I took movies and I transferred and edited them into videotape programs so we could utilize them in the program. And so then we had the whole thing set up. We would usually have ten to fifteen people that would come for our class. Our class was usually a ten- day- long class. It would start at seven o’clock in the morning and usually end about five in the afternoon with a discussion session that would go on in the evening after it was over. And we would spend the first day looking at what DOE is doing in preparation of equipment for a weapons test: what kinds of things go in a tower, what these trailers are that sit out there at the site, how they’re set up, and then some of the theory processes as to what the scientists were looking for when they detonated a nuclear weapon. Oh really? So you had to know some physics and— Right. And you taught yourself all this stuff. Right. So that was a whole part of that whole process that we went through. Then after we’d spent our first day here, then we’d go out to the test site and we stayed out at the test site for the rest of the time we were there. In the morning we would get up, have an early breakfast, go over and meet, and at that meeting I would bring out the historical videotapes that I had done of what we were going to look at that day. As an example, if we were going to go out and look at the vertical test program, which is the drilling the vertical shafts with the drill rigs and so on, I would bring out the early movies of the very beginnings of what we started doing with vertical testing: UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 7 the kind of drill rigs we used in the early days, whatever kind of historical things that they could look at in the process. Overhead pictures I would use and show them so that they could see from a vertical position of an overhead picture of what they were looking at. And we would go through that whole process. We would then come right up to what we were doing in current day performances: on preparations of cables, diagnostic equipment, and everything that was involved. Then after we finished that, which was usually about ten o’clock in the morning, we would get in vans and go out to the work location. And we would walk through a drilling operation. We would walk through a ground zero location. We would walk through a variety of site locations so that they could see what was happening in that whole process. And then after we’d done that walk- through, then we’d go back to the area where they would do the detonation point and they’d go in the rooms and they could see the process that was involved in the process of doing a nuclear weapons test and what it looks like. And we used videotapes there so they just could actually see what happens when they did a nuclear weapons test. And then we’d go back to [ 00: 15: 00] Mercury again and when we came back to Mercury, we would have the management people, usually they were REECo people and lab people that would come there and get involved in a question- and- answer session with these guys. In other words they could ask them questions of things that they didn’t understand, but we couldn’t talk about these things out in the field because of the security situations that we had. So we’d go back into a secure room and so the kinds of things that they needed to know dialogue- wise with what was happening is what they did. And so we’d do that. And then after we were through with all that and they were through with all their questions, then we would look at what we had as far as evidence from nth- country or unknown country on what they were doing in weapons testing. Yes. And you would analyze— UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 8 And so they could see that corresponding as to what we’re doing today current, what we had done earlier, and what then nth- country is doing. So that they could do an analysis as to the progress or process which they were involved in and what were the footprints that a nuclear weapons test program has versus just a mining hole or digging a wet hole. What are the things that are different? What are those footprints? How do you identify them? What kinds of things do you look for that make it a different situation from a normal situation? Right. And you couldn’t talk about this with your family, with anybody, right? Well, you could talk about it like we’re talking about it now because what I’m talking about is not classified. But what actually happened, I can’t tell you what happened in reference to nth- country test. Those I can’t talk to you about. Did you ever get nervous over some of the stuff you were looking at? No. No? Knowing that some of these countries are this advanced in nuclear—? No. Why didn’t you? It didn’t alarm you or—? No. We saw what they were doing and you know that certain countries are involved and it’s just a matter of where they were progress- wise as to where we were and you know what was going on in that whole system. But that was a one- day situation. And then the next day we’d go take a look at horizontal testing, going in the mines and what do you do in a horizontal test program, and why is that different from a mine test or a vertical drop test, and what are the various kinds of things that are involved? And we’d go through the same process with them as we did with the others. Then we’d have the experts come in and they could talk about it and we would look at what different UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 9 countries are doing, the Americans too, that kind of a situation, and so on. So that was a part of what we looked at. And then did you all stay at Mercury? Yes, we stayed at Mercury for the whole time we were there. And then the whole day you’d be involved with these people in discussion and talking. Of course, we had dialogues in the vans all the time with them, and the vans were always swept so there were no mikes or anything in them, to make sure that we were clean on everything. And that was the process that we could go through, and it took us ten days to do the full test site operation and the process of what we were doing at that time. So would you talk about all aspects of the test site? Right. OK. So they knew everything that was going on. It was like an overview. Right. Complete overview. And then the last day I gave them a final exam. Oh really? Yes. I’d break them all up into teams of usually three or four, depending upon how many people in the class, but three or four to five people in the team and I’d give each team a stack of photographs. They were all aerial photographs. And they were supposed to take this stack of photographs, identify what they were, and place them in the chronological order of a weapons test so that they could say: OK, this is where they first started breaking ground. This is where they started bringing in the drill rig. This is where they drilled the hole. This is where they brought the cables in. This is where the— all the way up to the event. So that they had to be able to put all these pictures in an order of sequence from what they had learned during the week, and so on. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 10 Did most pass? Yes, they did. You know they had some real problems with some of them because I’d throw ringers in the process with it. But that’s part of what we did in that whole thing. Now did you have materials for them to take home? Were they allowed to take notes? [ 00: 20: 00] I wrote a bibliography, a dictionary of weapons testing, and every single word that was in the bibliography came out of non- classified documents. I mean there were dictionaries, science books, you know. Nothing in it was classified. And I put it all in a single book and the DOE classified it. And that really created a lot of headaches because you know we’d sent out a bunch of books already before they decided that they were going to classify it. And so I had to get them back and— You had to get all the books back? Had to get all the books back and have them all stamped again and then treat them as a classified document after that. So what’s the difference between a classified document and a non- classified document? OK, the reason they classified it is because nobody had ever put all of these words together in a weapons program. I mean when you talk about a nuclear explosion and what are the step processes of a nuclear explosion, there’s nothing wrong with that in a sense. But when I started talking about all of the things that led up to that nuclear explosion, then I built a pattern of words, and so therefore they felt that pattern then leads a direction. And they don’t want people to basically have that easy access to that pattern. You connected the dots and they don’t want that. Yes. Right. Now you could still send these documents out, right, but there’s a different procedure. UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 11 Right, but I had to treat it as a classified document if you sent it out. What’s the procedure for that? Well, those are rules and regulations that DOE security has set up for transmitting classified documents. So you would have to give it to them and then they would handle it. Yes. But they all had to sign for it when they got it and they had to verify that they would treat it as a classified document and so on. And it’s going to people with security clearance anyway. Right, and yes, they’re all cleared. It’s just a matter of doing that. One of the big problems that I had is when I went and did programs at different locations, like Washington, D. C., I’d do a one- day program in Washington, D. C. at CIA, or I’d do another program at an Air Force base, and so on, on a one- day or a two- day class session. And I had all these documents with me that are all classified. And when I would fly with them, I had them padlocked to my wrist, and when I got to an air base or where I was going, I had to take them and lock them in a secure vault before I could go to bed that night. If I couldn’t get a secure vault that night, then I’d go to sleep with a padlock on my wrist. Really! Did you get looks when you were in the airport? Oh, you always did, you know, but— That’s interesting. Did you actually sleep with it on your wrist? One night I did because the secure person wasn’t there to pick me up like he was supposed to be, so I— So you had to shower with it? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 12 Had to shower with it and so on. But that’s part of the secure clearance thing. But that was a fun program. I enjoyed it and met a lot of really nice people and so on. Now who were the majority of people that took that class? You said CIA. State Department intelligence. Military intelligence, which would be all branches of the military. Now would you keep them— would you have a CIA group and then an Air Force group or were they all mixed? No, they were all mixed together. And so they had a lot of dialogue with each other in the process. When they first came in, some were banging heads a little bit, but for the most part they really became involved with each other in the discussion and the ideas and concepts, which was a good part of what they were doing. Because now they could go back to Washington, D. C. and they could call somebody that they knew personally eyeball to eyeball and ask them a question. Yes, so it was actually a good way for all of the branches to communicate with each other. Yes. Right. So that’s a part of what happened. So that started in the 1980s? About that, I think, that was in— And then it stopped—? I did it for four years and then I started another part of my training programs. That program, I only did two sessions of it a year, so you know they’d bring a group in and so I— so during the rest of the time during the year I was doing a variety of other programs. I went to [ 00: 25: 00] Montreal, Canada to learn about hydraulics maintenance so I could come back and start teaching people on how to repair hydraulics equipment out at the test site. And then they asked me to go out and set up a training program for electricians in Area 12 on how to terminate coaxial cables out there. They were having a high rate of coaxial cable failures as far as when the QA [ quality UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 13 assurance] tested them, too many of them were breaking down. And so they wanted me to come in and set up a training program to teach the electricians how to do terminate cables. Now when you say “ terminate cables” do you mean—? Put a fitting on the end. Put a connector on the end. OK. And that was the reason why they weren’t working? Right, there were processes and so I went out to Area 12 and started teaching the electricians how to test or terminate all the cables. And usually it was a week course that the electricians are involved in. I’d go through all the connectors, how to prepare the connector, how to put the connector on properly on the cable, and then we would test it to make sure that it was right. And if they had a problem with it, then we’d look as to what they did wrong, as to why it was a problem, and so on. So that was the whole thing that I did for all the electricians. Now if the cable wasn’t terminated properly, would the cable then be lost? Could you still recover part of the cable or—? The cable’s there. I mean— OK, so it was fine. It wasn’t like it was ruined. Because I— Yes. You just have to re- terminate it. It just would take time. But— yes, right, it’d just take time and— Because I know that cable was expensive. Right. Different cables, it varied. Some of it ran as high as ten dollars a foot. And a lot of the cables that we were running were anywhere from eight hundred to a thousand foot long, so that gives you an idea as to what one cable could cost. And different kinds of cables varied in what they could do as far as the speed of the signal down the cable. The real expensive cables, like the UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 14 ones that were ten dollars a foot, were three- quarter- inch diameter coaxial cables that could transmit a signal at 94 percent the speed of light with less than a half- ohm of resistance. Now what does that mean, “ less than a half- ohm”? OK, a light bulb has a certain ohm in it. If you look at the back of a frying pan or something, like your frying pan will tell you what the resistance of the ohm reading is on it; or it’ll give you watts reading, with watts is the amount of current that flows through it. So volts and currents gives you the watts, and that resistance is what you have. The less ohms that you have, the better your signal is going down it, because if you can have it less than a half- ohm of resistance on a thousand- foot cable, then your signal goes down that cable at almost the speed of light because there’s nothing slowing it down. And so you want things as fast as you can possibly get it from the test event activity to our recording devices. And you look at different positions of explosion when you look at it on a scope, so you can see the first part of the explosion, the second part of the explosion, the third part of the explosion, the fourth part of the explosion, and then a drop- off, which is the fall- off after the explosion has taken place. And so each cable is made up length- wise and position- wise so that that particular scope at the end can look at zero- one- plus- one nanosecond, zero- two- plus- two nanoseconds, zero- three- plus- three nanoseconds, and so on a time frame of what happens within an explosion. So then it’s like you’re taking slices of time and you’re getting a real finite slice of— Right. And that’s how you learn the efficiency of what you’re doing. And what are these cables hooked up to? Because when the explosion happens, doesn’t everything just disintegrate and—? It depends upon what they were doing, where they were, and some of them, of course the beginnings are destroyed. Other parts are not. So it’s what kinds of readings that they were doing UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 15 [ 00: 30: 00] with it, whether you were working at something in a vertical test site or whether you were working on something in a horizontal program. And then so whenever they would do a test, there were always different things that they were looking at. Yes. So they could duplicate a vertical test many times but they were looking at different things every time they do the test. Yes. So that was the process that went on in doing that. Did you work a lot with scientists from the labs? Somewhat. The scientists would all get into that as we go through this process of building cables. So then I had them all trained to do something. And then I came back to the training department and I wrote a letter suggesting that what they do is they establish a program where the electricians will prefab the cables outside of the tunnels instead of working underground in the tunnels, where they’d have better light, better work benches, and proper tools, and a better way of controlling the manufacture of those particular cables. And I gave that to my boss. My boss took it upstairs to the head boss—. Who was your boss? [ Lavonne Lewis]. Anyway, she took it upstairs. He read the letter, called me immediately up to his office and says, Duane, I would like you to go out to Area 12 and talk to the managers out there about what your suggestion would do. And so I did, and they said, When do you want to start working as an electrical superintendent out here and managing these electricians? And I said I hadn’t thought about it. And so that’s where I ended up becoming an electrical superintendent out at the forward area for eleven years. Now why were they doing it in the shafts, do you know? UNLV Nevada Test Site Oral History Project 16 Well, basically historically that’s what they did. They knew a cable went from this position to this position [ demonstrating on table] and then they would have to terminate it on both ends. Well, there wasn’t any reason why it couldn’t have been made someplace else, finished, quality- controlled, and brought in; they knew how far apart these two places were, so let’s prefab it outside where we’re doing cable at a better rate of production. So what happened in the process of my doing that, I was given my own warehouse building to work with; I was given a group of electricians that were specifically trained, and I worked on them to make sure that they kept up the work. I would rotate people in and out so I kept retraining people in the process of doing that. But we went from a failure rate of about 10 or 12 percent to a failure rate of less than 1 percent. That’s really impressive. So that’s part of what took place in the process of doing that. We also changed the rate and speed of what they were doing. Normally prior to this they would spend maybe two- and- a- half, three hours to put one kind of connector in on a cable underground. And