SAFE AS MOTHER'S MILK: The Hanford Project

Safe As Mother's Milk: The Hanford Project is a website and physical installation examining the atomic history of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. For more than forty years, Hanford released radioactive materials into the environment on an uninformed public while producing plutonium for America's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War era. The project incorporates declassified documents and historical photographs available online through Hanford Declassified Document Retrieval System.

This project was originally commissioned and exhibited for the Cornish College of the Arts ART | ACTIVISM 2002 Visiting Artist Series. The physical installation for this project was exhibited at ISEA’04 in Tallinn, Estonia during the ISEA Geopolitics of Media Conference.


The Hanford Nuclear Reservation is located on 565-square-miles of desert in southeastern Washington State near the Tri-Cities area of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick.  For more than forty years, Hanford released radioactive materials into the environment on an uninformed public 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.

Hanford workers, their families and other downwind residents became literal guinea pigs for radiation experiments that were 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 by the end of World War II, 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 other documents available online at various government archives, including the Hanford Declassified Document Retrieval System and Human Radiation Experiments Information Management System (HREX). The project is an “unofficial” documentary of the Hanford site seen through historic declassified documents, photography and other media. The website contains rigorously researched information regarding the area’s history, organized into three interrelated categories: Background, Releases and Repercussions. Historic photographs and newsreels visually contextualize website text to subtly expose deceptive activities by the U.S. government and its civilian sub-contractors carried out in the name of “national security” at the Hanford facility. The Website also includes a visitor’s forum, glossary terms and important links for further research.

Safe As Mother's Milk: The Hanford Project illustrates how the Internet may be used to investigate, research, and disseminate “unofficial” social and political histories in a multimedia documentary form. The site makes use of important online government databases that, until recently, were largely unavailable to the general or lay public. In our current political climate where national security interests underscore the need for public disclosure, educational sites such as Safe As Mother's Milk are an invaluable online resource.