March 15, 1956 Letter from Donald R. Hamilton, et al. to President William Friday



PALMER PHYSICAL LABORATORY
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY March 15, 1956
President William Friday
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Dear President Friday:

This letter summarizes our collective point of view concern-
ing certain aspects of the nuclear reactor at North Carolina State College
at Raleigh as discussed with you March 1-2, and as further developed after
we left you.

We first came to Raleigh as a group on December 8-9, 1955. We
had been requested by Dean Lampe to consider two questions which with
slight paraphrasing were these: "What are the most fruitful fields of
research which should be pursued in connection with the North Carolina
State College
nuclear reactor? How can the Committee on Safety and Health
for the nuclear reactor and radioisotopes best serve the reactor program
and the general public?" Our assignment by Dean Lampe on our second trip
(March 1-2, 1956) concerned further work on the research program and a
detailed review of the physical plans for the revised reactor which is to
be constructed.

On our first visit it became painfully apparent to us in con-
sidering the work of the Health and Safety Committee that there were
clashes of personality and differences on fundamental policy between
Doctor Beck and the Committee. This fact became much more strongly appar-
ent to us on our recent visit, at which time we also became aware that the
antagonism to Doctor Beck was held not only by the Committee but also by
most (and quite probably all) of the physicists at the reactor. For the
latter of these groups as well as the former, the most important source of
disagreement and disapproval centered around the area of health and safety
precautions.

In consequence of your expressed interest we looked more
specifically, and both before and after our last meeting with you, into
this question of Doctor Beck's past performance in matters of health and
safety. Our final conclusion was that by his past actions Doctor Beck had
shown himself to be completely out of sympathy with, and in disagreement
with, those policies concerning health and safety which, to the best of our
knowledge, are agreed upon by all other responsible research workers in the
field of nuclear radiation; that in certain of his actions he had subordin-
ated the health of his men to considerations of false economy and of con-
cealment of past errors; that his actions in this respect have been a
major but not exclusive factor in the loss of respect for him on the part
of the people whose work is associated with the reactor.

This feeling on our part had been based initially on a number
of comments made by and instances reported by men in the Physics Department
or on the Health and Safety Committee. Subsequent to seeing you on the
evening of March 2, we talked to another man not in these two groups but
having very direct evidence on this point. His comments verified the


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President William Friday
3/15/1956

prior reports and made our conclusions completely firm. Most of the facts
relevant to the controvercies between Doctor Beck, former health safety
offices, and the Health and Safety Committee may be gleaned from documents
and reports available at the College and elsewhere.

These health and safety difficulties appear to have contrib-
uted strongly to the lack of confidence in Doctor Beck which the Health and
Safety Committee possesses and which seems to permeate the Physics Depart-
ment.

While we appreciate the fact that the over-zealous exercise of
caution in the handling of health problems can be a major impediment in the
establishment of a new facility such as the Raleigh reactor, there are
certain accepted unequivocal procedures which must be followed. The past
performance of Doctor Beck gives no reason to believe that he accepts this
safety "code", and we therefore question his ability to direct the opera-
tion of the reactor in a manner which will minimize the health hazard to
the personnel involved.

We believe that the reasons leading us to this conclusion have
contributed very decidedly to that dissatisfaction on the part of the people
around him which will make it very difficult under any circumstances for the
reactor group to function in the future in an effective manner.

Very sincerely yours,

Donald R. Hamilton
Karl Z. Morgan
Daniel J. Zaffarano

P.S. This letter had been written, and was in the process of being cross-
checked with regard to our unanimity concerning it, when news of
Doctor Beck's resignation came. It is now sent you for the record.