The Manhattan Project

Alexander Klementiev's Interview

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Alexander Klementiev's Interview

Alexander Klementiev was born in Moscow in 1942 and grew up in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. As a student, he attended the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, where he studied radio physics and earned his Ph.D. He also served as a research fellow for the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria. In 1992, Klementiev immigrated to the United States. In this interview, Klementiev describes his work analyzing the mortality of those people who lived in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl reactor accident. He also describes his work estimating radioactive releases from the Hanford Site facilities and the lifetime risk of radiation-induced thyroid disease for the Hanford downwinders. Klementiev also discusses differences between the atmosphere of the United States and Russia.
Manhattan Project Location(s): 
Date of Interview: 
September 13, 2018
Location of the Interview: 
Hanford
Transcript: 

Kelly: Today is Wednesday, September 13, 2018. I’m Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation. I have with me Alexander Klementiev.

Klementiev: Very good.

Kelly: I would like to first start by asking him to say his name and spell it.

Klementiev: My name is Alexander Klementiev – K-L-E-M-E-N-T-I-E-V.

Kelly: Great. People have highly recommended that we interview you about your role in the downwinders located around Hanford, and issues relating to the exposures they may have received. But incidentally, I learned in talking to you that you also worked in Chernobyl.

Klementiev: True.

Kelly: I am very curious about both. Where shall we start? Why don’t we start with you just telling us about yourself and where you were born and what your education is, and how you happened to get involved in these kinds of environmental exposure issues.

Klementiev: Okay. I was born in Moscow in the wartime, 1942, and remember the after-War time. Sometimes, it helps me to understand better than those who were not exposed to that. It was kind of a special time in my generation time.

Then, school. I went to the university. It is called Moskovskiy fiziko-tekhnicheskiy institut – Moscow Physical Technical School [Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology]. It was a privilege to be there. Just to understand, it was not we paid for education—they paid us for education. It was good money.

It was the institution specially designed after the war for educating those who would be working in [Russian] Academy of Sciences under Research and Development; mostly, radio. My education is related to that – aviation, rockets, explosion, and radio physics. That was the direction.

Then, I got my first PhD in that institution. After that, I worked in the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in a biomedical project in Vienna, Austria. It sounds nothing special, except for the fact that none of us were allowed to go abroad. [Laugh] I was not a Communist Party member, so people just did not believe that it happened.

After that, I got a very good push in my professional life in that institution, in the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. The Director of the Institute was an American professor, Roger Levien, from RAND Corporation. It was a really interesting institution Still there.

Now, return back, I was working on the mathematical modeling in population health, in public health, in these fields. Wrote a book, and got my second PhD right just about then. After it was published in ’85, the guys from Chernobyl read it, from Kiev. They said, “Please, you wrote it. Do what you wrote.”

This is how I got acquainted with Chernobyl. It was a great privilege. Very smart people, very well-educated. The lab was called Radio Epidemiology and Demography.

It was a pretty short period of time, like two or three years. The task was—for Chernobyl—was kind of simple. They were – not only “they,” but they asked me to help with my modeling to help them to understand, what was the consequences of the explosion in Chernobyl? 

There were very, very clear evident cases of impact on the health of kids. They were mostly leukemia cases, and they were out of my scope of work. My work: the normal demographic analysis of death experience of those who lived in the contaminated areas, not who were exposed in the moment. There were not many people who were exposed. It’s about thirty or forty firefighters, but they ended up with acute radiation sickness, so it’s nothing to explain more than that.

However, the population who lived in the contaminated areas was – it was a political thing for Ukrainians. That was the time when Ukraine and Russia separated, and they wanted the Russian work. It was a professional challenge to find out.

I must say that nothing special was found. That was also a finding. One of the reasons is that they wanted the population – those who were exposed to the risk altogether, Russia and Ukraine and Belarus, it was about eleven million people. However, it was like a plume covered in the first days or even weeks after the fire in Chernobyl. It covered a huge area from Kiev, about six hundred miles toward Moscow, and stopped there because of the rain. Where the rain dropped, the area is still considered as contaminated.

Now, my task was to use my instrumentation—I developed the computer programs for that. Since the populations were very small—this is the effect of the small sample, small population—I couldn’t find anything statistically significant. Of course, there are findings, but they were not statistically significant.

We reported that the chief of that lab I mentioned in Kiev, Professor Nikolai – I’ll give you the name. We reported in 2001 – it was the conference in Kiev, fifteen years after the Chernobyl – and that was the last thing I did for Chernobyl. That was the international conference, “Fifteen Years of Chernobyl [:Lessons Learned]”, and that’s what I did.

After that, I was here, came here. I was lucky. The doctors wanted me to participate in their Hanford-Chelyabinsk movement, mostly from Seattle. It was Drew Simonson and the other doctors, and they wanted me to join them because they needed some Russian who could help them with their contacts. With Chelyabinsk, it’s a counterpart of Hanford, almost a replica. Same style reactor, same technology, stolen from here, as you probably know.

The idea was to help Russian partners, Russian friends, to take into account the American experience working with the same problems. The Russians were not aware. I would like to speak more about this later, if you want. This is how I joined the team.

Pretty soon, it was ’92, the year when I came to this country, 1992. I met Tom and was offered with a kind of interesting – I would say a mathematical problem. Tom Foulds, genius. He has no mathematical or scientific education, formal education. However, he has natural intuition. He saw the things I couldn’t see. He said, “Try here. Find here.” He pointed me at the spot where he thought we had a solution for a problem, and he was right. Since then, since ’92, I worked for him. That was my trajectory.

Since ’96, I also worked for the Health Department in Pierce County, as epidemiologist responsible for public health evaluation.

That’s my whole story. Excuse me for lengthy story, but I like to talk about it [laugh].

Kelly: It’s wonderful. Let’s pick up some of these threads. You said you wanted to go back to the [inaudible]—was it Chelyabinsk? Do you want to start there? And you mentioned your book in ’86.

Klementiev: ’85.

Kelly: ’85.

Klementiev: It was published in ’85.

Kelly: Okay. Could you name the name of your book?

Klementiev: The name is mine. The title of the book – excuse me, it is in Russian – Years of Quantitative Modeling for Solving Public Health Problems.That was the title for my dissertation, and that was the title of the book. Mostly did the same.

What instigated the cleanup effort at Hanford? It’s not my question, of course, because it is a question to Tom Foulds and a historic one. But the question is great, to me. I couldn’t find really exact question, but I thought, “Okay, let’s compare the Hanford and the brother site, Chelyabinsk.” Why the mitigation? Billion dollars are going there to clean, and the Russians don’t do anything? Why? Can I find the answer what to answer this question here? That was the only way for me to answer. I compare.

This is, Cynthia, what I found in my vision of the world. The life here is very much based on, relied on—people even don’t think maybe about it—the legislative principle of a right to know. The first time I’ve seen these words was from Tom Foulds. And right to know led those who started it—Tom was pioneering on that—to open the documents previously classified for the government. Tom looked at that and then it was natural, for this system here, starting the litigation.

It may not even be imaginable in Russia, in the former Soviet Union. That’s why so similar technologically, they are so different in their history.

The answer is very compact if you go to the root: right to know. Doesn’t exist in Russia.

I’m thinking regularly about my more than twenty years’ experience with Tom. It is one of the sweetest parts of my life [laugh]. It was so challenging professionally, socially. Very interesting.  

Kelly: Why don’t you tell us about it? Maybe you can start with how you met him and then how you become engaged and what your role was.

Klementiev: I know that he was a successful lawyer with industrial things like fire in the hotel, or something like that. Then, he turned his life to help people who suffered from this event. In other words, those who manufactured this weapon-grade plutonium in Hanford. They exposed people to the risk, not telling them. He wanted to help them, or if they died—to their families. He devoted the last big piece of his life – about twenty-five, thirty years – just working for them.

So, this is personality. Now, professionally, he asked me to do some work for him. This is his wonderful intuition work, the first time. He said, “Here is the report of those who are doing research in Hanford showing harmful or not harmful waste productions.” It was PNNL [Pacific Northwest National Laboratory], Pacific Labs. He said, “They must be wrong here. Can you do your math work to show?” I translated into the math language, and he was right. It was accepted by the defendants, and that was my dreamful point.

After that, he asked me one-by-one. He wanted me to work, and I worked on the estimation of the radioiodine-131 releases from the Hanford stacks. He wanted me to do the same with plutonium releases. 

That’s the big projects. There were also some minor projects.

Kelly: These releases that you tried to quantify, I assume, were those from 1944 to 1989 when they shut the plants?

Klementiev: Yeah, but the latest years – I think I worked with them, but they were not very significant. Most of them were before – if it comes to iodine – before, I think, January ’51 when silver reactors, the filters, were installed. That was the massive. One of the massive ones was the Green Run. That was December ’49. 

He wanted me to estimate – this is how the project was designed. It was kind of the same as the defendants did before. First, estimate the schedule and amounts of the releases from the stacks from November/December ’44. It was Christmastime in ’44 when they dissolved the first rods. That was the first. It is called source term.

The next one was done by the physicist in Florida, Doug Stewart. It was the transportation of these releases over the earth, mostly towards Spokane in northeast direction. This is how downwinders were appearing, because of that.

Next was the model which described how these contaminants—mostly iodine—dropped to the vegetation and through the food chain, through the cows, went to the kids. That’s the third.

The fourth was estimate the doses and risks. I did the first one. I have a newspaper with me. My work was published here in Seattle, just about that.

The last piece was done by a scientist who is now in England. At the very last years – I think a couple of years of litigation – he said that he is sick and, “Don’t ask me to do that part.” So, I participated. I used the methods I used before for the risks – or doses estimations, excuse me, not risks. That was my part.

This is how the project, Tom’s project was structured, and what was our roles in that.

Kelly: Did you mean to get information from the Department of Energy that was still classified? Or was it just at the moment that they declassified everything you needed to know? Was that in the data? Was that hard?

Klementiev: No, Tom was the digger. He provided me with the data I asked him for. But that was mostly for the first part, source term model. That was the routine records every day how much material – well, what is the weight of the rods dissolved, cooling time in the cooling pools. It was just routine records. It’s nothing more than that. 

Then, I used them as the input for my model. What was the output of my model, I sent it to Doug Stewart to Florida.

Kelly: What was the fourth part that you had looked at? The dosages for—

Klementiev: Doses, yeah. I did that because Tom was almost ready to go to the court, and the

court was waiting for that. The gentleman who worked for that part, I think he had some late form of cancer and he asked to release him from that. But he was generous. He wrote a couple of brilliant books, and I could see how he calculated all of that. I just repeated that.

Having dose was not enough. Tom wanted me – and this is my last really significant project, for me – he wanted me to calculate the risks. Because the dose says nothing to the judge. The judge wanted, “Give me the data, which, I, Judge, can use for my decision.”

I calculated probabilities of causation, which is the standard for industry, which is the metric accepted in the professional community as just for this purpose. So, I calculated that.

Kelly: So, the standard metric in the industry is that so many grams of X will produce Y? 

Klementiev: No, no. That was more related to the dosage. We were working with thyroid diseases.

The dose on the thyroid was calculated.

Now, as soon as the dose is calculated, the judge would like to know, “Okay, I can see the dose and I trust the dose. Now, give me the argument if this dose is dangerous and responsible for these thyroid diseases, or it is just background.” Women, especially, they have thyroid disease without any exposure to the radiation. We call it “background morbidity.” How to distinguish between the two?

This is how this marker or measure, metric, was born. It is called “probability of causation.” It is understandable by the judges in the judges’ community, because it is intuitively understandable. It means that the disease was caused by this agent, exposure, more likely than not. Everybody understands that. If they don’t think deeply, they understand it [laugh].

In our case, the judge in the last litigation activity, the judge, for some reasons, refused to use that. He said, “Can you calculate the odds?” Okay, we calculated the odds.

The court may say, “I don’t want to use this metric,” and that’s the problem. As in our case, the judge said, “Please bring me odds.” Instead of showing him probability of causation is 63%, he got another, the same, expression. The probability is 2.3:1. To me, the first one is much easier explainable, but he prefers the second one and it is up to him.

Kelly: So, you submitted this, 2.3:1? 

Klementiev: Yeah, yeah.

Kelly: What happened?

Klementiev: According to Tom, it was settlement. It was not the court hearings, it was settlement, as cases before that, same scenario. The clients were rewarded with the money. Tom told me that they were happy with that. That’s what I know.

Kelly: So, you did your work well.

Klementiev: I’m happy with that.

Kelly: That’s good, that’s great. Gosh, it’s just hard to believe, this went on for twenty-four years.

Klementiev: Hmm?

Kelly: The litigation took twenty-four years, is that correct?

Klementiev: Yeah, I would like to see the movie about that [laugh], it is so dramatic.

It is so dramatic. See, once it was closed, the Judge McDonald who considered that case – he rejected that. Tom applied to the Court of Appeals in California with three judges. In a couple of years, they said he was wrong, and we returned back to all the work. It was very unpredictable history.  

Kelly: The Court of Appeals in California referred the case back?

Klementiev: No, to the same judge. The court, or whoever decided to dismiss judge. We had another judge who was more reasonable. 

Kelly: Was it that judge who was asking for the odds?

Klementiev: Maybe, I don’t know. I don’t know the names. I know McDonald was that judge. Interesting, just to recall. The argument was, Judge McDonald has conflict of interests. It turned out to be right. Because he purchased land to produce apples in the contaminated area, and he didn’t want it to be known.

Kelly: So, it was 2.3:1 odds or 62% probability that people—

Klementiev: The numbers are made up. The numbers are made up. It’s just for illustration. It could be not 2.3 but it could be 2.1, but it doesn’t matter.

Kelly: You came up with an analysis that showed that the odds were, or probabilities were, that these exposed people in the Hanford plume, downwinders, had certain levels of exposures that would have caused a cancer in thyroid?

Klementiev: I had different groups. The last group was thyroid disease, or the group is called “any thyroid disease,” or thyroiditis or nodules. It was groupings. Because for each group, the math is the same but the parameters are different for calculating probability of causation.

Kelly: How many groups were there?

Klementiev: I guess five. 

Kelly: And they were arranged by the different outcomes?

Klementiev: Right. It was Professor [Christer] Lindquist who provided me this data. I had twenty-three – that’s the last group – I had twenty-three people. I’m not sure about twenty-three. They were grouped by the category of disease, which was diagnosed.

See, that’s an interesting story. It’s not the prediction. It’s not, “I have a dose.” Like in Chernobyl now, “I have a dose, I know my dose, and I want to know what are the prognoses for the development.”

Now, this is a different story. This is, “I have the diagnosis right here.” Sometimes it is death, so it is very concrete. “Now, go backward. Tell me, what was the cause?” See, logically, it is slightly different, it’s different modeling.

This is the group I have. I met some of them, mostly women, I worked on.

Kelly:  You must’ve had to work with health professionals, or data gathered by biologists that could help relate certain levels of dose of iodine-131 and this back to likelihood of getting those outcomes. Is that correct? How did this work?

Klementiev: Thank you for this question. That was the most interesting work for me, because I will be presenting this piece in Tri-Cities in the Nuclear Conference in October.

See, this is how to answer this question. There are nationally known—available on the internet—software, which is designed for everyone like you and me to enter your data, and they tell you what is your dose if you don’t know. Or if you know, if you provide the dose, they tell you what is your probability of causation related to that. It is IREP [Interactive RadioEpidemiological Program] designed by Department of Labor, Federal Department, and CDC [Center for Disease Control], I guess. It’s very solid. It’s the standard in the industry.

However, it covers only those who worked for the Department of Energy, who were workers. Those who were kids and they were exposed – downwinders – they’re ignored by the programs, “I don’t know you.” You’re not supposed to because I count for the ages sixteen and over, or eighteen and over. But our clients were kids when they were exposed. So, that program wouldn’t answer.

Another program is designed for every age, but specific to Nevada test sites—radiation coming from Nevada test sites—and our case wouldn’t work with that. And Tom, back to his fantastic intuition, he said, “Design the program which goes to the same standards, but specific to our situation.” That’s what we did. I’ll be reporting that.

By the way, it uses Chernobyl data. Because Chernobyl team – excuse me for my language – but they very well used Chernobyl experiment on kids. I’m sorry, please understand me correctly. Of course, it’s not an experiment, but it is an experiment. Because this is the first time ever the population – not planned experiment – was exposed to iodine coming from the fire. It was not an explosion, it was fire. The data collected was so unique, so important, and was immediately converted into the very good research paid by Germany, World Health Organization. By the way, when I worked on Chernobyl, World Health Organization was there already, the Kiev Chernobyl part.

The data they found are the only missing part in my model I needed. The missing part is, if the kids are exposed in early childhood to iodine radiation absorbed – inhaled, mostly, drink milk or any other way – what is the lifetime risk of developing thyroid disease? The team – it’s an international team. Half of that was Ukrainian guys.

I could see the names from other countries, as well. It was an international team. I know none of them except for one, Leif [inaudible], who was the leader of the Ukrainian team. I know him. They collected the data, analyzed the data, and published that parameter, which was the missing part in my model.

Kelly: Got it.

Klementiev: [Laugh] That was Tom, who actually, he found that publication. He gave it to me and he said, “Read it carefully, you will find something.” [Laugh] This is how it works.

Unidentified Male: You said during the 1940s, the 1950s, there was a lot of iodine coming out of the plant. Do you know how many people were exposed at that time in the area?

Klementiev: I should know, but I cannot give you the number now. I worked on that twenty years ago, fifteen.

I have a number. The number of people who were registered as downwinders – we call them downwinders, our clients in Tom’s office – was over two thousand. We also had another office, [Richard] Eymann, the lead in Spokane. Another one was in Oregon. There were three offices, and one of them was ours. That’s what I know.

Kelly: What are the effects of radiation exposure?
Klementiev: There are many ways to address this question. But roughly, you can break this issue into parts. First is high dose, and the effect is death. It’s acute radiation disease. People, for example, in Kiev—they died in Moscow, but they were exposed in Kiev, the firemen. They were dying with manifestation of symptoms of pneumonia. Because the sickness itself is characterizing by the oppression of the immune system. As soon as the immune system is oppressed, these guys are the first to come – pneumonia—and they kill. This is the effect.

Mathematically, more interesting probably is the low dose. Because the effect is not that simple, and we call it stochastic effect. It may or may not happen. Here, solid corpus of knowledge is available now. I compare to what they had when they started to produce weapon-grade radioactive materials. They didn’t know that as much as we know now.

Now, there are ways to measure the radiation exposure in grades. Actually, physically, it’s very simple. The exposure, the radiation, is just the vehicle which gives to some organ or tissue energy. It’s the vehicle that transports energy to the tissue, and tissue absorbs this energy. You just calculate one joule of energy – this is how energy is measured – per gram of tissue. This is what we use, how we measure the dose. How much the dose absorbs, that is a little bit more sophisticated. But anyway, it is measured.

You can consider these effects at the level of cells, when the energy was transported to the organ like lung or thyroid. As soon as it is absorbed, it makes the changes in the molecular composition of the tissue, it kills some of the cells. Some of the cells are not killed but transformed. Then, they were removed by the immune system because the immune system is sensitive, “Is it Y or not Y?” We call it immune passport. It checks all the cells.

Some of the cells survive, but they are cancerous. They may or may not be removed by the system. But if they are not removed, they proliferate and cancer starts. This is the cell level.

At the individual level – by the way, during this conversation, each of us have cancerous cells and it’s the life we live in. But our immune system knows how to remove them from the body. It’s not something really specific to some special case. It’s just the normal life of human body. By the way, we are exposed to the normal radiation every minute and again, it’s normal. We shouldn’t consider that something happened in Chernobyl or in Hanford. No, we live in this world.

Individual level. At the individual level, as soon as these malignant cells – not benign but malignant cells – initiate or warn somehow because of the radiation, and proliferating, we don’t feel that. We may have cancer, we don’t know about that. Only when manifestation of cancer comes.

But eventually, the cells proliferate and they create metastasis. This is how, in the individual level, radiation works. It just starts the malignant process, killing the body.

At the population level, that’s my professional part. My work is here. At the population level, we simply calculate the risks for population – or proportion of population – say, population is exposed to some risk factor, like radiation. We can calculate the proportion which will develop the disease and the dynamics of that. How much time it would take. Because the cancer starts today but you may die, or a person may die, in five years. However, the cancer, already existing, is scheduled for fifteen years from now. We don’t know about that. 

We can only know this statistically firm characteristics of the population exposure as proportion: who will develop this quality; and when death or manifestation of the disease—which is diagnosis—will occur. So, exposed now; fifteen, ten years from now, it might be revealed or diagnosed as skin cancer. The death may or may not come another ten years. This is the dynamic of the population health.

“Describe the problem of tank waste.” It is a problem. As a member of Washington Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, I participate in this Hanford Advisory Board. Now, I’m working as the member of the Tank Waste Committee, it is called. I regularly have information about what is going on there. Should I explain why the tanks are there? Or it is known?

Kelly: Sure.

Klementiev: Okay. The technology of extracting plutonium from the fuel rods suggested that after they were irradiated and cooled for a month or so in the water pool, they were dissolved. Chemically, the plutonium was extracted from the rods and all the accompanying byproducts, like iodine, released from the rods.

However, as soon as they were dissolved, the resulting liquid should be dumped somewhere. The tanks were built to keep this highly toxic liquid in the tanks. Just parallel: in Russia, they used just natural lake to dump there, not telling people, “Don’t swim.” The lake is called Karachay. Now, they said. “Well, that’s Russia.” 

Now, as for Hanford, with the time going on, the liquid – the content – dumped into the tanks changed. We have liquid, and we have some mass like sludge, and some more dense like wet sand on the ocean shore, something pretty hard. Now, liquid was removed, but now the problem is what to do with these portions of highly toxic materials. Their behavior is not always predictable. By “they,” I mean the sediments.

Additional problem is, there were signs showing leaking from some of the tanks. Especially for me, it was surprising that double shell tanks show the leakage. Now, the problem with the tanks the engineers have here, how to remove this heavy, sludgy stuff from the bottom. They tried different technologies to make like a pulp, to make it like liquid to remove it. I’m not sure how successful it is. This is the problem, leakage and not easily removable sludge. That’s the tanks. That’s what I know.

Kelly: So, the Hanford Advisory Board is trying to figure out what the end plan is, what to do with this waste?

Klementiev: Hanford Advisory Board is in the position to give advice. However, it is like politburo. All the work is going in the committees. In the Tank Waste Committee, people work on the matter, “What is going on, and what would be the better way to do it?” It is approved by the politburo, and then goes to those who work in the field. This is how it works.

Sometimes I’m a little bit confused, as the member of that. We are representing the general public with our concerns, and we want to do our best. However, those who worked really on that—who are thinking, making mistakes, correcting them—and we are teaching them the lessons sometimes. It seems to be a little bit not adequate.

How can I give good advice if I didn’t try that? They really work in the field. They’re reporting to us how they work, what they do—the engineers. I am amazed, I am amazed. It’s highly professional, very responsible. No accidents, by the way.

In the Hanford history, I think we they had about seventeen deaths in construction, when they did construction. In [Harold] McCluskey case, it was exposure to the radiation.

But anyway, what they do now, it’s maybe not comparable to the history. I really highly appreciate what they do with this cleaning. Like their predecessors, they were the first in human history building the capacity to produce plutonium. These guys are first in the history to clean them. I guess it is more expensive. Probably more sophisticated. That’s what I learned being in that team.

Kelly:  Do you want to talk about what you learned from your work on the analysis that you did on the downwinders or, more generally, from what you found about the afflictions of these people? What are your thoughts on that experience? 

Klementiev: You mean technical? Social? Moral? 

Kelly: All of the above [laugh].

Klementiev: Morally, I’m proud I am part of this team. It makes my life meaningful. That simple. 

Technically, I learned every day. Because this is the beauty of work—like past work with Tom. Whatever he asked me to do, my first reaction was, “I don’t know how to do it.” [Laugh] Learning was a natural process. Many times, I simply did not know. I understood what he asked, but I don’t know how to approach. But that was a challenge, and it gives you some joy of accomplishment.

Socially, I did what I can do. It was additional feeling, which is – I’m not sure if it is interesting to mention, but I can tell. I always feel, the Russian who is helping Americans. I came to this country when I was fifty years old. All of my life was there, in the Soviet Union. All of a sudden, I am among those who, during all of my life, were called enemies. America exists just for one reason, to kill us. [Laugh]. Can you imagine that? It’s not easy to imagine. No, it’s easy to imagine, but it’s an internal feeling. That was an additional flavor toward.

Kelly:  You mentioned. Goodness.

Klementiev: I was lucky. I met people like Tom who, to me, he’s just [inaudible]. He’s just the model of honest, skillful, man of integrity. It was another joy of work, just communicating with him. We are still having fun together, having lunch and so forth. I just enjoy this.

He was a boy – eighteen-year-old boy – who was in the war. D-Day, June ’44, when American and Canadian and English crossed the La Manche. You know the story? One of them was Tom Foulds.

Kelly: In the invasion?

Klementiev: Yeah.

Kelly: My goodness, wow. 

Klementiev: As every real soldier who was exposed to death, he never, ever spoke about that, just mentioned. I’m very proud of him.

Kelly: Do you remember anything from the war? You were born in ’42? 

Klementiev: Yeah.

Kelly: In Moscow?

Klementiev: Yeah.

Kelly: Good thing it wasn’t Leningrad.

Klementiev: It was not Leningrad, no, no.

Kelly: That must’ve been a horrible siege.

Klementiev: I know something about Leningrad, and it was terrible. No, Moscow was more relaxed. My dad was an engineer. They produced aircrafts for the Army, just for the war. By the way, the airfield was several miles from the German line. He told me that.

What I remember about the wartime—interesting that in the Russian language in my time, in my generation, the combination of the words “before the war” and “after the war,” it was part of the language. Not anymore, of course. But I remember, if my parents spoke to each other, “Oh, that was before the war.” It was a significant part of their life.

What I remember about the war, the German soldiers worked in the area where we lived. We just played with them because they were just workers and they built the telephone station, telephone relay, two-story building. I remember them. We were, “Please, Kamerad,” and they responded and they were very friendly. That’s all I think I remember, yeah.

Of course, it was the time when people didn’t have enough food. That’s what I remember about post-wartime.

Kelly: Did not have enough food. Very hard times. And you lost twenty million men.

Klementiev: No, nobody knows how many. First, it was seven. Then, Stalin decided, “Why seven? Why don’t you say twenty?” And twenty appeared. It was his recommendation. Nobody calculated, nobody counted, because nobody caredTwo of my uncles went through the war. We were normally stupid for – the small kids, we didn’t ask the questions I would ask now. We couldn’t grasp the fantastic amount of suffering. We were just kids. When the time came and we realized what it is, life changed. 

I can give you another story, because I was working with the demographers, medical demographers, and professional demographers. Now, it is the Research Center Institution in Moscow. 

It’s a well-known story how the Demographic Institute in Moscow was dismissed, because they made a mistake when doing census for Russia in ’37. They just reported that, “We are missing about so many—like three, five million people. We couldn’t see them.” You know what Stalin’s reaction was? He dismissed the Institute and punished those who came with these findings, and asked to repeat the census correctly. They repeated correctly. This is how the numbers in the Soviet Union like twenty million were appearing to the surface. By the way, “punished” is the soft word for gulag.

Twenty million, no. How many million they just killed for fun? And not Germans. Stalin killed Russians more than Hitler killed Russians.

Well, it started in 1919 when the concentration camps were established. Then, civil war, which is just—blech. Then, ’37; then, the war. There are so many stories about that war. Those who participated in the war—they passed away, of course. But they wrote – it is called “soldiers’ stories,” not “generals’ stories,” but “soldiers’ stories.”

Their expression normally is, “Stalin won the war just covering Germans by our dead bodies.” That corrupted the psychology of the whole nation. To kill is normal. Now, it is returning back, by the way. They are not killing, but they are definitely misbehaving.

Killing, by the way, in Ukraine, it’s the war. They killed the Ukrainians for nothing. 

Kelly: And resisted collectivization. Right?

Klementiev: Hmm?

Kelly: I was thinking about in the ‘30s.

Klementiev: The 30s? Actually, it started in ’29, the First Five Year Plan. Collectivization was part of that.

It changes mentality, not of the person but for the whole nation. It’s an agreement like, behave that way. Like when you reduce the temperature in the vessel with the water, every molecule moves slower. The temperature is the general characteristic of the water. But for each molecule – who’s a person – each molecule moves slower and slower. This is what is happening – happened and happening – in Russia. They change the temperature and socially, psychologically, morally, people are slower.

Kelly: It’s okay. I see you have Plutopia [Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters] there.

Klementiev: Yeah, yeah.

Kelly: Right. So, what do you think of that book?

Klementiev: Very well-written. Well, she didn’t include something which I would include. What she is writing is correct, and I appreciate her detailed vision. I would do a little bit more, but she probably didn’t have access to the documents for it. 

See, the Mayak in Chelyabinsk was built by the prisoners. It’s a gulag. So many people died. It’s not her plan probably to go into the details. That’s one part.

Another part is, she is not writing about that oppressive behavior of the slowed-down molecules who are the Soviet people. This is what I would do.

But see, I realize that my vision and my position is probably slightly biased, to the point that I’m sensitive to unfairness, to the humiliation of my people. Maybe I am, but maybe not. 

Kelly: What do you think of her depiction of Hanford?

Klementiev: Well-written, and I learned from her something I couldn’t learn when I read the declassified documentation. No, she knows more. She shows more. For example, about Green Run. Nothing in the documents available for me, nothing. From her, I could see how it worked.

Kelly: You weren’t given access to the document? 

Klementiev: I guess it was not even written. See, she associates the Green Run with the experimentation how the plume with the green fuel – no, with the evaporation from the Ukraine fuel, when it was dissolved, how it travels and what are the characteristics of that plume.

She says it was important for surveillance on the Russian Soviet nuclear program because the Americans could register the radiation at the remote areas from Mayak. This is what she says. It looks reasonable. If I was an American general, I would definitely do so, maybe.

Nothing about that in the documentation. Tom would be very, very interested in that if he found it. No.

She shows pretty good knowledge. She tries to describe the behaviors of Russian family or Russian people, how nice they are and how enthusiastically they worked. Probably she knows better.

Kelly: You’re quite a pilgrim. You said when you went to Vienna to study, that was very—

Klementiev: Not study, we were just research fellows.

Kelly: Oh, research.

Klementiev: No, no, it was right after my first PhD. But that was my first exposure to the West. My first lesson, “Hey, wait a minute. Yeah, they are capitalists, and they are trying to kill us tomorrow or day after tomorrow. But I don’t see any traces of that! [Laughter]

Kelly: That’s great. That’s very funny. 

Klementiev: But see, this is what they hear every day in the Soviet schools. That was just every day. Brainwashing, real brainwashing. I understand very well why the Germans, after they were defeated after the war – ’46, ’47, ’48 – they were still supporters for Hitler. Many, most. I know that, because my grandson is German [laugh]. I go there. My son’s family is there, and I speak openly with people and they confirm that.

Yes, brainwashing was extremely – without TV – extremely efficient. Most of the people still have this disease. Soviet propaganda was more efficient, I guess, because of the technical capabilities.

But it has nothing to do with Hanford [laugh].

My hope is that sometime this Hanford litigation experience will be used in Russia.

Kelly:  Probably not in the immediate future. By then, it gets very difficult. I suppose the exposures are going to be continuing, since they haven’t cleaned it up.

Klementiev” Of course.

Kelly: I think it’s useful, yeah.

Klementiev: Useful probably in terms of how it is planned, what to do. For example, “You have money, and you have will to do this job. How to plan it?” This experience is about how it is organized and what Tom did. 

Kelly: Yeah, but there again, we can learn so much from each other, not as enemies but as collaborators.

Klementiev: By “we?”

Kelly: We, American and Russian scientists.

Klementiev: Oh, scientists, of course. But scientists prefer to go from Moscow to the United States. I’ve seen so many of them. 

Kelly: Is that right? Have you?

Klementiev: Oh, yeah, so many.

Kelly: And leave permanently?

Klementiev: They leave.

Klementiev: Yeah. Like I did. Because it’s a bad time for them. Ironically, in the Soviet time, it was more comfortable for the scientists to do their work.

Kelly: Than the present?

Klementiev: Mm-hmm.

Kelly: Why was that?

Klementiev: Science, it had two functions. First, it was like Bolshoi ballet dancing, you know? “We are proud. We have the best in the world and our scientists, the best in the world. We are proud. We pay them, but let them be here, like ballet dancers, showing that we are the first.”

Second—probably more important—was, it was time for good quality science. Math, we have great institutions in Moscow and in St. Petersburg. In Siberia, in Novosibirsk, as well. Physics. So many great names came from the new physics – I mean, nuclear physics research, like the Division Budker—so many, many great names.

Even [when] the Iron Curtain existed, but that community was self-sustaining, scientifically. Of course, they needed the contacts, but they could work. Because they convinced the guys above that this work is needed for the bomb, the rockets, and that was true. This is how it worked. They don’t care about bomb anymore, because this is already here. I mean, no research is needed—“To make new things, why? We can kill with the old one, with the old technologies.”

Many of my friends, because of age as well, they are leaving science simply because, who cares about their results? It was not the case thirty, forty, fifty years ago, no. No, we were very well-paid. We lived in the Academy of Sciences. It was like an island of privileged people who can feel really free. In the jail, but we were free [laugh]. But most people were prisoners in the jail. No, we were free.

Kelly: Prisoners in your own country.

Klementiev: Yeah, because we were limited in where to go, what to say. Between us, it was okay. Generally, fear was the major controlling factor. Fear, now, it’s back again. Fear works better than police.