Bill Gates, son get personal tour of Hanford site

By Annette Cary, Herald staff writerMarch 16, 2010 

One of Washington state's most famous residents -- and its wealthiest -- received a personal tour of Hanford with his young son.

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, spent the day touring the nuclear reservation with his 10-year-old son March 5, the Department of Energy confirmed Monday.

Gates was interested in Hanford and used the tour as a science learning experience with his son, said his spokesman John Pinette. He had not talked to Gates since the tour to hear Gates' impressions of the tour, but said he was sure Gates appreciated DOE's hospitality.

Usually people have to sign up for one of the public tours of Hanford. Registration for all 2,544 seats on tours this year filled in 13 hours and 9 minutes when registration opened a week ago.

One of the key reasons tours are offered at Hanford is to get the word out on what work is being done to clean up Hanford and show how federal tax dollars are being spent, said DOE spokesman Cameron Hardy.

"Given the breadth and frequency of Mr. Gates' interaction with various publics, we were happy to agree to his tour request and take the extra steps necessary to accommodate his son," Hardy said.

Hanford public tours are restricted to visitors at least 18 years old, but that is not mandatory in any of the areas Gates and is son visited, he said.

Hanford produced plutonium during World War II and the Cold War for the nation's nuclear weapons program. Now about $2 billion is spent annually to clean up environmental contamination left from plutonium production and an additional $1.96 billion in federal economic stimulus money is being used for the work.

Gates visited on a Friday when workers were off, so little work was being done. Parts of the tour were led by Hanford's two top DOE managers, Shirley Olinger and Dave Brockman.

The tour included time inside Hanford's historic B Reactor, which supporters are advocating to get included in a possible Manhattan District National Historic Park. It was the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor and produced plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

The Gates also saw the trench where the U.S. Navy disposes of decommissioned nuclear submarine reactor vessels and the central Hanford area where some of the 53 million gallons of radioactive waste are stored in underground tanks.

The tour also included the $12.2 billion vitrification plant that's being built to begin turning the tank waste into a stable glass form in 2019.

It ended with a look at the HAMMER training center where life-sized props are used to practice for emergencies.

The tour of the 586-square mile nuclear reservation started midmorning and lasted until about 4 p.m., according to DOE.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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