Hastings introduces Hanford B Reactor park bill

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJune 22, 2012 

Legislation to create a new national park that would include Hanford's historic B Reactor was introduced in the U.S. House on Thursday by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and two other representatives.

The language of the bill is similar to companion legislation introduced in the Senate last week, after a draft of the Senate bill was changed to more closely match that of the House draft bill.

Both bills would create a multi-state Manhattan Project National Historical Park, with sites in Hanford, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M.

B Reactor was the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor and produced plutonium for the first nuclear explosion and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

"In less than three years, scientists and engineers succeeded in harnessing the energy of the atom, a feat comparable to mankind's discovery of how to control fire," the Atomic Heritage Foundation said in a statement.

"It's taken years of work by advocates in these local communities to get to this point," Hastings said in a statement. "Today we are another step closer to preserving and sharing this unparalleled piece of our history for current and future generations."

The bill gives the Department of the Interior one year to establish the new park and enter into an agreement with the Department of Energy on the role of each in administering facilities, public access, management, interpretation and historic preservation.

It also requires a general management plan to be created for the park within three years.

That will require money to be appropriated, but "scoring" of the bill by the White House Office of Management and Budget could show that including B Reactor in a national park would save the federal government money, according to the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC).

The cost of maintaining the reactor as part of a national park likely will be less in the short term than demolishing it.

The bill also would allow Hanford's T Plant, where plutonium was chemically removed from irradiated fuel, and some buildings used before the Hanford nuclear reservation was formed to be considered for the national park.

Owners of small farms and businesses and tribal members were forced to leave more than 500 square miles for the secret Manhattan Project in Eastern Washington during World War II. Buildings that residents left that still stand include the Hanford High School, the White Bluffs Bank, the Bruggemann stone warehouse and the Hanford Irrigation District pump house.

Some groups oppose the proposed new park, fearing that it will glorify the atomic bomb.

But the National Park Service will be responsible for incorporating diverse perspectives, the Atomic Heritage Foundation said.

"Just as presenting the history of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center has been controversial, coming up with a narrative that is satisfactory to all will be a challenge," it said. "But many other contested aspects of our history, from the Civil War to the Japanese-Amerian internment camps, are successfully interpreted by the National Park Service.

"The Manhattan Project history and its legacy should be no different," it said.

The other representatives who introduced the House bill Thursday with Hastings were Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., and Ben Lujan, D-N.M. Subcommittee hearings on the House and Senate bills are planned next week.

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