Hanford B Reactor park bill defeated, but not dead yet

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 21, 2012 

A House bill that would have made Hanford's B Reactor part of a new national park failed to pass Thursday under a suspension of the rules.

That expedited process to pass a bill limits debate and requires two-thirds approval rather than a simple majority. The tally Thursday was 237 to 180.

However, the bill is not dead.

It still could be brought before the House for full debate and then a vote requiring a simple majority to pass.

"While it didn't receive the super-majority needed to be sent to the Senate today, a big bipartisan majority of the House voted to establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park," said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who wrote and cosponsored the bill, in a statement after the vote.

"We've shown there is support for this park and will be working towards the goal of enacting this into law before the end of this year," he said.

Supporters of the bill want it to pass this year before Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from New Mexico, retires at the end of this term. His support as chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and Hastings' support as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee helped the bill move through the respective committees.

The bill would include B Reactor and possibly other historic sites at Hanford, as well as Manhattan Project sites in Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

The bill was debated Wednesday in a discussion limited to 40 minutes under the suspension of House rules, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, spoke passionately against it.

"The bomb is about graveyards, not national parks," he said, and called the proposed park a "celebration" of nuclear weapons.

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

Hastings countered Kucinich, saying that creating the new national park would allow schoolchildren into facilities such as Hanford's B Reactor to see the lengths the nation went to during World War II to preserve freedom.

He also pointed out that most facilities being considered for the park are owned by the federal government. If they are not preserved, they will have to be torn down at taxpayer expense, he said.

Similar reactors to B Reactor at Hanford have been "cocooned," or sealed up and reroofed to wait for radiation in their core to decay before disposal, at a cost ranging in recent years from about $13 million to $24 million.

The estimated cost of the bill's provisions to form and operate a park during five years is $20 million.

If the park is formed, the National Park Service would interpret, or provide information on, "the Manhattan Project and its legacy in all its complexity, giving voice to all sides of this contested history," said the Atomic Heritage Foundation, in a statement after the vote Thursday.

"It is important that we remember and reflect upon the past," it said.

The full Senate has yet to consider a companion bill.

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