Hanford T Plant open for public tours for 1st time

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldAugust 30, 2013 

T Plant Tour Historic

A historic preservation team toured Hanford's T Plant this spring. Public tours of the plant are planned in October to commemorate Hanford's 70th anniversary.

HERALD FILE — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The public can get a rare look inside Hanford's historic T Plant as Hanford-area communities commemorate the birth of the atomic age with Hanford 70th anniversary events in October.

Plans include a month of tours of B Reactor and T Plant and lectures by scholars and eyewitnesses to history.

Hanford 70th Plutonium Passport tickets, the first available to the events, are on sale on the Internet at a link at the top of www.ourhanfordhistory.org. The passports, which cost $70, will cover bus transportation to tour B Reactor and T Plant.

B Reactor is well known in the Tri-Cities as the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor, producing plutonium for the world's first manmade nuclear explosion, the Trinity Test in the New Mexico desert, and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

But less well known is B Reactor's sister facility, T Plant.

The plant, nicknamed the Queen Mary for its massive length, was the first chemical processing and separations plant of its kind in the world. It was used to chemically separate plutonium from irradiated fuel rods, allowing it to be used in the nation's weapons program during WWII.

"It's time we tell the story of T Plant's role in history," said Colleen French, the DOE Hanford government affairs program manager.

This is the first time that T Plant has been included on public tours of Hanford. The plant is among historic facilities at Hanford that legislation includes in a proposed Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

T Plant is not only the first plant of its kind, but it also is the oldest nuclear facility in the nation still being used for work with radioactive material.

Visitors in October will tour the gallery, the nonradioactive area that runs the length of the plant's "canyon." Inside the canyon, work has been done on the operating deck in recent years to treat and repackage radioactive waste and sample gases trapped inside drums of waste that have been removed from Hanford burial grounds.

T Plant's future could include storage of radioactive sludge once it is removed from underwater containers in the basin attached to Hanford's K West reactor. Beneath the deck are underground waste storage tanks once used to hold chemical and radioactive waste from dissolving fuel rods.

The Plutonium Passport tickets also will cover admission to the lecture series for a selected weekend along with "as available" admission to other weekend lectures. It also will cover free admission to the CREHST museum and a self-guided walking tour of the "alphabet" houses built by the government in Richland for Hanford workers and named for letters of the alphabet.

Tickets will be sold separately for individual lectures for $10, but those tickets are not yet available. Lecture tickets also will include free admission to CREHST and the alphabet homes walking tour.

Weekend activities, with B Reactor and T Plant tours offered each Saturday and Sunday in October at times to be announced, include:

-- The celebration starts the weekend of Oct. 4-6 with "For Your Eyes Only," a James Bond-themed Cold War party benefiting the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center at 7 p.m. Oct. 4. Tickets cost $125 and are available by calling the Reach office at 943-4100.

Plans call for photo ops with James Bond, the Bond girls, a Bond villain and cars shown by the Vintage British Car Club. Cold War artifacts will be displayed and a silent auction of James Bond collectibles will be held.

Entertainment will be provided by Bond characters, and Bill McKay will provide music. Martini tasting and themed food stations also are planned.

-- The opening lecture of the anniversary series, "Fish, Pigs, Dogs and Plutonium: Hanford Biologists and the Atomic Bomb," will be given by Bill Bair with a reception at 3 p.m. and his talk at 4 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Richland Public Library.

Bair, a biological scientist, went to work at Hanford in 1954 and was a leader in research programs that helped set standards for human protection from radiation. His research focused on the inhalation of radionuclide aerosols, mostly fission products, by various animal species, primarily beagle dogs.

However, in the early '60s he took over the work of a researcher leaving Hanford who had been conducting radiation studies with alligators kept in a fenced pond near F Reactor. When five of the alligators escaped -- three with exposure to radioactive materials and two used as controls -- a crew spent six months looking for them. Two were never found.

-- The speaker for the weekend of Oct. 12-13 has not been confirmed.

-- Author Bruce Hevly will discuss "The Atomic West" at a lecture and reception at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Richland Players Theatre.

Hevly, a University of Washington associate history professor, most recently wrote Atomic Frontier Days: Hanford and the American West with co-author John Findlay.

It traces the economic and political fortunes of Hanford and the Tri-Cities, laying out the roller coaster of boom and bust cycles as Hanford struggled to stay relevant and the community attempted to maintain a solid economic footing through the post World War II decades.

-- A free exhibit is planned from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 20 called Homespun History: Quilts and Textiles from White Bluffs, Hanford and the Manhattan Project. It will be at the White Bluffs Quilt Museum, 294 Torbett St., Richland.

-- The final lecture of the series will be given by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes on Oct. 26. A lecture and reception will start at 7 p.m. at the Richland Players Theatre.

Rhodes is the author and editor of 24 books, including The Making of the Atomic Bomb, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and a National Book Award.

He also wrote Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, which was on the short list for a Pulitzer Prize in History.

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

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service