Decision awaits on B Reactor's future

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldDecember 9, 2013 

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., took a moment to sit at the controls of Hanford's historic B Reactor Monday as discussions continued on the other side of the nation on a bill that could set the reactor's future.

The U.S. House of Representatives has given its approval to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park that would include B Reactor. It approved the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act with an amendment creating the new national park in June.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has proposed a similar amendment to the Senate bill with the support of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

But as work was under way Monday to rewrite the bill, it was uncertain whether the Senate would agree to include provisions for the new national park bill. The bill could be considered by the Senate in December, or delayed until January, giving advocates of the new park more time to persuade the Senate to approve it.

"I'm always cautiously optimistic," said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who brought DeFazio for his first look at B Reactor Monday. "Sometimes the process slows down. We have to keep working on it."

Creating the park does have broad bipartisan and bicameral support, he said. But getting a bill passed remains a work in progress.

Hastings is the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has purview over national parks, and DeFazio is the ranking member of the committee.

"It definitely merits preservation and being available to the public," DeFazio said after touring the reactor. "It's a phenomenal part of history."

The House Natural Resources Committee also has passed a separate bill focused solely on creating a new national park. A similar bill has passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. But neither bill has advanced to a vote of the full House or Senate.

Last year similar legislation failed to be brought to a Senate vote before it adjourned in December.

However, Congress has passed a defense authorization act annually for half a century, giving supporters of the proposed park an alternate way to get it approved in a year in which lawmakers have agreed on few bills.

"Sen. Cantwell introduced this amendment because it's time to give Hanford's B Reactor the recognition it deserves," said Jared Leopold, Cantwell's communication director. She will continue to work with Hastings, Murray and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, he said.

B Reactor was the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor and created plutonium for the world's first atomic explosion and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II. Today it looks much like it did during World War II operations and the early years of the Cold War.

The proposed new park also would include other facilities from the Manhattan Project, the top-secret WWII project to develop an atomic bomb, including facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M., and possibly additional structures at Hanford.

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

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