The race to get seats for this year's public tours of the Hanford nuclear reservation starts tonight at one minute after midnight.
Last year, all seats on the popular Hanford bus tours were claimed about eight hours after registration opened. More than half were claimed within the first hour of registration.
Registration is offered only on the internet and only for two seats at a time. Go to www.hanford.gov and look for "Hanford Tours" under the quick links.
Sixty tours are being offered this year. They start at 8 and 10 a.m. April 10, 11, 12, 24 and 25; May 8, 9, 10, 22, 23 and 24; June 5, 6, 19 and 20; July 31; Aug. 1, 2, 14, 15, 16, 28, 29 and 30; and Sept. 11, 12, 13, 25, 26 and 27.
The tours cover the history of Hanford, where plutonium was made for the weapons production of plutonium during World War II and the Cold War, and also current work to clean up contamination left by wartime production. More than $2 billion is being spent annually on environmental cleanup of the site.
The highlight of the tour is 75 minutes spent inside Hanford's historic B Reactor, which looks much like it did when it began operating during WWII and ushered in the atomic age.
The five-hour bus tour also will include a new stop at the Plutonium Finishing Plant, where liquid plutonium that had been processed from fuel irradiated at Hanford reactors was formed into metal buttons the size of hockey pucks.
When plutonium was stored in its vaults, it was one of the most secure buildings in the nation. Now razor wire, guns and guard dogs are part of its past.
The tours, led by a Hanford employee, also will include a visit to the $12.2 billion vitrification plant under construction to turn high level radioactive waste into a stable glass form for disposal; the Cold Test Facility, where equipment is tested for emptying underground tanks of radioactive waste; and the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, a massive lined landfill with a capacity of 16 million tons.
The tours are open only to U.S. citizens and participants must be at least age 18 by the tour date. Federal or state photo identification must be presented to board the bus, and the name must exactly match the name on the registration for the tour. Tours leave from 2000 Logston Blvd., Richland.
A dress code appropriate for an industrial environment is mandatory, including flat shoes with closed heels and toes, and no skirts or sleeveless shirts. Participants are advised to bring snacks and beverages because of the length of the tour.
Tours are offered only on weekdays to allow participants to see work being done.
For people who don't get one of the 2,550 seats on the tour, there is no waiting list. But they can check back on the Hanford website periodically. When cancellations are received, the open seats are reposted without notice.
A good time to check is 3 to 10 days before each tour because cancellations are made soon after reminder emails are sent to participants before each tour.
Separate tours of the B Reactor also are planned this year, but registration information has not been announced.
* More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.