Legislation to make Hanford's historic B Reactor part of a new Manhattan Project National Historical Park was approved by a House committee Wednesday as supporters work to get legislation passed this year.
The bill now will be eligible for consideration by the full House. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
"Today's committee approval moves the historical park another step forward with our eye on enacting the bill into law before the end of this year," said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., in a statement.
The bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, which he leads as chairman, unanimously and without amendment.
Supporters of making the reactor part of a national park want legislation passed this year while advocates of the bill head key House and Senate committees. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, but plans to retire at the end of his term.
In addition, a change in the White House could mean new leadership in the Departments of Energy and Interiors, which are working together now on the national park plan.
The proposed park would include Manhattan Project historic facilities at Hanford and also Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn.
"The goal of this bill is to officially declare the importance of preserving this history of the Manhattan Project, provide access to the public and involve the unique abilities of the Park Service to help tell this story," Hastings said.
B Reactor was the world's first full-scale production reactor, built in about a year during World War II when the nation's leaders feared that Germany was preparing to unleash an atomic bomb.
The reactor looks much the same as it did when it produced the plutonium for the world's first atomic explosion and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, ushering in the atomic age worldwide.
Other Hanford facilities also could be included in the national park. T Plant continues to be used in the environmental cleanup of Hanford, but could be considered for the park when it is no longer needed by DOE. The massive plant, called the Queen Mary by early workers, chemically processed the irradiated fuel to separate out plutonium.
Some buildings left by settlers forced to leave their homes, businesses and farms to make way for the secret Hanford nuclear reservation also would be considered for inclusion. They include the Bruggemann warehouse, the White Bluffs Bank, the Hanford High School and the Hanford Irrigation District pump house.