The Tri-Cities is on the edge of a huge economic opportunity with the formation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., as she discussed plans with government and civic leaders Friday in Kennewick.
The Manhattan Project National Park Advocacy Committee discussed early proposals for the new park with Cantwell as the local committee prepares to impress National Park Service and Department of Energy headquarters officials who will visit April 14-16. B Reactor will be the centerpiece of the Hanford portion of the park.
That visit will include a public open house with park service officials 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. April 15 in the atrium of the Computational Sciences Facility at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, 3300 Stevens Drive, Richland.
“You have a very unique opportunity here to build on the history and the tradition of the Tri-Cities, focusing on the Manhattan Project museum, and tell a story not only of this area but of our whole nation from a scientific perspective,” said Cantwell, who helped push legislation through Congress to create the park.
B Reactor, the world’s first production-scale nuclear reactor, continues to represent the scientific achievements of the Tri-Cities and reflects the technology and science-based economic future the area wants to focus on, she said.
“To have the science so readily available for people to come and see, to hear those stories, I think is just a rare asset,” she said.
Cantwell remembers the first time she toured the reactor, hearing the people who were there during World War II explain the project and the speed at which the technical solutions had to be deployed, she said. The United States was in a race to develop an atomic bomb, knowing that Nazi Germany also was working on an atomic bomb.
“If you can capture that same thing, this is going to be a big asset to the Tri-Cities from an economic development perspective,” she said.
No one should be more enthusiastic than the wine industry about the new national park, she said.
Some people will be attracted from across the nation just to see the science developed at Hanford, she said. But others will come for general tourism reasons and are likely also to visit local wineries and other attractions.
Cantwell agreed with members of the local committee that options need to be kept open.
There is interest in developing a visitor’s center in the north Richland area, possibly on the Columbia River at Battelle Boulevard. But the Vernita Bridge area also needs to serve as an entry point to visitors coming from Seattle and Spokane, who then might also drive down to the Tri-Cities.
Cantwell wants to make sure the federal government is listening to the community and integrating its thoughts into plans for the park, particularly since this will be one of the first in the nation where DOE is managing the land, she said.
Park service resources are limited and community leaders expect the agency to be looking for partnership opportunities.
For the last five years DOE has opened B Reactor to tours by about 60,000 people. The B Reactor Museum Association has put between $150,000 to $200,000 into developing exhibits at the reactor.
The Manhattan Project National Park will include historic sites not only at Hanford, but in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M., which also were working to develop the atomic bomb during the war.
At Hanford, B Reactor and T Plant, where irradiated fuel was processed to retrieve plutonium, are proposed for inclusion in the national park. The park also is expected to include land and a few remaining buildings that show the life of people who were ordered off their land to make way for the secret work to produce atomic weapons.
The story of Hanford cannot be told without an understanding of life before the war effort, said Colleen French, DOE national park program manager at Hanford.
“These are the lost communities,” she said. “They gave their sons to the war effort and then they gave their land to the Manhattan Project.”
Park service and DOE officials visiting later this month will tour B Reactor, T Plant and prewar sites at Hanford. They also will receive an update on Hanford environmental cleanup and meet with area tribes.
The Manhattan Project National Park Advocacy Committee will have a chance to meet with the visiting officials to present community ideas. The committee includes representatives of Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland; the counties of Benton, Franklin and Grant; the Port of Benton; the B Reactor Museum Association; the Tri-City Development Council and Visit Tri-Cities.