Despite working for the U.S. Department of Energy for more than 20 years and making a few trips to the Hanford site, Laurie Morman had never taken a proper tour of the nuclear reservation.
Her father was also a physicist and worked with DOE, but his work “was just what Daddy did.”
But after viewing historic sites at Hanford on Tuesday, from the remains of farming communities that preceded the reservation to the B Reactor itself, Morman said she was in awe of what the site represents and the message it holds for anyone who wants to know that part of the United States’ past.
“You can read all the history you want, until you sit in the middle of B Reactor, you can’t fathom it,” she told the Herald.
Morman was one of several federal officials, including from the National Park Service, who toured Hanford Tuesday as the process of opening portions of the site to the public begin as part of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park project.
Officials said there is still a lot of work ahead to making the park a reality. Specific details about the future park, such as where a visitor center could be located, are likely years away from being decided. However, they were impressed at the work that’s already been done at Hanford to open it to the public and the commitment of community leaders to the project.
“There is a clearer path here,” said Victor W. Knox, associate director of park planning, facilities and lands with the park service.
Congress approved the creation of the new national park in December. It also will include sites at Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., where work related to the Manhattan Project took place.
It still hasn’t been decided what parts of Hanford or of the other two sites will be opened as part of the park, though B Reactor — the world's first production-scale reactor — is largely assumed to be made accessible. Knox called it a “gem” that sends people back in time.
But the pre-Manhattan Project sites are also fascinating, officials said. Tuesday’s tour included the Bruggeman ranch, the White Bluffs bank and other ruins associated with the farming communities of Hanford and White Bluffs, whose residents were evicted to create the nuclear reservation. There’s also the matter of the tribes that lived in the area before settlers arrived.
“I’m anxious to see how the park service tells that part of the story,” Morman said.
The sensitive nature of the Manhattan Project sites means the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Energy need to figure out what parts will be opened to the public. Knox said those discussions are going well and he is optimistic there will be an agreement this year.
Hanford, though, which is already welcoming up to 10,000 people a year on public tours, is a little bit ahead of Los Alamos and Oak Ridge, where high-security clearance work is ongoing, officials said. The diligence of Tri-City leaders, who have long pushed for Hanford to become a national park, means issues such as determining the best public access points and rallying community support have been addressed early.
“They have such a firm foundation,” Morman said.
Officials would not comment on whether Hanford’s readiness to transform into a national park would give it priority. Instead, it’s likely each site would be developed at the beginning to give as many people across the country access to the history of the Manhattan Project, they said.
Local advocates for the park project were still pleased with Tuesday’s tour, noting that all the work that’s gone into preserving B Reactor and paving the way to transforming the site from a nuclear cleanup area to one of national historic interest has been worth it.
“We know there’s a story to be told there,” said Colleen French, DOE’s national park program manager in Richland.