Retired Rep. Doc Hastings said he had just one request of the National Park Service during a community open house Wednesday in Richland for the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
If historic B Reactor could be built in 18 months, then DOE and the National Park Service should be able to have the new national park operating in 17 months and two weeks, Hastings said.
Hastings, who was instrumental in getting legislation approved in December to create the new park, wants as many of the nuclear reservation’s early workers to be alive to see the park in operation as possible, he said.
This week, DOE officials from Washington, D.C., and officials from the National Park Service toured Hanford to make plans for the new park. They have met with community leaders and working on an agreement due at the end of the year outlining what roles and responsibilities each federal agency will have.
“Standing up this park will take time,” said Vic Knox, the park service associate director for park planning, facilities and lands.
Legislation created the park, but funding still must be obtained, he said. Planning must be done for both short- and long-term operation of the park to provide for public access and historical preservation
In the meantime, the park service will do all it can to support and improve the tours of B Reactor already offered by DOE, he said.
“We do not come in here to change everything all at once,” he said. “We want to support and build on what’s already going on.”
He toured B Reactor Tuesday, finding it worthy of National Park Service protection.
“It just draws you in and brings history to life,” he said.
But the park service will tell a broader story with the multi-state historical park. It will include historic areas of Hanford, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M., that played a role in the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic weapon during World War II.
“The National Park Service is the nation’s storyteller,” he said. “We tell a lot of complex stories. We tell stories of tragedy and triumph in American history.”
The park service has received letters from officials in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan, where the United States dropped atomic weapons in what would be the final days of the war. They want assurances that the development of a deadly weapon will not be glorified.
Tri-City officials have discussed the possibility that Japanese people who visit Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, where the war started for the United States, also will come to Hanford to learn about the making of the atomic bomb that helped end the war.
The national park service will tell a complete and multifaceted story, letting each visitor decide if development of the bomb was right or wrong, Knox said.
“It is the story of the creation of the atomic bomb, which changed the history of the United States and the history of the world in many ways for good and bad,” he said.
World War II may be at the heart of the story, but it is a story that remains relevant to discussions of nuclear proliferation today. It also is a tale of amazing scientific achievement and incredible human accomplishment.
“It is about the workers who lived in a secret place, who endured hardships to win the war,” Knox said.
The craftsmanship of B Reactor has made a lasting impression on David Klaus, the DOE deputy undersecretary for management and performance. The electrical work and exacting fuel tubes in the reactor shows the care taken by the wartime workers who built it, he said.
More than 100 people dropped in at the open house, which featured information for federal officials about the history of the area and other visitor attractions.
The open house also was a chance for the public to tell the park service their hopes and concerns for the park, Knox said.
Dana Ward, representing the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society, asked the park service to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and DOE to protect the plants and animals at Hanford as the national park increases the number of tourists there.
Visitors should not be allowed to wander the shrub steppe habitat unguided, he said. Sensitive or dwindling bird species, like the sagebrush sparrow, burrowing owl, long-billed curlew and ferruginous hawk, make their homes at Hanford. Ferruginous hawks are so leery of humans that they might abandon their nests if people come close.
Many people at the open house, including workers from Hanford’s early days, came to support the preservation of historic sites.
“We need to preserve the history of B Reactor,” said Harold Copeland of Richland, who started work at Hanford in 1947. “The whole place was quite a significant step in the freedom of the country.”
Don Baker of Richland started working at Hanford more than 60 years ago.
He’d heard a lot about B Reactor but could not go inside until he was awarded security clearance. “I got security clearance in the morning and was out there in the afternoon,” he said. “Just seeing it made an impression.
“It is something that needs to be preserved and passed on to future generations,” he said.