Plans are underway to move Hanford artifacts out of storage.
The Department of Energy’s extensive collection of Hanford historical objects and photos will receive professional archival care and be available for research and public exhibitions through Washington State University Tri-Cities under a new contract.
Items range from the desk that Manhattan Project scientist Enrico Fermi used at Hanford to first-of-a-kind equipment developed there.
“This sets the stage for the history of the Hanford Site to become a signature program for WSU-TC and yet another draw for visitors to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park,” said Michael Mays, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Tri-Cities branch.
“(We) have lots of ideas for how to use the collection to expand the public’s understanding of one of the most transformative periods in human history,” he said.
DOE and its contractor, Mission Support Alliance, have scoured Hanford buildings over the last two years to make sure that historical items are saved to tell the story of the site’s place in world history from World War II through the Cold War.
The collection of items, including those curated through the CREHST museum before its closure, now includes 1,600 objects and 3,000 historical photos.
The new contract awarded to WSU Tri-Cities includes more than storage and expert care of the items, said Colleen French, national park program manager for DOE at Hanford.
“Now we have the ability to move the collection out into the community for the benefit of all taxpayers,” she said.
The arrangement will offer opportunities for interpretation and education programs, public exhibits, research by students and professors, and symposiums.
“As we look ahead to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, WSU-TC will be an educational partner with unique capabilities and expertise,” French said. “With this collection, they will develop a fundamental understanding about Hanford history that will be a real asset as interpretive and educational programs are developed for students of all ages.”
As the United States raced to build an atomic bomb before the Nazis during World War II, Hanford created the plutonium for the world’s first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.
Hanford continued to produce plutonium at nine nuclear reactors during the Cold War.
WSU is working on plans for 10,000 square feet of space for the artifacts and archives, Mays said.
It likely will be privately built near the university’s north Richland campus and then leased by the university. WSU is required to provide repository space that meets federal requirements for temperature, humidity control, security, fire protection and lighting.
The branch campus will draw on expertise within its statewide system, but also will need to hire locally.
It plans to hire a joint library director and curator and create a two-year visiting position to work on the collection and catalog it, Mays said.
The university also will hire an assistant director for the Hanford History Project, which now will include both the university’s ongoing oral history project and work with the Hanford artifacts.
Some of French’s favorite items in the collection are those retrieved from excavation of the trash pits for the Hanford construction camp, which housed 50,000 workers for the top-secret project.
Glass soda bottles, tin cans, cold cream jars and toys connect the story of Hanford back to the people who created it, she said.
She also likes the hand-painted wooden signs she has helped save from buildings set to be demolished.
Painters, each with a signature style, created signs that gave safety instructions, operating instructions and information on such mundane topics such as where to pick up lunch.
They are works of art, she said.
The collection extends to industrial equipment used at Hanford, like a remote manipulator arm and early radiation survey meters, and everyday items that workers likely took for granted like a fire blanket kept handy on the wall in a metal case.
“The real value of the collection lies in its interpretive and educational potential — areas in which the university holds specific expertise,” said Bill Johnson, Mission Support Alliance president.
Mission Support Alliance awarded WSU Tri-Cities the contract after a competitive bid. The new Reach center did not submit a bid.
The initial contract runs through Sept. 30, 2015, the end of the current fiscal year. It includes options for four one-year renewals.
The potential value of the contract has been calculated through September 2018 at $809,330.
Work will start with moving about 40 percent of the Hanford collection out of storage by the end of September, Mays said. Some storage space is available on campus.
The remainder of the artifacts should be in WSU’s care by the end of September 2016.
“The hope is down the road we are able to build through some sort of collaboration a dedicated exhibition space on campus,” Mays said.
It would offer rotating exhibits of the collection and traveling exhibits would be made available to other institutions.
In the meantime, WSU will find space to display some of the material on its Richland campus.
This is an ideal time to evaluate the history of Hanford and the role it played on the world stage, Mays said. It takes some decades after events to bring the past into focus and put it in perspective.
With Hanford-related projects already being done at the Richland campus, local university officials are working toward being named a Hanford Center of Research and Education.
Mays envisions research by students in a freshman-level class on Hanford, by graduate students, by WSU faculty at campuses across the state and by researchers in the academic community nationally and internationally.
They will be able to examine the artifacts and the archival material, including photographs, reel-to-reel film and bound editions of Hanford newspapers.
“This is an opportunity for WSU Tri-Cities to be a focal point for research,” Mays said.
There also may be opportunities to work with WSU Press on new books covering scientific, cultural or historical Hanford topics.