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Project to save B Reactor receives honor

The Department of Energy's project to save Hanford's B Reactor has become the first federal project to win the Chairman's Award for Achievement in Historic Preservation of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The federal council, based in Washington, D.C., presented the award Thursday to the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office in Seattle. It also recognized other Tri-City area groups and officials who have played key roles to preserve the reactor for use as a museum.

"The B Reactor Project spared an endangered National Historic Landmark from destruction and converted what had been a public problem into a publicly accessible national treasure," said Milford Wayne Donaldson, chairman of the advisory council, in a statement.

The reactor has recently been recommended for inclusion in a proposed new Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which would "teach millions about the amazing but true cliffhanger story of the race to develop the atomic bomb before America's enemies could do so during World War II," he said.

B Reactor was the world's first production-scale nuclear reactor and created plutonium used in the world's first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert and used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

DOE plans had called for B Reactor to be cocooned -- torn down to little more than its radioactive core and then reroofed and sealed up to let radiation decay to more manageable levels. That's still the plan for the eight plutonium-production reactors built at Hanford after B Reactor.

But community support and the leadership of the DOE Richland Operations Office have left the reactor looking much like it did during World War II.

In the past two years, the preservation project has tripled the number of visitors touring B Reactor and begun to allow international visitors in addition to U.S. citizens.

"In fact, B Reactor has now been visited by folks from 48 states and 39 countries," said Matt McCormick, manager of the Richland Operations Office.

B Reactor's status as a National Historic Landmark underscores the quality of environmental cleanup being done along the Columbia River, which allows public access to the reactor, McCormick said. The reactor received the landmark designation in 2008.

Collaboration between the community and DOE has been key to winning recognition of B Reactor's historic significance to the country, he said.

Also honored Thursday were Maynard Plahuta, president of the B Reactor Museum Association; Pam Larsen, executive director of Hanford Communities; Carl Adrian, chief executive of the Tri-City Development Council, and Kris Watkins, president of the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau.

"We appreciate the efforts of the Department of Energy to make physical improvements in the facility and enhance the visitor's experience," Larsen said.

Several improvements have been made in the last two years, including life-safety code upgrades. New flooring has been installed where asbestos flooring was buckling and new storm doors have been added.

In the off-season, work has continued to reduce hazards so additional areas of the reactor can be opened to visitors, said Colleen French, B Reactor preservation project manager, for DOE. French and McCormick received the award for DOE.

Credit for saving the reactor also should go to the founders of the B Reactor Museum Association in addition to those who attended the Thursday ceremony, Plahuta said. The association founders had the vision in 1990 to preserve the reactor and make it into a museum, he said.

For B Reactor and possibly other structures at Hanford to become part of a national park, Congress must authorize the project as recommended by the Department of the Interior.

"We are extremely proud of our work at B Reactor but there is more to do on the preservation front at Hanford," French said.

"We must turn our attention to the Pre-Manhattan Project structures remaining on site, including the White Bluffs Bank, the Hanford High School, the old pump house and the Bruggemann Warehouse and ensure they too are stabilized and interpreted so the stories of the farming towns of White Bluffs and Hanford and their inhabitants are not forgotten," she said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricity herald.com; more Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.

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