DOE increasingly focused on post-cleanup Hanford

The Department of Energy is increasing its focus of the future of Hanford after environmental cleanup is done.

It has created a new position based in Richland to help answer key questions about how land will be used, who will have access to it and how the history of Hanford will be remembered and shared.

"This is the first sign we've seen they're looking beyond cleanup, and cleanup is going so well, this is the right time," said Gary Petersen, Tri-City Development Council vice president of Hanford programs.

DOE's goal is to shrink the portion of the 586-square-mile nuclear reservation requiring cleanup to little more than 75 square miles at its center by 2015.

The environmental cleanup in the center of Hanford is expected to continue for decades. But the nuclear reservation, including a security perimeter, also has large areas never needed for buildings, reactors or burial grounds for the production of plutonium for the nation's weapons program during World War II and the Cold War.

Some of the area that will be released from the cleanup effort has been designated for industrial use, such as clean energy development and production, and a large portion is part of the Hanford Reach National Monument already managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition, B Reactor is being preserved as a museum, supporters hope with some help from the U.S. National Park Service.

"We want to show site workers and the community that there are exciting and good and economically important things possible after cleanup is completed," said Colleen French, who has been named to the new position, government affairs program manager.

She previously was director of the Office of Communication and External Affairs for the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office.

Among her initial list of assignments is to continue to lead work to preserve Hanford's historic B Reactor and expand access to it. The world's first production-scale reactor, which created plutonium for the world's first atomic explosion and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II, is open for seasonal bus tours, but the tours cannot keep up with demand.

French will be closely working with the National Park Service as it evaluates whether B Reactor and potentially other Hanford structures should be added to a proposed Manhattan Project National Historical Park that will be considered by Congress this year, said Matt McCormick, manager of the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office, in a message to employees.

If the public has access to B Reactor, then DOE needs to consider what else of historic interest the public should have access to, French said. Other facilities to evaluate include the few settler buildings that remain from the era before the federal government took over what's now the Hanford nuclear reservation in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, she said.

That includes the Bruggemann warehouse, a stone building near B Reactor that belonged to the Bruggemann family until they were given just 30 days to pack up and make way for a secret government war project.

Also remaining are the White Bluffs bank and the Hanford school, used by the small communities that the federal government claimed and took over in 1943.

In addition, DOE is starting to think about what to do with thousands of artifacts collected at Hanford and now mostly stored behind closed doors. Possibilities to consider are forming a partnership with a university, creating a facility to display them and developing traveling exhibits to take to schools, French said.

"We are retaining them on behalf of the taxpayers, and they should see them," French said. She also would like oral histories to be available to the public, including tourists, educators and historians.

It's another way to develop and add to heritage tourism in the area, she said.

"One of my goals is to incorporate a different way of thinking -- to incorporate appropriate levels of preservation of artifacts into the cleanup or demolition process," she said. DOE already has torn down hundreds of buildings at Hanford and has hundreds yet to go.

French also will focus on other uses of Hanford land, McCormick said.

She will work with the tribes that historically have used Hanford lands to evaluate opportunities for them to use cleaned-up lands periodically for culturally significant activities, he said.

She also will closely work with Fish and Wildlife as it implements its management plan for regular public access to monument land that has yet to be opened to the public because cleanup continues nearby.

About 60 square miles of Hanford have been designated for industrial use, including land near the Energy Northwest nuclear power plant. French will work with the Tri-Cities, DOE headquarters, elected officials and others on economic development, McCormick said.

She will be working to find common ground among parties with different views on how the industrial land should be developed and used.

A proposal already has been made to lease about 300 acres to Energy Northwest, which would make it available for an energy park that could include research or production of solar, biomass or small-scale nuclear energy.

"The fact that we as an organization are at a point where we're ready to assign a direct-report to working out these questions is really a testament to how far we've come in the cleanup," McCormick told employees. French will report to Doug Shoop, deputy manager of the Richland Operations Office.