B Reactor moves toward being a museum

B Reactor should take the next step this fall toward becoming a museum that anyone can visit.

Legislation to make Hanford's historic B Reactor part of the national park system should be introduced then, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said Monday. Hastings is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the National Park Service.

Hastings, park service officials and community leaders gathered Monday at Hanford's historic B Reactor to celebrate the progress toward saving the reactor as a museum.

In July, Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, recommended to Congress that a national historical park should be formed to commemorate the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to create an atomic bomb during World War II.

Historical facilities at Hanford and Manhattan Project sites in New Mexico and Tennessee could be included in a Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

Legislation to create the multisite park is being written now and has support from Republicans and Democrats and the House and the Senate, Hastings said.

The park service had to overcome internal skepticism to back including B Reactor in the proposed park, said Rory Westberg, deputy director of the Pacific Northwest Region for the park service.

After Hastings and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., sponsored bills calling for a study, the park service released a first draft dismissing the possibility of making B Reactor part of the park system.

But the community and DOE were able to overcome park service concerns about managing a nuclear reactor as a museum, Westberg said. The park service never had any doubt about the historical importance of B Reactor or the stories it could tell if the reactor were part of the park system, he said.

B Reactor, built in little more than a year, was the world's first full-scale production reactor. It produced plutonium for the world's first atomic explosion and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II. It continued to make plutonium during the Cold War.

The story of the Manhattan Project is not just a community story.

"It affected the entire world," said Kris Watkins, president of the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau.

Now with no marketing other than news releases and public notices, the limited tours of the reactor have drawn people from 38 countries and 48 states, she said.

That the reactor could be on the verge of becoming part of a national park would have seemed laughable just five years ago, said Colleen French of the Department of Energy. For years, the reactor was planned to be torn down to its core and sealed up like other Hanford production reactors.

But organizations like the B Reactor Museum Association, with members including men who worked at B Reactor or who came to Hanford during World War II, have persisted in their vision to save the reactor.

w Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.