Wyden backs Manhattan Project National Historical Park

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pledged support for a Manhattan Project National Historical Park that includes Hanford's B Reactor in his new role as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Re-sources Committee.

The committee has oversight of the National Park Service, making it key to B Reactor's future.

"There is an old saying that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it," Wyden said after touring the historic reactor Tuesday.

He'll be working with Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has House oversight of the park service, and also Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., he said.

Legislation was introduced last year, but failed to pass before the end of the congressional session.

"The last Congress was the first in decades to not pass legislation to protect our special places," Wyden said. "I'm going to work very closely with Chairman Hastings to change that."

While there are concerns among some in Congress about creating a new national park while the nation struggles to keep up those it already has, Wyden said there may be new ways to attract money for national parks.

He stopped short of endorsing legislation introduced last year in Congress, saying he would have his staff conduct due diligence.

B Reactor was built in 11 months during World War II, when the world's supply of plutonium was about 500 micrograms, enough material to form the head of a single pin.

It was the world's first production-scale reactor, producing plutonium for the world's first nuclear explosion and then the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping to end World War II.

The reactor today looks much like it did during WWII, and 10,000 people toured it last year during the limited days DOE tours were available. Those visitors contributed almost $2 million to the Tri-City-area economy, according to figures cited by DOE to the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau.

Visitors could increase 10- or 15-fold in the first year a national park is created, the park service has told DOE.

And visitors also could have a better experience at the reactor.

"The park service would bring its unparalleled ability for storytelling," Colleen French, the DOE government affairs program manager, told Wyden.

The proposed legislation considered last year also would allow donations to be collected to spend on preserving Manhattan Project history, including other Hanford sites, French said. That could include what remains of the early farming communities where residents were forced to leave to make way for the secret nuclear reservation during the war.

As the debate about creating a new national park goes forward, there will be people who say it is a bad idea, Wyden said.

"My own view is that history isn't always ideal and that science can be liberated," he said. "And that what we learn over the years is that it is important to look deep into the well of history to get a clearer understanding of what lies ahead."

Wyden's father, historian Peter Wyden, wrote the book Day One, an account of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, and its consequences.

Hanford, along with other Manhattan Project sites in Tennessee and New Mexico, "needs to be preserved so future generations understand what went on here," the senator said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews