Hanford

Hanford’s historic reactor officially a national park

Hanford’s historic B Reactor officially became part of the national park system Tuesday as an agreement was signed by federal officials creating the new Manhattan Project Historical National Park.
Hanford’s historic B Reactor officially became part of the national park system Tuesday as an agreement was signed by federal officials creating the new Manhattan Project Historical National Park. Courtesy TRIDEC

Hanford’s historic B Reactor officially became part of the national park system Tuesday morning as an agreement was signed creating the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

The new park, number 409 for the nation, also will include the few buildings that remain at Hanford which once belonged to the settlers along the Columbia River. They were forced to give up their homes, farms and businesses to make way for the secret World War II project to produce plutonium for an atomic bomb.

B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, was built in 11 months, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., pointed out. But it took 11 years to make the new national park a reality.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell credited grassroots efforts in communities like the Tri-Cities. The new park also includes sites in Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., that worked toward creating atomic bombs during WWII.

The agreement signed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., directs how the National Park Service and the Department of Energy will work together to preserve, protect, and provide access to the historic areas included in the park.

“Visitors will soon be able to see the contributions of more than 600,000 Americans who played a role in this significant chapter in history,” Jewell said.

She’s familiar with Hanford after growing up in Western Washington, and every year visiting the Mid-Columbia, riding horses along the Horse Heaven Hills and swimming near Hanford at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers.

Visitors will soon be able to see the contributions of more than 600,000 Americans who played a role in this significant chapter in history.

Sally Jewell, Interior Secretary

It is fair to say that the atomic bombs created in Washington, New Mexico and Tennessee marked the end of WWII, she said. But the bombs had consequences, as her mother-in-law, a nurse who served during WWII, saw when she was sent to Nagasaki and Hiroshima after the bombings.

“It was a powerful experience for her,” Jewell said, tearing up.

The new park will tell the story of how the Manhattan Project ushered in a new era of scientific discovery, she said.

“It will also discuss how discoveries must be handled with great care and how they can have world-changing consequences,” she said.

Jonathan Jarvis, National Park Service director, pledged that the new park’s information “will be fair to all.”

“You can trust us with the story,” he said.

The park will be managed as a partnership between DOE — which owns and manages the properties — and the National Park Service, which will provide interpretation, visitor information and help in the preservation of the historic buildings at the sites.

“This park will commemorate one of this country’s greatest scientific and engineering achievements,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “It also celebrates the contributions of communities that were created for this purpose and have continued as partners for DOE’s mission.”

This park will commemorate one of this country’s greatest scientific and engineering achievements.

Ernest Moniz, Energy Secretary

He hopes that the new park will show not just the engineering feats carried out at the three sites, but tell the sociological story of the creation of whole communities, he said. Tens of thousands of workers were recruited, totaling 130,000 workers at the Manhattan Project’s peak.

The Manhattan Project laid the groundwork for the national laboratory system, which has led to countless scientific breakthroughs that benefit humanity, he said. All three sites included in the Manhattan Project National Historical Park have national labs associated with them, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, which grew out of initial work for Hanford.

Several Tri-City leaders, including Hanford archaeologist Thomas Marceau, West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry, Richland Councilman Bob Thompson, Richland Mayor David Rose and former Mayor John Fox, attended the document-signing ceremony.

Cantwell sponsored the Senate bill 11 years ago that directed the National Park Service to conduct a study on developing B Reactor and other historic sites in the nation into a Manhattan Project-themed park.

“Not only will the national historical park tell the story about the B Reactor, but it will also shed light on what life was like in the Tri-Cities during that time by preserving the Hanford High School, the White Bluffs Bank, the Hanford Irrigation District’s Allard Pump House and the Bruggemann agricultural warehouse,” she said. They are the few buildings remaining at Hanford that tell the story of those forced from property to allow the nuclear reservation to be created in 1943.

130,000 workers at peak of Manhattan Project

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., issued a statement saying many people don’t realize how critical Hanford and the Tri-Cities were during one of the most consequential chapters in American history.

“That’s why this new National Historical Park is so important,” she said. “Not only will it preserve the history of the region and reflect on the contributions of this community, but it will also shine a spotlight on the federal government’s ongoing moral and legal obligation to continue the cleanup.”

Hanford is contaminated with radioactive and hazardous chemical waste from plutonium production that continued through the Cold War.

The National Park Service next must create a management plan. That will start with a foundation document created with public involvement, Jarvis said.

The National Park Service brought together 21 U.S. university scholars and two scholars from Japan for a forum Monday and Tuesday to help the park service understand the history of the Manhattan Project. Jewell said she wants the story of Japanese people who suffered the consequences of the atomic bombs included in park information.

Soon the National Park Service will designate a park superintendent, said Vic Knox, associate director of park planning, facilities and lands for the National Park Service. Within a year or two, site managers could be at each of the three sites.

This park is not being created to celebrate the creation of the atomic bomb.

Vic Knox, National Park Service

The planning in the next year will focus on how to offer a good visitor experience and what stories the park will tell, Knox said.

“This park is not being created to celebrate the creation of the atomic bomb,” he said. “Rather it is being created to remember and learn from this event, which changed the history of the world.”

The park service has experience in telling the story of complex and controversial events, including the Civil War, the struggle for civil rights, treatment of Native Americans and the internment of those with Japanese heritage during WWII, he said.

The National Park Service estimates it will take two more years to complete the planning for the park and three to five years after that to prepare the sites for public access, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.

However, DOE already offers Hanford tours of B Reactor and the settler buildings. Tours will resume in the spring.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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