Planning begins for Manhattan Project National Park at Hanford

Katie Bittinger of Richland discusses the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park with Hank Florence, a historical architect for the National Park Service, at an open house in Richland.
Katie Bittinger of Richland discusses the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park with Hank Florence, a historical architect for the National Park Service, at an open house in Richland. Tri-City Herald

Officials from the National Park Service were in Richland on Thursday to kick off planning for the new Manhattan Project National Park.

More than 100 people came to an open house to hear about the Hanford portion of the new park, with additional sites in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M. All three sites contributed to the race to develop the world’s first atomic bombs during World War II, amidst fears that the Nazis also were developing the weapon.

Participants shared their ideas for the park and asked questions at the open house. Here’s what’s known so far:

Q: Is the new park open?

A: Yes. And no. It officially opened when Department of Energy and National Park Service officials signed an agreement in November. But a park within a nuclear reservation with ongoing cleanup of contamination is complicated. Access is only by bus tours, for now.

Q: How can I get on a tour?

A: Tours are expected to be offered April through November. The tour schedule should be announced in March. Watch the Herald or check www.hanford.gov. You can call 509-376-1647.

Q: What do the tours cover?

A: Two sets of Hanford historical tours will be offered this year. One tour will go to B Reactor, which looks much as it did when it started up during World War II to produce plutonium for the world’s first atomic bomb. A favorite photo opportunity is posing in the operator’s chair at the reactor’s main control panel. The other tour will tell the story of the people who were forced to give up their homes, farms and businesses during World War II to make way for the secret Manhattan Project.

Q: Who can go on a tour?

A: Historical tours are open to anyone — no age or citizenship requirements. A third set of tours looking at environmental cleanup work across the Hanford nuclear reservation are open only to U.S. citizens at least 18 years old. There’s no word yet on how the Real ID law may affect what identification visitors may be required to show to board tour buses bound for the site.

Q: Is it safe?

A: The Department of Energy says it has gone to great lengths to ensure that the tour is safe and that any potential hazards for you and your children have been removed or sealed.

Q: What’s included in the new Hanford park?

A: It includes B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale reactor, and areas used just before the Manhattan Project. The former town sites of White Bluffs and Hanford still have a bank, high school and sidewalks through the brush. The tour bus stops at the Hanford Irrigation District's Allard Pump House and the Bruggemann agricultural warehouse. Hanford’s T Plant, a huge processing plant nicknamed the Queen Mary by workers, may be included when DOE no longer uses it. It was once used to separate plutonium from irradiated uranium fuel.

Q: Is there a park service visitor center?

A: Not now. Tours will leave from the B Reactor tour headquarters, 2000 Logston Blvd., Richland.

Q: What were some of the suggestions the public had for park officials?

A: A foundation should be established to purchase an “alphabet house,” one of Richland’s government-owned homes with different models named for letters of the alphabet.

The park should include a wall of names to recognize Manhattan Project workers.

Tours are nice, but people visiting parks want freedom to explore.

Include stories of all affected by the Hanford nuclear reservation — tribes, cleanup workers, downwinders, displaced settlers and Japanese victims of the atomic bomb fueled with Hanford plutonium. The stories of the new technologies, including those used in nuclear power and medicine, born from the Manhattan Project should also be covered.

Q: How can I contribute to the discussion?

A: Email Manhattan_project@nps.gov. Or send a letter to National Park Service, Denver Service Center – DSC-P, Manhattan Project Planning Team, 12795 West Alameda Parkway, P.O. Box 25287, Denver, CO 802250-0287. Comments become part of the publicly available record.