Registration opens April 4 for Hanford national park tours (with video)

'A is for Atom'

A 1953 documentary produced to educate Hanford workers about nuclear fission.
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A 1953 documentary produced to educate Hanford workers about nuclear fission.

Registration opens Monday for 14,000 seats on this year’s tours of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Hanford.

An expanded number of bus tours will be offered Monday through Saturday from April 18 through Nov. 19 during what will be the first year of tours since the national park was established in November.

Both the number of tours and the people who can visit are expanding.

Not only are more than 2,500 additional seats available this year, there is no age limit for the tours.

They are open to children, whether they are visiting with their families, Scout group or school class. However, anyone under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian or an adult designated by them and must have a signed release form.

Unlike a separate set of tours focused on Hanford environmental cleanup, the Hanford national park tours have no citizenship restrictions.

Tours of B Reactor include a look at the towering front face of the reactor and the control room, both of which look much like they did in WWII.

Visitors can choose from tours of historic B Reactor, the world’s first production-scale nuclear reactor, or a tour telling the story of the homeowners and tribes who were evicted in 1943. The federal government seized whole communities to make way for the secret World War II Manhattan Project.

Workers at Hanford raced to develop a nuclear weapon, fearing that Nazi Germany would beat the United States to it. Plutonium produced at Hanford’s B Reactor was used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end WWII.

Registration for both tours starts at 8 a.m. April 4. Visitors may register for up to six tour seats at once to tour B Reactor at manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov.

Registration for the prewar historic site tours is at tours.hanford.gov/historicTours.

Guests also may register for either tour or inquire about tours for large groups by calling 509-376-1647.

Tours take about four hours, and the buses for the tours leave from the national park’s interim visitor station at 2000 Logston Blvd., Richland.

Those on the B Reactor tour spend about two hours at the reactor.

Pre-WWII tours include short walking tours at sites, including the Bruggemann Warehouse and the White Bluffs bank.

The tour of historic prewar sites includes stops and short walking tours at four buildings left standing after the federal government took over land for the Manhattan Project — an agriculture warehouse built of stone, the remains of the Hanford High School, the tiny First Bank of White Bluffs and the pump house of the 1908 Hanford Irrigation District.

With the tours now listed on the park service website, more out-of-area visitors are expected. The tours are offered through a collaboration of the Department of Energy and the National Park Service.

“Cultural and historical tourism is one of the most sought after sectors of the tourism industry,” said Kris Watkins, Visit Tri-Cities president. “Visitors are seeking authentic, one-of-a-kind experiences.”

People planning to tour B Reactor can brush up on their science before the tour with new— and one vintage — video courtesy of the B Reactor Museum Association.

The museum and the Atomic Heritage Foundation teamed up to win a grant from money collected from Richland hotel and motel taxes for the video project.

They’ve revived a 1953 copy of A is for Atom, an animated film created by Disney studios for Hanford’s rank and file workers in 1952.

The project was so secret that only a few workers knew that they were developing an atomic weapon during WWII.

When General Electric took over the Hanford contract after WWII, management realized that the 10,000 workers who were “making and breaking atoms” every day needed to better understand what they were doing, said Hank Kosmata, vice president of the museum association.

It would take Yankee Stadium full of dynamite to equal the energy released in the amount of U-235 the size of a baseball.

A is for Atom film

The video used Dr. Atom to explain atoms and isotopes and also envisioned an atomic future.

Atomic power plants have proved feasible and could someday supply power to an entire city, the video predicts. One day there could be nuclear-powered submarines and also nuclear-powered airplanes and trains, it said.

The groups also worked with Carol Darley Video in the Tri-Cities to produce several videos in chapter form to help visitors get the most out of a trip to B Reactor, particularly if their memory is hazy on atoms, electrons, neutrons, protons and isotopes.

One video explains how B Reactor was built. Another describes how science progressed from a belief that atoms could not be divided to controlled chain reactions on an industrial scale at B Reactor.

It explains how a group of foreign scientists got President Franklin D. Roosevelt to take the threat of atomic warfare seriously and the misstep that kept Germany from developing an atomic bomb years earlier.

Those videos, along with A is for Atom, are posted at B-reactor.org under “What to Know Before You Go.”

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews