Editorials

Join the public comment to include B Reactor

Not every national park needs to have a geyser or glacier. Though most national parks are in a "park" setting, it's not unheard of for one to be established on the merit of "national" history.

The Klondike Gold Rush, Seattle Unit, the Boston National Historical Park or the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial are examples of such monuments that are a part of the national park system.

It's not at all a stretch to add significant pieces of the Manhattan Project to that list. And there's no denying that B Reactor is a significant piece of that history, even though the National Park Service released a draft in December reaching exactly that conclusion.

Actually the park service is on board with designating part of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory National Landmark District in New Mexico as a national park representing the Manhattan Project, but it isn't including B Reactor, and we think it should. That's why a strong local turnout for the public comment meetings on Thursday is in order.

Walking into the B Reactor is stepping back into the mid-1940s. It is a well preserved example of the first generation of nuclear reactors, and it is the first production-scale nuclear reactor ever built.

The whole package was "top secret." Even the construction workers building the thing didn't know what they were working on.

The designers were starting from scratch. It was a pretty big gamble of, "I sure hope this thing works."

Surprisingly enough, it did work.

With not too much imagination you can still visualize uranium fuel rods going in the face of the 36-foot tall reactor and spent rods dropping out of the back into its cooling pond.

It takes quite a bit more imagination -- and a science class or two -- to comprehend that somehow in that whole process, a couple of hockey puck-sized pieces of weapons-grade plutonium were created to manufacture the world's first atomic bomb.

And it wasn't a one-time fluke. The reactor was in operation for a quarter of a century.

Regardless of one's stance on atomic weapons, it's an interesting topic.

Any time there is an available tour, B Reactor draws a crowd. Reservations on the tour buses are filled almost as soon as the tours are opened.

We have been on the tour and are convinced that the reactor is a significant part of our nation's history -- well worth preserving and sharing.

Making it part of the national park system is one way to accomplish that.

Representatives of the B Reactor Museum Association, the Tri-City Development Council, the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau and the Hanford Communities -- which includes Hanford-area cities, counties and ports -- agreed that the best course for B Reactor's future is to continue to push for inclusion in a national park. They have sent a letter to the National Park Service urging for the reactor to be included in the designation.

The public also has an opportunity to voice its support. Public comment will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Red Lion Hanford House, 802 George Washington Way, Richland.

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