Cantwell offers bill to create B Reactor park at Hanford

Tacoma News Tribune - Annette Cary

Senate legislation to create a new Manhattan Project National Historical Park that would include Hanford's B Reactor was introduced Thursday by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Senate and House bills also were introduced last year, but the session ended before they could be passed. The Senate bill introduced Thursday is similar to last year's bills, and a House bill could be introduced as soon as next week.

"Designating the B Reactor as a National Historical Park would secure its long-term preservation while expanding visitor access to a key site in our nation's history," Cantwell said in a statement.

B Reactor was the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor. It produced plutonium for the world's first man-made nuclear explosion, the Trinity test in New Mexico, and the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

The reactor is a National Historic Landmark, but elevating its status to a national historical park would help ensure it is not torn down and would attract more visitors to the Tri-Cities, according to Cantwell's staff. The designation would give it the same status as Independence Hall, Valley Forge and Abraham Lincoln's birthplace.

About 10,000 people visit the reactor each year on Department of Energy tours to learn about the start of the Atomic Age. But if it were part of a national park, visitors could increase at least 10-fold the first year, according to the National Park Service.

The legislation would create a multi-state park, with historic sites at Hanford; Los Alamos, N.M.; and Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Additional Hanford sites could be added to the park. They include T Plant, Hanford's first canyon-sized processing plant to extract plutonium from irradiated fuel, and the Hanford Construction Camp Historic District, where 50,000 workers lived Spartan lives in the desert to build the Hanford complex during World War II.

Other buildings could be preserved to tell the story of the sacrifice of early settlers evicted to make way for the secret nuclear reservation during the war. Those include the Bruggemann's stone warehouse, the White Bluffs Bank Building, the Hanford High School and the Hanford Irrigation District Pump House.

The Senate legislation will be considered by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Cantwell and Alexander sit on the committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the committee chairman, toured B Reactor last month and pledged his support for saving the reactor as part of a new national park.

"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 said then.

In the House, the legislation will come before the House Natural Resources Committee, which is led by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., a supporter of saving B Reactor as part of a national park.

If the reactor is not saved, it must be put into temporary storage at an estimated cost of $13 million to $24 million and then eventually torn down. The estimated five-year cost of forming and operating a new national park is $20 million.

Co-sponsors of the Senate bill include Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both D-N.M. Heinrich also is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

"The B Reactor is an important part of our nation's history, and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park will ensure that generations to come appreciate the sacrifices made by Washington state families to build and operate this facility," Murray said in a statement.