Hanford B Reactor park bill in Senate

By:  Annette Cary
Source: Tri-City Herald

A bill to create a new Manhattan Project National Historical Park that includes Hanford's B Reactor was introduced in the Senate on Thursday.

The bill comes from Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., and a companion House bill will be introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., early next week when the House reconvenes after a weeklong district work period.

The three congressional leaders have advocated since 2003 for preservation of B Reactor, the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor. The reactor ushered in the Atomic Age, creating plutonium for the world's first nuclear explosion and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

"Hanford's B Reactor tells an important chapter in our nation's history and deserves preservation as part of a new national historical park," Cantwell said in a statement. "I believe Hanford deserves the same status as Independence Hall, Valley Forge and Abraham Lincoln's birthplace, as a key site in this nation's history.

"The Senate bill also would allow Hanford's T Plant, the huge processing plant that workers called the Queen Mary, to be incorporated into the national park when the Department of Energy no longer needs it for environmental cleanup work at Hanford.

Hearings on the bill have been scheduled before the Senate committee June 27 and before the House committee the next day.

The plant, sometimes called a canyon for its long, narrow and tall interior, chemically processed irradiated fuel from B Reactor and other Hanford reactors to separate out plutonium.

In addition, the park could include the remnants of early settlements that the federal government evacuated and took over to create the secret nuclear reservation. They include the Hanford High School and Hanford Construction Camp Historic District, the White Bluffs Bank, the stone warehouse at the Bruggemann's ranch and the Hanford Irrigation District Pump House.

B Reactor and other Hanford buildings would be part of a three-state Manhattan Project National Historical Park that also would include historic sites in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M.

"Over the past several months, we've worked to bridge key differences between House and Senate drafts of this legislation," Hastings said in a statement.

That includes putting a deadline in the Senate bill to make sure creation of a national park would happen promptly.

The bill gives the interior secretary and the energy secretary one year to work out an agreement on what roles each of their agencies would play, and then the park automatically would be formed.

“This is much stronger language," said Gary Petersen, vice president of Hanford programs for the Tri-City Development Council.

Supporters of forming the new national park had been concerned that the Senate would have to act after management details had been worked out. That likely would have been after the announced retirement of Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who supports the creation of the park and chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

In the House, Hastings chairs the Natural Resources Committee.

"I am hopeful that we can get a bill signed into law this year," Hastings said. "Anyone who has visited B Reactor knows what a technical and historical marvel it is, and a park will open the doors to many more to visit and experience this piece of our community and nation's history.

"The park would honor the tremendous sacrifices made at Hanford, Cantwell said.

"History will be preserved so that we as a society have the opportunity to reflect on and learn from the important lessons this facility has to offer," Murray said in a statement.

Congressional offices, the energy secretary and interior secretary seem to be in agreement on how the formation of the park can be done, Petersen said.

On Thursday, David Huizenga, the Department of Energy senior adviser for environmental management, visited Hanford to announce that N Reactor, Hanford's largest and newest plutonium-production reactor, had been cocooned, or put in storage for 75 years.

But B Reactor remains, so the public can still see a reactor, he said.

"I'm excited it's a possibility that it ultimately will be part of a national park," he said after his speech.

B Reactor now looks much like it did during World War II, and has been open for tours since August 2008, with more than 20,000 visitors touring the reactor from 50 states and more than 36 countries despite the limited availability of the bus tours.

With tours typically announced in a single DOE notice once a year, "imagine what will happen when advertisement starts under the Park Service," Petersen said.

"I just can't tell you how big this is long-term for the community," he said.

For 21/2 years, the Hanford Communities, the B Reactor Museum Association, the National Heritage Foundation, the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Center, TRIDEC, Hanford DOE officials and the Park Service have worked to get legislation before Congress, Petersen said.

"Having B Reactor and other facilities at Hanford become part of the National Park Service assures that the story of the Manhattan Project will be passed on to future generations," said Pam Larsen, executive director of Hanford Communities, a coalition of local governments.