Interior secretary tours Hanford B Reactor

By:  By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
Source: Tri-City Herald

The secretary of the interior took a look Sunday at Hanford's historic B Reactor, one of the property's he soon is expected to oversee within the national park system.

Sec. Ken Salazar toured the reactor at the invitation of Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., at the conclusion of a weekend visit to Washington. He also was accompanied by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

"We have not yet done a good enough job of telling the story of World War II and the nuclear era born out of the war," he said as he stood beneath the towering front face of the reactor, where fuel once was loaded into its core.

In July, Salazar recommended to Congress that a Manhattan Project National Historical Park be formed with properties at Hanford, Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., to commemorate the top-secret project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.

B Reactor would be a key attraction of the proposed park as the world's first full-scale reactor. It produced plutonium for the first nuclear explosion in the New Mexico desert and the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end the war.

"It is a story that tells itself," Salazar said. It's a story both of the reactor's role on the world stage and also a story of human ingenuity, he said.

Just months after scientists achieved the first man-made chain reaction, construction began at Hanford to produce plutonium at the industrial scale. Amid fears that Germany also was racing to develop an atomic bomb, B Reactor was built in just 13 months.

At B Reactor the nation can see what the human mind "can do in a short time in defense of the nation, Gregoire said.

"This is part of the history of the state of Washington," she said. "It says when the nation was challenged we stepped up to ensure the (survival) of the nation."

As part of the national park system, B Reactor will attract visitors not only from across the nation but also from around the globe, she said.

National parks "bring heads to beds," boosting the tourism economies of their local communities, Salazar said. Annually 6.5 million jobs are created by outdoor recreation, he said.

Cantwell and Hastings authored legislation that required a study of Manhattan Project artifacts and options for preserving them, the key initial step toward making B Reactor part of the national park system.

With the Department of Energy and Tri-City supporters of B Reactor, they helped convince park service officials that the many concerns about incorporating a nuclear reactor into a national park could be overcome.

Making B Reactor part of the national park system will provide access to park staff, resources to tell the Manhattan Project story and the high profile that will attract more visitors, Cantwell said.

Next Cantwell and Hastings will work to get legislation passed to create the new national park and to lay out the details of how a multi-state, dual-federal agency park will be operated. DOE has committed to continuing to play a strong role at the reactor.

Hastings said his preference is that money needed to tell the story of the Manhattan Project not be siphoned from other national parks.

"We're thinking outside the box" as legislation is written, he said.