Cantwell, Alexander Lead Introduction of Bipartisan Bill to Preserve Hanford B Reactor

Legislation would create Manhattan Project National Historical Park, preserving key historical sites and increasing tourist access to B Reactor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) teamed up to introduce bipartisan legislation that would create a National Historical Park at Manhattan Project-related sites at Hanford as well as Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M. Cantwell and Alexander both serve on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), the committee of jurisdiction for this legislation.

The Hanford sites that would be included in the new park include the historic B Reactor, the first full-scale nuclear reactor ever built. Currently designated a National Historic Landmark, elevating the B Reactor’s status to a National Historical Park would ensure it will not be torn down and increase public access to the historic reactor, helping to attract more visitors to the Tri-Cities. A National Historical Park designation would give Hanford sites the same status as Independence Hall, Valley Forge and Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace.

U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Tom Udall (D-NM) are original cosponsors of the bipartisan Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act [bill text]. Heinrich also serves on the ENR Committee. The bill must first pass the ENR Committee before going to the full Senate for a vote. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), ENR Committee Chairman, expressed support for the legislation on February 19, while on a fact-finding visit to Hanford. Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA-04), Chair of the House Resources Committee, oversees the committee of jurisdiction on the House side and has introduced similar legislation in the past.

“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,” said Senator Cantwell. “Giving historic sites at Hanford the same status as Independence Hall will help honor the groundbreaking engineering achievements and tremendous sacrifices of those who labored there. And it will help boost the Tri-Cities’ tourism economy, supporting local businesses. We’re encouraged that Chairman Wyden has expressed support for this bipartisan legislation, and look forward to working with the committee and Chairman Hastings in the House to pass legislation giving Hanford the status it deserves.”

“As Americans, we have a special obligation to preserve and protect our heritage, and the Manhattan Project National Historical Park will ensure that all Americans learn about the significance of the Manhattan Project and how it continues to shape our history,” said Senator Alexander.

“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,” said Senator Murray. “Through their work at the B Reactor, thousands of Tri-Cities residents played an important role in World War II and the Cold War, and this federal designation will give them the recognition they deserve.”

The Cantwell-Alexander bill would also preserve several other key Hanford sites that tell the story of the Manhattan Project, including the Hanford High School and Hanford Construction Camp Historic District, White Bluffs Bank building, the warehouse in the Bruggemann’s Agricultural Complex, the Hanford Irrigation District Pump House, and the T Plant 221-T Process building, which also tell about the sacrifices of local communities that were relocated due to security needs. 

Preserving the B Reactor and other key sites at Hanford would enable future generations to learn about the scientific contributions and enormous sacrifices made by those who labored at Hanford during its remarkable run. The cost to dismantle and “cocoon” the B Reactor would have cost more than $105 million.

The introduction of this legislation builds on years of efforts to preserve the historic B Reactor. Last Congress, Cantwell and Murray were lead sponsors of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act (S. 3300), and Congressman Hastings introduced a similar bill (H.R. 5987) in the House.

On June 27, 2012, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks discussed S. 3300 for the first time. During the hearing, the National Park Service (NPS) agreed that elevating B Reactor to National Historical Park status would increase Tri-Cities tourism. Last year, B Reactor tourism brought $1.5 million to the Tri-Cities economy, according to the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau. Since the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the B Reactor as a National Historical Landmark in August 2008, opening it to the public for the first time, more than 20,000 visitors have toured the B Reactor from all 50 states and more than 48 countries. 

Since 2003, Cantwell, Murray and Hastings have advocated for the historic preservation of Hanford’s B Reactor.  The Washington state representatives sponsored bipartisan legislation that was signed into law in 2004 directing the NPS to conduct a study on the potential for developing and utilizing the B Reactor and other key historic sites on the Hanford complex. 

In December 2009, the Park Service released a draft study concluding that only part of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory National Landmark District in New Mexico should be considered for a new national park. The draft study excluded Hanford’s B Reactor and historic facilities at the Oak Ridge site in Tennessee, citing concerns over public access to Department of Energy (DOE) facilities and how the site would be co-managed by the NPS and DOE. Following the release of the draft study, Cantwell, Murray and Hastings all urged the NPS to reconsider.

On July 13, 2011, the National Park Service finalized its study, which recommended Hanford’s B Reactor be included in a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The NPS’ recommendation was announced along with the results of its long-awaited study, which determined that “the best way to preserve and interpret the Manhattan Project is for Congress to establish a National Historical Park at three sites where much of the critical scientific activity associated with the project occurred: Los Alamos, New Mexico; Hanford, Washington; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.”

In 1943, only months after Enrico Fermi first demonstrated that controlled nuclear reaction was possible, ground was broken on the B Reactor. The B Reactor produced the plutonium for the first-ever manmade nuclear explosion – the Trinity test in New Mexico – and for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki that helped win and hasten the end of World War II. Plutonium production at the B-Reactor continued until its decommissioning in 1968.