Cantwell-Authorized Study Confirms Hanford B-Reactor Should Be National Historic Park

Community pressure gets National Park Service to revise study to say Hanford’s historic B Reactor should be preserved National Historic Park status would help attract more visitors to the Tri-Cities, ensure the reactor’s long-term future

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the National Park Service recommended Hanford’s B Reactor be made into a national historic park, following years of work by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to preserve and increase access to the historic reactor and highlight its critical role in America’s national security.

The recommendation was announced today along with the results of the National Park Service’s (NPS) long-awaited study, which looked at whether three Manhattan Project sites, including Hanford’s B Reactor, should be made into a National Historic Park. The study was authorized by legislation Cantwell authored and championed into law in 2004.

“Hanford’s B Reactor tells an important chapter in our nation’s history and deserves preservation as part of a new National Historic Park,” Cantwell said. “Making this site a National Historic Park would be a tribute to both the scientific contributions and enormous sacrifices made by those who labored at the B Reactor during its remarkable run. I applaud the National Park Service’s recommendation today to make Hanford’s B Reactor a National Historic Park and look forward to continuing to work with the Tri-Cities community to enact the law that will make this designation a reality.”

Since 2003, Cantwell has advocated for the historic preservation of Hanford’s B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor. Cantwell and Murray 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 Manhattan Project facilities as historical sites. U.S. Representative Doc Hastings (D-WA-04) worked with Cantwell to develop the Manhattan Project National Park Study Act and introduced companion legislation in the House.

In December 2009, the NPS 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 and Murray sent a letter signed by the Washington state delegation urging the NPS to reconsider.

In 1943, only months after Enrico Fermi first demonstrated that controlled nuclear reaction was possible, ground was broken on the B Reactor – the world's first full-scale plutonium production 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 World War II. Plutonium production at B Reactor continued until its decommissioning in 1968.