Cantwell, Murray, Hastings to Introduce Bills to Preserve Hanford’s B-Reactor

Legislation would create National Historical Park to help attract more visitors to the Tri-Cities, secure B-Reactor’s long-term future

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Tri-Cities Congressional delegation jointly announced bills in the Senate and the House that would designate Hanford’s B Reactor as a National Historical Park. Currently the B Reactor is designated as a National Historic Landmark, but elevating its status to a historical park would preserve and increase access to the historic reactor, helping to attract more visitors to the Tri-Cities.

On Thursday, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) cosponsored the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act with Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to preserve historic sites at Hanford, as well as nationally significant sites at Los Alamos, New Mexico and Oak Ridge, Tennessee that were essential to the success of the Manhattan Project. U.S. Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA-04), Chair of the House Resources Committee, will introduce similar legislation next week.

Since the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the B Reactor as a National Historic 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 36 countries. The Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau estimates that B Reactor tourism this year will bring more than a million dollars to the local economy in direct visitor spending. 

Preserving the B Reactor and other key sites at Hanford will also enable future generations to learn about the scientific contributions and enormous sacrifices made by those who labored at Hanford during its remarkable run. 

“Hanford’s B Reactor tells an important chapter in our nation’s history and deserves preservation as part of a new National Historic Park,” said Cantwell, member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Energy. “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. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would honor the groundbreaking work and tremendous sacrifices made at Hanford, and support increased visits to this historic site.”

“The B Reactor and the people who made it a reality have played an indelible role in our nation’s history,” Senator Murray said. “I am so proud to have worked with Senator Cantwell and Representative Hastings to ensure that 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. This bill is a huge step forward in permanently protecting the B Reactor and recognizing the important work of the residents of the Tri-Cities during World War II and the Cold War.”

“Over the past several months, we've worked to bridge key differences between House and Senate drafts of this legislation,” Congressman Hastings said. “Great progress has been made, and while a few differences remain, there is bipartisan bicameral agreement on the overall concept of the Park and the texts of the bills are very similar.  We're now ready to move forward.  With both House and Senate bills to be formally introduced and Committee hearings scheduled for late June, I am hopeful that we can get a bill signed into law this year.  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.  There is a sincere and shared desire by Chairman Bingaman, Senators Murray and Cantwell, and our colleagues to establish the Park, and we'll continue working together with local advocates to accomplish our goal of ensuring these remarkable pieces of our history are preserved to tell the story of the Manhattan Project.”

Since 2003, Cantwell, Murray and Hastings have advocated for the historic preservation of Hanford’s B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor.  The Washington state representatives sponsored bipartisan legislation that was signed into law in 2004 directing the National Park Service (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 historic 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.”

“The Tri-City community has worked toward this bill for several years. The fact that the bill is being sponsored in both the Senate and House, supported by Senators Cantwell and Murray and Representative Hastings, in a completely bipartisan and bicameral way is testimony to the recognition that the Manhattan Project is a story that needs to be preserved, and told,” said Gary Peterson, Vice President of the Tri-Cities Washington Development Council. “Establishing the Manhattan Project National Park at Hanford, Oak Ridge and Los Alamos is a huge benefit to all of our communities. These three communities have all supported National Missions ever since 1943.”

In a May 8, 2012, letter to Congress, key Tri-Cities stakeholders stated, “Hanford efforts stretched the imagination. Housing for 50,000 individuals; 386 miles of highway (including Washington State’s first four-lane highway); 780,000 yards of concrete, and 158 miles of railroad track. All of this was done without the aid of computers, or equipment that could be bought ‘off-the-shelf.’ B-Reactor itself, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, was built in just 11 months start-to- finish. These are accomplishments that must be told to future generations. This National Park legislation should be passed by this Congress.”

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 and hasten the end of World War II. Plutonium production at the B-Reactor continued until its decommissioning in 1968.