Cantwell, Tri-Cities Leaders Call for National Historical Park at Hanford

Cantwell bill would give B Reactor same status as Independence Hall, Lincoln’s birthplace

RICHLAND, WA – Today at Hanford’s B Reactor Visitor Center, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined local business owners, visitor bureau representatives and B Reactor preservation advocates and highlighted how creating a Manhattan Project National Historical Park that includes the B Reactor would create jobs and support local businesses. Cantwell also released a report on the impact this designation would have on the local economy and jobs.

Cantwell is a lead sponsor of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act (S. 3300), which would preserve historic sites at Hanford, as well as Manhattan Project-related sites at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA-04) has introduced a similar bill (H.R. 5987) in the House.

This year, B Reactor tourism is expected to bring $1.55 million to the Tri-Cities economy, according to the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau. Designating B Reactor as a National Historical Park would expand visitor access, helping to bring more tourism dollars to the local economy, and support local businesses like the Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery, whose owner joined Cantwell at Hanford today.

“Elevating B Reactor to a National Historical Park would expand visitor access and bring more tourism dollars to the local economy,” Cantwell said. “National Parks are a proven job creator – and giving Hanford this designation will help honor the history and sacrifice of those who labored here. 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’s bill would 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.

On June 27, 2012, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks discussed Cantwell’s bill for the first time. During the hearing, the National Park Service agreed that elevating B Reactor to a National Historical Park status would increase Tri-Cities tourism.

During the same hearing, Cantwell also secured a commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy to stick to the deadline in S. 3300 to establish the park. Once the legislation becomes law, the bill requires that the Manhattan Project National Historical Park be established within one year. The legislation also requires that the Energy Department and National Park Service come to an agreement on administration roles within one year of enactment.

Cantwell’s bill must now be approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee before going to the full Senate for consideration.

A National Historical Park designation would give Hanford sites the same status as Independence Hall, Valley Forge and Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace. Preserving B Reactor and other key sites at Hanford will enable future generations to learn about the scientific contributions and enormous sacrifices made by those who labored at Hanford during its remarkable run. Since the first B Reactor tour was conducted in March 2009, more than 20,000 visitors have toured B Reactor from all 50 states and 48 countries.

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 National Park Service (NPS) to conduct a study on the potential for developing and utilizing 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 and Murray urged the NPS to reconsider.

On July 13, 2011, the National Park Service finalized its study, which recommended Hanford’s B Reactor should be included in a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The National Park Service recommendation was announced along with the results of its 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.”

In a May 8, 2012, letter to Senator Cantwell, a wide array of stakeholders and elected officials from the Tri-Cities wrote, “In today’s world, it is mind-boggling to think of what happened in these short three years. 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.”

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.