National Park Service Agrees with Cantwell that New B Reactor Park Would Increase Tri-Cities Tourism

During Senate hearing on Cantwell bill, Energy Department commits to one year implementation deadline

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, under questioning by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a U.S. Department of Interior representative agreed that visitation to Hanford’s B Reactor would increase if a bill authored by Cantwell designating the reactor and other key Manhattan Project sites as a new National Historical Park became law. Already this year, B Reactor tourism is expected to bring more than a million dollars to the Tri-Cities economy in direct visitor spending, according to the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau.

The discussion occurred this afternoon during a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Subcommittee on National Parks hearing on various bills, including S. 3300, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act. Senators Cantwell and Patty Murray (D-WA) are original cosponsors of the legislation, which would preserve historic sites at Hanford, as well as nationally significant Manhattan Project-related sites at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.                                                          

A National Historical Park designation would give Hanford sites the same status as Independence Hall, Valley Forge and Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace.

The two chairs of the relevant full committees in the Senate and House, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA-04), support designating Hanford sites and sites in New Mexico and Tennessee as a new Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Chairman Hastings introduced a similar House measure last week, H.R. 5987, which will receive a hearing in the House Resources Committee tomorrow. 

“For us in the Northwest, with the B Reactor at the Hanford site, we’ve had over 20,000 visitors since 2009,” Cantwell said at today’s hearing. “So the region really does see this as a very big potential for attracting visitors and impact to our local economy – people spending dollars – and the reactor as a National Historic Landmark elevated to a national park status will take that to the next level.”

Cantwell continued: “I’d like to know if, Mr. Frost, you believe that the B Reactor as part of a National Historic Park system – once it’s finalized – do you expect that that visitor capacity will increase even more?”

Herbert Frost, Associate Director of National Resources Stewardship and Science at the Department of Interior’s National Park Service, responded: “There’s no doubt in our minds that we think visitation will increase.”

During questioning, Cantwell also secured a commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy to stick to the one-year deadline that S.3300 establishes. Once the legislation becomes law, it 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.

“The legislation provides for one year for the Department of Energy and National Park Service to enter in agreement in their respective administrative roles,” Cantwell said. “Are your departments committed to meeting that deadline?”

“Yes, absolutely,” said Ingrid Kolb, Director of the Office of Management at the Department of Energy. “We would be committed to meeting that deadline.”

An archived video of the hearing is available on the ENR Committee website here. Cantwell’s opening statement begins at 56:35 and her Q&A with Frost and Kolb runs from 57:32 to 61:47.

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. 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. Up until March 2008, Hanford’s B Reactor was scheduled to be demolished, sealed, and capped at an estimated cost of $12 million.   

Cantwell’s 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. 

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 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 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 NPS’ 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.