Historic Eastern WA Nuclear Reactor Reopens for Public Tours in Hanford | North West

May 17 – The public can once again step inside the world’s first production-scale nuclear reactor, a facility that launched the atomic age.

The Department of Energy is resuming free public tours of the historic B Reactor, part of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park at the Hanford site near Richland in eastern Washington.

Tours had been closed for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Registration is now open for tours beginning May 26 and continuing through November. Tours will be offered six days a week during the summer and on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day weekends.

“Visiting Reactor B is like stepping back to the World War II era,” said Colleen French, DOE program manager for Hanford National Park. “It’s certainly a marvel of science and engineering, but it’s so much more than that.”

Reactor B was built in just 11 months because the allies feared that Nazi Germany would overtake them in producing an atomic bomb.

It produced the plutonium used in the Trinity test in the New Mexico desert, the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, in July 1945.

He then made plutonium which powered the Fat Man atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan in August 1945 to help end World War II.

“Visitors will have the opportunity to learn from reactor guides and spend time alone reflecting on the questions raised by the Manhattan Project and its profound impacts,” French said.

Visitors can stand under the imposing face of the reactor, where 200 tons of uranium slugs have been loaded into aluminum tubes.

They will also visit the control room, where a crowd of scientists and engineers gathered to start the reactor for the first time in September 1944. They weren’t sure if the reactor would work as hoped or if a runaway chain reaction could blow it up. .

Neither happened, as visitors to the tour will learn.

Reactor B tours are a major tourist draw, said Michael Novakovich, general manager of Visit Tri-Cities.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park, established in 2015, includes historic properties in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, NM, in addition to Hanford in eastern Washington, all essential at the dawn of the Atomic Age during the Second World War.

The Hanford portion of the park also includes a high school, bank, water pumping station, and fruit warehouse still standing after settlers were ordered out in 1943 for the secret military project.

A pre-WWII historical tour is also offered in Hanford, but has not yet resumed post-COVID.

Register for the Reactor B Tour

Registration for Reactor B tours is available online at manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov. Visitors with questions can also call the Visitor Center at 2000 Logston Blvd., Richland, or call 509-376-1647.

Buses for the tours will depart from the Richland Visitor Center for a walking tour of the reactor. They take about four hours in total.

Tours are open to people of all ages and nationalities. Cameras and cell phones are welcome.

A limited number of group tours can also be arranged for a minimum of 20 people.

Hanford Cleaning Tours

The DOE has also offered past bus tours of secure areas in Hanford where environmental cleanup is underway.

But their recovery is not planned.

The Department of Energy is instead offering virtual tours on hanford.gov.

The Hanford site produced nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the country’s nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War. Today, about $2.5 billion a year is spent cleaning up radioactive and hazardous chemical waste and contamination at the 580 square mile site.

Interest in tours had waned as some projects were largely complete and there was less to see as cleanup work focused on fewer but important projects.

For example, most of the cleanup of the area along the Columbia River has been completed, highly radioactive sludge has been transferred out of the underwater K-reactor storage, and the plutonium finishing plant has been demolished.

There are also concerns that the tours will not divert workers’ attention to key projects, such as recovering radioactive waste from underground reservoirs and preparing waste for vitrification in the $17 billion vitrification plant as soon as it is completed. of 2023 for permanent elimination.

Hanford Virtual Tours

Virtual tours highlight 20 Hanford projects with program descriptions and offer 360-degree camera views.

They also allow people inside facilities, such as the vitrification plant and a large groundwater treatment plant in central Hanford, that people on buses would not be able to see.

Virtual tours have been popular, with more than 99,000 visits since January 2021, according to the DOE.

In some cases, the DOE has provided a person to act as a guide and answer questions for online tours for organizations taking the virtual tour.

Some in-person visits have started to resume for limited groups of people with a specific interest in the site.

They include government officials, advisory councils, tribes, and news media.

This story was originally published on May 17, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.

(c) 2022 Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Washington)

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