Polluted Nuclear Weapons Site to Become Tourist Destination

20 Jan 2016 | Author: | No comments yet »

Hanford Nuclear Reservation: From nuclear pollution to national preservation.

Thousands of people are expected next year to tour the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, home of the world’s first full-sized nuclear reactor, near Richland, about 200 miles east of Seattle in south-central Washington. “Everything is clean and perfectly safe,” said Colleen French, the U.S. Department of Energy’s program manager for the Hanford park. “Any radioactive materials are miles away.” The Manhattan Project National Historic Park, signed into existence in November, also includes sites at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M.

It features the story of the 50,000 workers and scientists behind the program and the 300 residents who were displaced because of it, said Chip Jenkins of the National Park Service. B Reactor was built in about a year and produced plutonium for the Trinity test blast in New Mexico and the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945.

According to a report by the Washington Examiner, the US government has so far failed to treat even a single drop of the toxic waste held underground, despite pouring more than $19 billion into the site over 25 years. Starting in 1943, more than 50,000 people from across the United States arrived at the top-secret Hanford site to perform work whose purpose few knew, French said. That story is still being developed, but will certainly include a Japanese perspective, he said. “What happened at B Reactor changed the course of human history,” Jenkins said. “They went from sparsely populated ranching communities to the first packet of plutonium over the course of 18 months.” Nine reactors were built at Hanford and operated during the Cold War.

Consequently, the Energy Department proposed two new projects in 2013 aimed at treating some of the radioactive waste before the main project’s completion. That work created more than 56 million gallons of radioactive waste that the government still spends more than $1 billion a year to maintain and clean up. Exhibits at the B Reactor include the exposed face of the reactor and the control room, where many visitors like to sit and be photographed at control panels, she said. Jenkins noted that thousands of scientists and other workers remain active on the site, inventing and implementing new techniques to clean up the massive volume of nuclear waste.

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