By RACHAL PINKERTON
HANFORD — The Manhattan Project National Historical Park has opened tours of Hanford’s B Reactor for the 2019 season. Tours run from April through November.
Hanford was one of several sites around the country that were chosen as possible locations for a nuclear reactor. Col. Franklin T. Matthias first visited the Hanford area in December 1942. Shortly after his visit, it was decided that Hanford was the best site, thanks to its remote location and closeness to a steady stream of water.
Construction began on the B Reactor in the fall of 1943 and was completed 11 months later on Sept. 13, 1944. It became the first full-scale nuclear reactor in the world. During its construction and the construction of the other buildings and reactors on the Hanford site, over 45,000 workers were on the payroll.
In the 1930s, scientists began experimenting with atoms. It was found that uranium had the possibility of breaking up into smaller pieces and could create a tremendous amount of energy.
“When they found that it could be split, they wondered, ‘Could this be made into a weapon?’” said Ben Johnson, docent for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
Refugees from Europe had written to President Roosevelt saying that they believed that Hitler was attempting to make a weapon. This fear put the Hanford project into high gear.
Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, who was in charge of the project, approached the Dupont Company. Dupont didn’t want to build the reactor, stating that they didn’t know how to build such a building.
“Groves said that no one else did either,” said Johnson.
Dupont agreed to take on the project, with several conditions, such as they didn’t want to run the facility after the war was over and someone else would have to be responsible for tearing it down.
Once Hanford was selected as the ideal site for the new top secret facility, farmers and residents of the area were given eviction notices and told not to tell their family fighting in the trenches. The government was afraid that such news would cause a drop in morale among the troops.
With Dupont agreeing to take on the project, work began.
“This build was probably the largest contract ever let to a commercial firm,” said Johnson. “It was built in 11 months.”
Johnson attributed the speed of the build to the country being scared and seeing the project as a need for survival.
“We can never repeat what happened here at Hanford,” Johnson said. “There was a lot they didn’t know. The success out here is due to the Dupont Company.”
While Dupont didn’t know anything about how to build a reactor, they did get insight from approximately 2,000 physicists. Based on the information the physicists provided, Dupont constructed the facility. They knew that water was extremely important to keeping the reactor cool and that it needed to keep flowing for it to work properly. They also build complex and multi-layered protections to keep the radiation levels as low as possible. Dupont built many layers of redundancy throughout the entire reactor, always allowing a backup plan if something were to go wrong.
Today, the B Reactor is the only reactor that has not been totally stripped and cocooned. It has been turned into a museum and is defined as a national park. It is part of the Manhattan Project National Park.
Tours of the Hanford B Reactor allow visitors to explore most of the rooms on the main floor. Rooms are checked daily to ensure that radiation levels are at normal and safe levels. Those rooms that may contain unsafe levels are off-limits to visitors.
Rooms available to visitors include the front face of the reactor, the control room, the water valve pit and the intake and exhaust fan rooms. Live presentations, along with audio and video presentations, are available throughout the tour. Visitors are allowed to explore the various rooms at their leisure.
The tours are available now through mid-November. Visitors under the age of 18 are allowed, but must have a signed release form and must be with a parent or adult guardian for the entire tour. Cameras, cell phones and recording devices are also allowed.
In addition to the B Reactor tour, a Pre-Manhattan Project tour is available until the end of October. This tour looks at the life of residents of Hanford and White Bluffs and those who were evicted in 1943. Stops on the tour include the Bruggemann Warehouse, the Allard Pump House, the First Bank of White Bluffs and the historic Hanford High School.
To learn more about the Hanford B Reactor tour, as well as the Pre-Manhattan Project tour, call (509) 376-1647 or visit manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov and tours.hanford.gov/historictours. Tours begin and end at 2000 Logston Blvd. in Richland. Pre-registration is required. A four-hour commitment is required for both tours.