COLUMN: Manhattan Project National Historic Park Exciting Step for Tri-Cities, Washington, and Nation

November 16, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

Washingtonians have a monumental reason to celebrate an exciting new development for the Tri-Cities community, our state, and our nation: the opening of America’s newest national park. The anticipation has been building for years, and the Manhattan Project National Historic Park was officially dedicated with much-deserved fanfare last week. With the new park, the legacy of the people who spent their lives and labor at Hanford will be preserved for generations to come.

Seventy years ago, the scene of the Hanford site would have been unrecognizable: more than 51,000 workers lived at the site to construct the B Reactor at Hanford. They could not have imagined at the time that in the process, their efforts were contributing to critical developments in our nation’s history. The B Reactor was a groundbreaking facility—the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor—that was part of the network of government facilities across the nation racing to research and develop an atomic weapon during World War II. Along with facilities in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Hanford’s role was to produce high-grade plutonium used in the development of the first atomic bombs used to end the war.

The 586-square-mile site was selected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1943 for its relatively remote location and access to the Columbia River. The nearby town of Richland was merely a village at the time. One of the most stirring sites is one of the few remaining signs, that of the Hanford High School, part of the original Town of Hanford, whose residents were evicted by the federal government to create the Hanford nuclear site. The remains of the high school are a reminder of the high cost paid by area residents who were forced to give up their homes. The Hanford High School is now preserved by the National Park Service and will tell the story of the citizens whose lives were dramatically impacted by Hanford’s role in the top-secret Manhattan Project at the height of World War II.

The work at the site continued to play a crucial role during the Cold War, and Hanford operated for more than 40 years before decommissioning the last reactor in 1987. Now, after decades of cleanup efforts, successful progress has allowed the opening of sites such as the historic B Reactor to the public. Last year, more than 10,000 people visited the site. With the lifting of the age-restriction, third and fourth-graders from White Bluffs Elementary School visited the Park’s opening ceremony last week at the B Reactor, and they are just the first of waves of schoolchildren who will have the opportunity to ask questions and have their imaginations stirred about the contribution of Hanford to breakthroughs in science.

I applaud the bipartisan effort and hard work of all of those whose commitment made this National Park a reality. I will continue to support timely cleanup efforts, and as those efforts come to fruition, I will work to support opening additional sites for public access—because the story of the people who played a critical role, and whose lives were forever impacted by Hanford, deserves to be told.