Measure for historical park pushed in Congress

A U.S. House subcommittee Thursday heard more support for a bill establishing a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a day after a companion bill was discussed in a Senate subcommittee.

The proposed park would include Hanford’s historic B Reactor and possibly other Hanford buildings.

“Only months after Enrico Fermi first demonstrated that a controlled nuclear reaction was possible, ground was broken on the B Reactor — which, amazingly, only 13 months later, became the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the chairman of the House National Resources Committee.

The bill was discussed Thursday at its Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

The Departments of Energy and Interior would have one year to come up with an agreement on the role of each in the park, which also would include Manhattan Project sites in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M. Then the park would be formed.

All that is needed is to reach an agreement in about the time it took to build B Reactor during an era when blueprints were drawn by hand and slide rules served as computers, Hastings told officials from the two agencies at the subcommittee hearing.

The World War II Manhattan Project is a story of American ingenuity to respond to a great threat, Hastings said. At the time, United States leaders feared that Nazi Germany was on the verge of unleashing a nuclear bomb.

“The goal of this bill is to preserve these pieces of history from destruction and enhance public access,” he said.

Many people from the Tri-Cities have never been through the Hanford gates to see the nuclear reservation, said Gary Petersen, Tri-City Development Council vice president of Hanford programs. Limited tours of B Reactor are offered now, and seats typically fill quickly.

The bill is written to be flexible, helping with the challenge of allowing public access onto secure sites such as the Hanford nuclear reservation, where work is ongoing to clean up contamination left by the past production of plutonium from World War II through the Cold War, Hastings said.

“The department has not yet assessed fully the operational difficulties in terms of security and public health and safety, applicable statutory and regulatory requirements, and the potential new cost of national park designation at our sensitive national security and cleanup sites,” said Ingrid Kolb, director of the DOE Office of Management.

But the proposed legislation gives DOE and the Department of Interior flexibility to establish boundaries and a management plan for a historical park, she said.

“There is no question of the importance of creating this new national park, nor of the public interest to view these former secret sites and preserve them for future generations,” Petersen said.

People came from all over the nation to build Hanford when the Manhattan Project was started Aug. 13, 1942, starting with building the dormitories and mess halls needed for the construction project, he said.

Three years and a day later, the war was over, in part because of the nuclear bomb with Hanford plutonium dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

Proposed sites in all three states have seen economic downturns and a national park would create jobs and provide economic development opportunities, Petersen said in a written statement submitted to the subcommittee.

— Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

Measure for historical park pushed in Congress


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