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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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Visit Tri-Cities national park, birthplace of the atomic age. Tours start in April


The public can sign up now for tours of the nation’s first full-scale nuclear reactor and the sites that tell the story of those forced from their homes to make way for the top-secret project at Hanford.

Registration for both of the free tours of historic National Park Service sites near Richland is open now.

This is the second year the tours are being offered, after being shutdown for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2023 tours will begin April 3 and continue into November on as many as six days of the week. They include tours through the Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day holiday weekends.

Participants will board a bus in Richland to reach the Manhattan Project National Historical Park on the nearby Hanford nuclear reservation.

The Hanford site was created during World War II as the Allies raced to produce an atomic bomb ahead of Nazi Germany.

One tour will take visitors to historic B Reactor, which launched the atomic age.

It produced plutonium for the world’s first atomic bomb exploded over the New Mexico desert and then the plutonium used to fuel the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, helping end World War II.

The reactor looks much the same today as it did when it started up nearly 79 years ago.

Visitors can stand beneath the towering face of the reactor, where 200 tons of uranium slugs were loaded into aluminum tubes.

They also will see the control room, where a crowd of scientists and engineers gathered to start up the reactor for the first time in September 1944. They were unsure if the reactor would power up as hoped or whether a runaway chain reaction might blow it up.

Neither happened, as visitors on the tour will learn.

The second tour takes visitors to four of the few buildings that remain to tell the story of settlers displaced from more than 580 square miles in Eastern Washington for a project so secret they were not told why their land was being seized by the federal government.

The tour stops at the remains of the 1916 Hanford High School, the tiny First Bank of White Bluffs and the 1908 Hanford Irrigation District Pump House.

It also stops at the Bruggemann Warehouse, a building made of cobblestones.

The Bruggemann family was one of the most successful farming families in a region known for early-ripening fruits that were shipped all over the world.

But in 1943 the family was given 30 days to leave the land the Bruggemanns had purchased in 1937. They were told the government needed it for a secret World War II project.

The government demolished most of the buildings on what would become the Hanford nuclear reservation, including the Bruggemann family’s stone house and their barn and silo. It was a signal to families that nothing remained for them there.

Sign up for a tour

Each of the two tours take about four hours and are open to visitors of all ages and nationalities. Cameras, cellphones and other recording devices are welcome.

Visitors can register for up to six tour seats at a time.

School and group tours may also be available on a first come, first served basis with a minimum of 20 participants.

To register for a tour from April through fall 2023, go to manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov.

Visitors who would like help scheduling a tour, or who have special requests including wheel chair transportation or American Sign Language interpretation, can call 509-376-1647 or stop by the Manhattan Project National Historical Park visitor center at 2000 Logston Blvd. in Richland.

Visitors also may claim a walk-on place on the tour without a reservation if there is space available.

Tours are offered by the Department of Energy in cooperation with the National Park Service.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park also includes historic properties at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M., that tell more of the story of the WWII start of the atomic age.

Virtual Hanford cleanup tour

DOE also previously offered on-site bus tours focused on environmental cleanup of Hanford, but has replaced those with online tours.

The site continued to be used through the Cold War, with nine reactors along the Columbia River in Eastern Washington producing nearly two-thirds of the plutonium for the nations nuclear weapons program.

The work left millions of gallons of radioactive waste, plus contaminated buildings, soil and groundwater.

DOE said interest in the tours decreased as some projects had been largely completed and there was less to see as cleanup work has focused on fewer, but significant projects such as preparing the massive vitrification plant to treat radioactive waste for disposal..

Two years ago DOE began offering virtual tours of the Hanford site with 25 “tour stops” with panoramic online views and information.

They include the vitrification plant’s main facilities, historic T Plant, the HAMMER hands-on training facility and plants to treat contaminated groundwater.

Go to vtours.hanford.gov.