After environmental cleanup, what’s in store for Hanford?

public access: Future of historic site discussed

January 10, 2011 

The Department of Energy is starting to look at the future of Hanford after environmental cleanup is done.

It has created a position based in Richland to help answer key questions about how land will be used, who will have access to it and how the history of Hanford will be remembered and shared.

“This is the first sign we’ve seen they’re looking beyond cleanup, and cleanup is going so well, this is the right time,” said Gary Petersen, the Tri-City Development Council vice president of Hanford programs.

The Department of Energy’s goal is to shrink the portion of the 586-square-mile nuclear reservation requiring cleanup to little more than 75 square miles at its center by 2015.

The environmental cleanup in the center of Hanford is expected to continue for decades. But the nuclear reservation, including a security perimeter, also has large areas never needed for buildings, reactors or burial grounds created during the production of plutonium for the nation’s weapons program during World War II and the Cold War.

Some of the area that will be released from the cleanup effort has been designated for industrial use, such as clean-energy development and production, and a large portion is part of the Hanford Reach National Monument already managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition, B Reactor is being preserved as a museum – with some help from the U.S. National Park Service, supporters hope.

“We want to show site workers and the community that there are exciting and good and economically important things possible after cleanup is completed,” said Colleen French, who has been named to the new position of government affairs program manager.

She previously was the director of the Office of Communication and External Affairs for the Department of Energy Hanford Richland Operations Office.

Among her initial list of assignments is to continue to lead work to preserve Hanford’s historic B Reactor and expand access to it. The world’s first production-scale reactor, which created plutonium for the world’s first atomic explosion and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, during World War II, is open for seasonal bus tours, but the tours cannot keep up with demand.

French will be working closely with the National Park Service as it evaluates whether B Reactor and potentially other Hanford structures should be added to a proposed Manhattan Project National Historical Park that will be considered by Congress this year, said Matt McCormick, manager of the Department of Energy Hanford Richland Operations Office, in a message to employees.

If the public has access to B Reactor, then the Department of Energy needs to consider what else of historic interest the public should have access to, French said. Other facilities to evaluate include the few settler buildings that remain from the era before the federal government took over what’s now the Hanford nuclear reservation in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, she said.

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