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Richland, Hanford, and the B reactor
The Site B Reactor Loading Face Control Room
Richland The Museum Getting There Links
Touring the nuclear giant

        After having wanted to do this for about three years, I finally landed a spot on a tour of the Hanford facility - actually, on both tours. There are two tours offered of Hanford. One takes in the whole site, and lasts six or seven hours. You are taken within the Hanford site, making occasional stops at places like the B reactor, the waste disposal site, the groundwater site, and various other clean up sites. The tour includes trips to the original town sites, the area where the uranium rods were made, the reactor sites (mostly demolished and encapsulated), as well as the locations of the plutonium extraction plants. Much of this is gone now - sort of a nuclear ghost town, demolished or encapsulated. Various dump sites, and landfills will also be visited, in various stages of decontamination. No photography, note taking, or any other kind of recording is permitted on this tour. Buses load at the Hammer site, which is just up Horn Rapids Road, right by the Ariva factory, where nuclear fuel is made for power reactors. The second tour is shorter, and only covers the B reactor; but in some ways is more satisfying. Photography is allowed, and even encouraged. For this shorter tour, the bus ride circles around much of the Hanford site, rather than passing through, and enters at a gate very near the B reactor itself.

        For those who are not familiar with the place, Hanford was the largest nuclear production facility in the country, perhaps the world, through most of the Cold War. It produced huge quantities of plutonium, for use in nuclear weapons. Two thirds of all of the plutonium produced in this country, was made right here. The Hanford site sits isolated and largely unacknowledged, as one of the workhorses of the nuclear infrastructure, and one of the great battlefields of The Cold War.

        The desert and scrub of eastern Washington State is the last place you might expect to find one of the premiere examples of leading edge nuclear production facilities. On the other hand, considering the nature of the Manhattan Project, and the nature of many of the sites and facilities which it spawned, this might be exactly the kind of location you might expect. The Hanford Site has much in common with the other Manhattan Project sites, such as the Sandia Labs of Los Alamos, Trinity and White Sands, as well as the Arco site in Utah, and much of what became the missile fields of the mountain states. Even Oak Ridge, has much in common with the Hanford site, despite the apparent differences in climate and topology.

        At it’s peak, Hanford had nine production reactors; but today is mostly concerned with clean up. With the Cold War won, and large stockpiles of plutonium built up, places like Hanford are no longer needed - we hope. Should the need ever arise to increase our nuclear stockpile; we have something like 100 tons of plutonium in secure facilities. It takes around thirteen pounds to make the core of a nuclear weapon, so we are not likely to fall short.

        Unfortunately, production of two thirds of the nation's plutonium means accumulation of two thirds of the nation's production related nuclear waste. The Hanford site is the most radioactively contaminated place in the nation – more so than the Nevada Test Site, The Trinity Site, or any other nuclear site. There is more radioactive contamination here, measured in tons (that's right - tons), than at Hiroshima, or Nagasaki, where the bombs were dropped. Various clean up, containment, and decontamination processes are being developed here, by necessity. Upon completion of these cutting edge procedures, the people here will be the world experts at vitrification and site remediation. There is also still some nuclear research being conducted here, and the site is the home to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

         This is a different kind of tour, for quite a different kind of tourist; but it is a unique, historic, and fascinating place. It is also, for those of us who lived through the Cold War, as much a battlefield as Gettysburg, or Appomattox. Places like this were where the Cold War was ultimately fought and won – without a shot being fired. If you have a desire to see this place, now is the time. Tour slots are limited and must be reserved ahead of time. Spots fill fast – sometimes by the morning of the first day that they open. This is no exaggeration – if you are interested, click on one of both of the links below, right now! If there are no slots available, check back - people cancel all the time. If you are lucky, you may get a spot on both tours. The links at the top and bottom of this page lead to accounts of my own visits, with photographs where allowed.

 Reserve your spot now!

For tours of the entire site (no photography permitted):

For tours of the B reactor only, where photography is allowed:

The Site B Reactor Loading Face Control Room
Richland The Museum Getting There Links