"Know Before You Go"

"Know Before You Go"

Know Before You Go

The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) is pleased to present a new “Ranger in Your Pocket” program that is designed for future visitors to the B Reactor called “Know Before You Go.” The B Reactor Museum Association (BRMA), founded in 1990 by retired Hanford engineers and scientists, created this five-part introductory program for people who are planning to visit the B Reactor at Hanford, WA.

As AHF President Cindy Kelly explained, “The members of the B Reactor Museum Association (BRMA) want the public to have a meaningful experience when they visit the reactor. After leading dozens of tours in the B Reactor, BRMA members have observed that for first-time visitors, the experience can be overwhelming.

“To help people better appreciate how the reactor works, BRMA has created this selection of programs called “Know Before You Go.” Now visitors can brush up on their understanding of the energy inside an atom, learn about the discoveries in science that preceded development of the atomic bomb, and watch animated graphics that show what goes on inside the reactor. These programs should help everyone have a better appreciation for the reactor and how it works. Their experiences at the reactor will be even more awesome!”

During the Manhattan Project, the B Reactor produced the plutonium that was used in the “Gadget” tested at the Trinity Site on July 16, 1945, and the “Fat Man” bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. It continued to operate for over twenty years after the war. Since tours became available at the B Reactor in 2009, more than 10,000 tourists annually from all over the world have visited this icon of the Manhattan Project.

In November 2015, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park was established at three sites: Los Alamos, NM, Oak Ridge, TN, and Hanford, WA. With the new park, the number of tourists coming to each of these sites is expected to rise significantly. In anticipation, the Atomic Heritage Foundation has begun developing programs on its “Ranger in Your Pocket” website. The “Ranger” series empowers visitors to take self-guided tours on smartphones when they visit a site or on their personal computers before or after they go. The “Ranger” programs on Hanford’s history and the B Reactor are especially popular, with thousands of people accessing the tours each month. Programs for Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and other sites are underway.

The “Know Before You Go” program encourages potential visitors to acquaint themselves with the basics of atomic science, how the reactor was operated, and how nuclear fission was conceived. “Know Before You Go” is structured so users can learn simple atomic science as well as more advanced engineering concepts and nuclear physics, depending upon their interests.

The introductory section features short welcoming comments by the leaders of the Atomic Heritage Foundation and the B Reactor Museum Association. The major sections are narrated by Hank Kosmata, Vice President of BRMA, who is passionate about the marvels of B Reactor and eager to share his expertise on the world’s first facility to produce plutonium. 

“How It Was Built” uses an animated model to show what goes on inside the B Reactor, something visitors can only imagine when they stand in front of the forty-foot square face of the reactor. Animated graphics show the assembly of the reactor’s shielding walls and inner core of graphite blocks. Other animations show fuel rods being loaded into the reactor, getting bombarded with radiation inside, and being discharged out the back face into the cooling water of the storage area.

“Nuclear History” provides an overview of important breakthroughs in nuclear physics, from the discovery of the electron in 1887 to the discovery of nuclear fission in late 1938. The vignette also covers the creation of the Manhattan Project by the US government and why military leaders selected Hanford as the plutonium production site.

Next, “Reactor Visit Preview” shows users what they will see during a visit to the B Reactor, from the enormous front face to the control room. Kosmata explains how the reactor operated, from the process tubes and pigtails to control rods. The vignette also features several models on display at the reactor. One shows how water traveled from the Columbia River to cool the reactor and then was discharged back into the river. Another display shows how the graphite blocks, process tubes, and control rods are interlaced inside the reactor. The latter model is made out of graphite blocks left over from the construction of B Reactor.

Finally, “A Is for Atom” is for people who would like to refresh their understanding of basic atomic physics. The video was produced in the 1950s by the Walt Disney Company for General Electric (GE), after GE took over operation of the B Reactor. The program provides an overview of nuclear energy, beginning with the structure of an atom and explaining why plutonium and uranium atoms can be split to produce the massive amounts of energy in an atomic bomb.

“Know Before You Go” will give students and members of the general public an appreciation of the scientific concepts and engineering behind the B Reactor’s operations and greater perspective on its role in World War II and the Cold War. Be sure to watch “Know Before You Go” and come prepared for a memorable time seeing the reactor almost exactly the way it was in World War II.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation (AHF) is grateful to the B Reactor Museum Association for their enthusiastic leadership of this project, especially BRMA President Maynard Plahuta and Vice President Hank Kosmata. AHF is also indebted to the City of Richland and the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust for their generous financial support that made this project possible. Thank you all for enriching the experience of visitors to the B Reactor!