Despite new interpretive exhibits installed last fall and a recent recommendation from a Department of the Interior committee to designate it a National Historic Landmark, Hanford’s B Reactor remained scheduled to be partially demolished, sealed and capped with a metal roof. In DOE’s jargon, it was slated to be “cocooned.”
That changed Wednesday, March 12, 2008 when the Department of Energy announced that the reactor would be taken off their list of facilities to be “cocooned.” The facility will be preserved until a final decision is made about its future. Among other things, the Department is awaiting the National Park Service’s (NPS’s) study on whether to recommend a Manhattan Project National Historic Park Site for the major Manhattan Project sites. Latest indications are that the NPS will hold public meetings next fall on possible options.
As the first large-scale plutonium production reactor in the world, the B Reactor produced the fissile material for the Trinity test device, the Fat Man bomb detonated over Nagasaki, and a portion of the United States’ Cold War arsenal. Its fate has been unclear, however, since it was decommissioned in 1968. With the end of the Cold War, efforts to clean up Hanford accelerated and it appeared that the historic B Reactor would join other reactors in being “cocooned.”
Friends of the B reactor worked tirelessly to prevent it from meeting a similar fate. Groups such as the B Reactor Museum Association, the Hanford Communities, the REACH Museum and the Atomic Heritage Foundation lobbied both local and national leaders to preserve the building with a goal of someday opening it to the public. In December of 2007, these forces won a major victory when a Department of Interior committee voted unanimously to recommend National Historic Landmark status for the reactor.
On Wednesday, March 12, 2008 the Department of Energy agreed to move forward with their part of such a plan and removed it from their list of Hanford properties to be dismantled. Assistant Secretary of Energy Jim Rispoli released a statement saying, "The B Reactor stands as a tribute to the ingenuity and dedication of the men and women who pioneered a nuclear technology in the hope that our nation's security would be preserved for future generations. The steps we are taking will ensure we give this remarkable facility every chance to be permanently preserved for the public to see."
This is certainly wonderful news for those wishing to see the B Reactor and other properties from the Manhattan Project preserved for future generations.