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Hanford B-Reactor historical tours

Visit the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor

The front face of the B-Reactor provides an intimidating backdrop for the briefing about the site. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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A visit to the Hanford Unit of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park located in Richland, is enriching and offers a fascinating STEM tour for children, and a greater insight for adults to understanding the complexities of nuclear negotiations with North Korea and Iran. The B-Reactor National Historic Landmark is the world's first full-scale plutonium production reactor. It was part of the top secret Manhattan Project and produced the plutonium for the Trinity Test, the first atomic explosion July 16, 1945. It also produced the plutonium for the bomb that detonated on Nagasaki, Japan, helping to end World War II.

The tour begins with a video and introduction at the visitor's center, which also has some exhibits to view while you are waiting. You will then board a bus, which will take you to the B-Reactor. The ride is surprisingly scenic as you roll through acres of pristine shrub-steppe, the largest remaining tract of sagebrush grassland in the United States. As you arrive at the reactor, the whole area has a ghost town feel. Once you depart the bus, docents direct you into a large work-room for a dramatic view of the front face of the reactor and an introduction to the site.

Once the talk is complete, you are free to roam the reactor and the many exhibits at your own pace. The reactor is truly a monument to American ingenuity. Construction of the B-Reactor began a short six months after the first nuclear chain reaction occurred at the University of Chicago. It was completed in 13 months with unproven technology and quickly began producing plutonium. At its peak, more than 51,000 workers ran the massive complex. This is one of the most interesting historic tours I have ever taken and provides information on the once secret Manhattan Project. The Hanford Site is massive, and at one point had nine nuclear reactors. (Insiders Tip: In addition to the B-Reactor tours, on Fridays and Saturdays a prewar historic tour of the site is offered covering the pioneer farmers and Native American tribes who called the area home. All tours are free of charge.)

Manhattan Project National Historical Park Hanford, tours by reservation late May to mid-November, 2000 Logston Blvd., Richland, 509.376.1647, manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov

For a truly unique visit to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, sign up for "Ride the Reactor," which takes place Sept. 22. This once-a-year-event is a 15-mile roundtrip bike ride (variable length options available). The $40 registration fee includes the bike ride, catered lunch, interpretive ranger talks along the bike route, and a tour of the B-Reactor. All of the proceeds from "Ride the Reactor" will support the education program of the Hanford Unit of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. All riders must be 18 years or older to participate. Plan to use a mountain or cycle-cross bike due to the gravel roads on portions of the route.

"Ride the Reactor," 7:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 22, Manhattan Project National Historical Park Hanford Visitor Center, 2000 Logston Blvd., Richland, $40, 800.254.5824, tri-cities.com/ridethereactor/

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