Politics & Government

Preserve first reactor as historic landmark, board advises

WASHINGTON — The world's first full-scale nuclear reactor, the B Reactor at the Hanford reservation in Washington state, took another step toward permanent preservation Tuesday as a key National Park Service board recommended its designation as a national historic landmark.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne will decide whether the reactor, which sits abandoned on the banks of the Columbia River, will receive the landmark designation. Such a designation would go a long way toward protecting the reactor, but the Department of Energy, which owns it, the National Park Service and probably Congress all will have a say in its fate.

Built as part of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret U.S. government program to develop nuclear weapons during World War II, the B Reactor retains a "time stood still" quality from the dawn of the atomic age and the beginnings of the Cold War, Park Service officials said.

The National Park System Advisory Board unanimously recommended national historic landmark designation for the reactor and 16 other sites. The board members had no questions about the reactor before they voted.

"Touring the B Reactor is like stepping back in the 1940s, because it has largely been left intact," Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., whose congressional district includes Hanford, said in a written statement submitted to the board. "For those who didn't live through World War II, the B Reactor tells the story of the time and the work force that contributed to our nation's defense for so long. By preserving B Reactor, we will have an irreplaceable teaching tool for future generations."