- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Hundreds of people gathered Thursday inside the historic B Reactor on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation to mark the creation of the Manhattan Project National Historic Park.

The ceremony paid tribute to Hanford’s role in making plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, bringing an end to World War II.

“This step signifies our commitment to the new national park and our hope that visitors of all ages will come from far and wide to learn about Hanford’s role in the Manhattan Project,” said Stacy Charboneau, manager of the Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office.

The park’s creation required a “tremendous amount of cleanup work” that paved the way for public access to the facility, Charboneau said.

The nation’s newest national park was formally created earlier this week in Washington, D.C., and includes locations at Hanford; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The public attractions at Hanford will include the B Reactor, which was the world’s first full-sized nuclear reactor when it was built in 1943-44, plus four sites related to the old town of Hanford, which was evacuated to make room for the huge nuclear reservation.

The sites are a fruit warehouse, irrigation pump house, White Bluffs Bank and the old Hanford High School.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which is half the size of Rhode Island, is located near Richland, Washington, and for decades made plutonium for the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The site is now engaged in cleaning up the nation’s largest collection of radioactive waste.

The park will be jointly managed by the Energy Department and National Park Service.

About 250 people gathered at the face of the B Reactor to celebrate the occasion. Many in the Tri-Cities community had worked for 25 years to save the reactor from demolition because of its historic significance.

The reactor was designed and built during the war by DuPont, based on experimental designs tested by Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago. About 50,000 people were employed at the site during the war.

“This park is not only a tribute to Hanford’s history and its critical role in World War II but also a nod to its future,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Chip Jenkins, acting regional director of the Park Service’s Pacific West Region said the new park will ensure that the achievements of the Manhattan Project are not forgotten.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said 100,000 people are projected to visit the Hanford attractions in the first year, which will help boost the economy of the nearby Tri-Cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco.

“The compelling story of the Manhattan Project and the lives of those who lived and worked at Hanford will stir the imagination of all Americans, young and old,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican who represents the area in Congress.

As part of the new park, the Department of Energy has eliminated the age requirement for entrance to the B Reactor.

Visitors needed to be 18 when guided public tours of the reactor began in 2009. In 2012, the age requirement was reduced to 12.

To highlight B Reactor’s improved accessibility, eight local fourth-grade classes attended the ceremony, becoming the first elementary-school students to tour B Reactor.

More than 50,000 people have visited the B Reactor since the guided tours began in 2009.

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