Perhaps in the spirit of the Wonders of the World, the nuclear reactor in Hanford, Washington, has been declared a national historic site.
“National Historic Landmarks,” the Department of Energy explains, “can be nationally significant districts, sites, buildings, structures, and/or objects that possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.”
In a late-August news release (PDF) we read:
U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Acting Deputy Secretary Jeffrey F. Kupfer today announced the designation of DOE’s B Reactor as a National Historic Landmark and unveiled DOE’s plan for a new public access program to enable American citizens to visit B Reactor during the 2009 tourist season. The B Reactor at DOE’s Hanford Site in southeast Washington State was the world’s first industrial-scale nuclear reactor and produced plutonium for the atomic weapon that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan to end World War II (WWII).
As the New York Times pointed out yesterday, however, Hanford is but “one of five Manhattan Project facilities designated as historic landmarks, including the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico and the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge, Tenn.” Another site is the so-called Chicago Pile.
The atomic infrastructure of mid-century American warfare is thus slowly being converted into a distributed landscape of historic monuments.
Perhaps it’s dark tourism with a physics bent – the national memory of nuclear fission, a geography of Cold War nostalgia. They are places where the atom opened up – a series of small entryways into matter.
5 thoughts on “Nuclear Nation”
This report comes on the heels of news that the crash site of United Flight 93 is also becoming a “dark tourism” destination. It seems that as the production jobs have left rural Pennsylvania, the economy could use a little piece of that ever-present activity of consumption known as tourism.
As a side note, the Hanford site is also among the biggest environmental disasters in our nations history. Plutonium was produced in immense quantity without any real oversight, and hence, over 50 million gallons of nuclear waste was stored in tanks that now leak into the Columbia river and groundwater. The task of cleaning up the Hanford site has been baffling for both engineers and policy makers. It is a cautionary tale for people tasked with overseeing military spending. We certainly didn’t need all of those nukes to survive the cold war, but in 1943 the threat was real enough to force some irrational decision making.
The only thing that’s certain is the United States won the Cold War. With help from all those nukes. Building a nuclear weapon to help defeat the Germans and the Japanese is hardly irrational. Nice try.
Hey Cold Warrior,
I grew up not far from Hanford – but luckily far enough so that I wasn’t in one of the towns that are now slowly dying of cancer.
Seriously, entire farm towns are dropping dead of cancer.
They intentionally released radioactive isotopes during harvest season, poisoning the fields and the cows’ milk: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanford#Environmental_concerns
It’s both disturbing and fascinating to find that there are people who find this situation defensible, an acceptable consequence of war.
an acceptable consequence of war.
There are those who view almost anything as an “an acceptable consequence of war.” Curiously, these tend to be the same people most interested in perpetuating a state of war.