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.