Manhattan Project tours

The Manhattan Project was among the US government's' first big secrets.

The Manhattan Project was among the US government’s’ first big secrets.

It’s easy to forget that plutonium, the incredibly radioactive element at the core of the first atomic detonation, was only identified in 1941. Two years later Army Corps of Engineers started construction of Reactor B to produce it in industrial quantities.

Today,  Reactor B is a National Historic Landmark, and one of only a few locations of the sprawling Manhattan Project that the public can tour. Press releases in 2012 and 2013 described it:

The four-hour tour allows the public a firsthand view of the world’s first full scale plutonium production reactor at the Hanford Site in Washington State.

[T]ours begin and end at the B Reactor Tour Headquarters located at 2000 Logston Blvd. in Richland, Wash., off of Hwy. 240.

[The] driving tour of the site includes stops at the B Reactor National Historic Landmark, Cold Test Facility, Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility and the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

DOE will also offer longer, more detailed tours of the B Reactor National Historic Landmark this year. Registration information on these tours will be announced soon.

Tour information for both the larger Hanford site and B Reactor  is online.

The US Department of Energy website identifies five museums it supports, as well as a handful of DOE sites that offer public tours:

  1. Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 at Idaho National Lab. INL was the location of significant Cold War nuclear research, but not Manhattan project site.
  2. Oak Ridge National Laboratory‘s X-10 Graphite Reactor is is partially open to the public, and the bus tour passes Y-12 (where uranium isotopes were electromagnetically separated during the Manhattan Project) and K-25 (a gaseous diffusion uranium separator)
  3. Trinity Site, the location of the first atomic bomb detonation. The plutonium for the device was produced in B Reactor.
  4. The Nevada Test Site is a post-Manhattan Project development, but recognizable as the location where the AEC constructed and destroyed whole cities while testing weapons effects.

Not listed on that page is the Porstmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant tour.

The B Reactor Museum Association website is looking a bit out of date, but their historical materials are interesting.

The image at the top comes via AtomicTrauma.

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