Touring Hanford, offering somewhat glowing praise.

I'll admit it once again - I'm a total museum geek. Knowledge fetishist. Brain-filler enthusiast. Call it what you will, but I own up to the fact that I'm often happiest consuming new info presented by professionals in location-specific forms. And, man, did I find a doosie over the weekend.

I toured the Hanford Nuclear Reservation's "B Reactor" outside the Tri Cities (Richland, Pasco, Kennewick) along the Columbia river in south central Washington. On purpose. For those unfamiliar with "Hanford" or what sort of history might be housed there, here's a thumbnail. It was there that our nation extracted the fuel needed for the Manhattan Project during WWII, and the following decades worth of Cold War nukes. As a result, Hanford became the biggest environmental clean-up site in American history. The whole Hanford site is 567 square miles, most of which has been secret and/or off limits for approaching seven decades. In 2008, the Department of Energy began offering tours of the site - they're free, but they book up fast. I signed up months ago for my slot over the weekend.

Both in terms of Hanford and the Tri Cities, I found the entire area to be fascinating. Around town(s), the locals and their hangouts were often unintentionally entertaining. That sounds like a dig, but I mean to be sincere - I really like the energy out there. I found a few new favorites - the Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery in what had been an old A&W Root Beer stand, Roaster's Coffee housed in what must have been an old gas station, and the updated outdoor Uptown Shopping Center which on a summertime Friday night was filled with Juggalos and various categories of locals straight out of a casting call for a sequel to "Dazed and Confused" - once more, all meant in a good way. The top headline in the "Tri-City Herald" on the morning of my tour addressed in very technical minutiae the "sludge" being cleaned from a part of the massive Hanford "Superfund" site. The people out there not only live with Hanford's legacy. They embrace the reclamation. I respect that immensely.
It's rather hard to summarize both the immensity of what exists even in the minimally accessible parts of Hanford. I had a real reason for heading out there aside from my museum lustiness. It was indeed satisfied, although I was stunned by the way my question of how what's there (and what came from it) connects to something grander and more specific to the current book I'm writing. But I also ended up finding things and feeling emotions that I just didn't expect. No, it was not the latent radiation. I'm talking about the stories of the people who not only worked there but were impacted because of what was done there. Just this morning, I listened to a "Radio Lab" podcast about the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (centered upon one of the impossibly rare individuals who survived BOTH blasts - an absolute must for fans of that show or just good storytelling on the radio). The knowledge I brought to it because of my tour of the place where the plutonium was made cannot be overstated in its added power.

I will pull no punches - the B Reactor tour is a work in progress and I'm not sure if the audience is all that broad for what's to be seen there. But if you're the sort of person who'd consider blowing 4-5 hours on a tour of a nuclear plant, you will be fully engaged. If you're in that general area (they do take drop-ins because of the number of cancellations - on my tour only 27 of 43 slots were filled) please do check them out. Let me know. I'd love to talk with others about their reactions to the place.