Day 4

Experiential Fieldwork: An Anthropology of Hanford B-Reactor


Day 4 of a five-day workshop into the problem of nuclear harm sponsored by the 2016 O’Donnell Endowed Chair in Global Studies.


The facade of the Hanford B-Reactor in Washington. October 2016.
Image by N.A.J. Taylor
06:00-13:30 (optional)
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
B-Reactor Tour HQ, 2000 Logston Boulevard, Richland, WA

Before we can adequately respond to the problem of nuclear harm, it is important we do our best to experience what it looks and feels like. We do this through fieldwork to the Hanford nuclear site located less than 40 miles from Whitman College (for those who can’t attend, please take the virtual tour). Participants will be provided with a briefing pack that juxtaposes the divergent histories offered by various stakeholders, including the U.S. Departments of Energy, National Park Service, Atomic Heritage Foundation and the Consequences of Radiation Exposure Museum.

06:00-07:15
Depart Whitman College

07:15-07:30
Register at Hanford Tour HQ




Inside the Hanford B-Reactor. October 2016.
Image by N.A.J. Taylor
07:30-11:30
Hanford site visit

The B Reactor at Hanford was the first, large-scale plutonium production reactor in the word. The reactor produced fissile material for the Trinity test device (the world’s first nuclear weapon), as well as the Fat Man bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki.

Rather than being cocooned and locked-away from public view, the facility is open to the public due in recognition of its unique historical importance. Named as a National Historic Landmark in 2008, Hanford went critical (or, started-up) in 1943 and was shutdown at the end of 1946, believing it to be of no more use. Due to Cold War tensions, the reactor was used again from 1948 through to its decommissioning in 1968. Lesser-known still is that the Hanford complex involved the eviction of more than 2000 private landowners and the displacement of native American tribes such as the Wanapum, within 90 days of notice under complete top secrecy. Contamination of the site, as well as its enactment as a National Historic Park, will ensure this displacement persists for the foreseeable future.

Taking a “critical heritage” perspective, the conflicts between contending Hanford narratives are experienced first-hand.

A thought experiment

You are encouraged to research Hanford whether you are joining the group on the field-trip or not. Please save all materials that you encounter (regardless of whether they are agreeable to you) in our shared “Hanford” sub-folder on Dropbox.To do so, you will be required to determine for yourselves whether the materials you have found constitute “dominant accounts” or more “critical heritage studies”, such as those that examine more candidly the human and ecological consequences of Hanford. You may also reclassify and comment on materials that others have found as you see fit. The difficulty you will encounter in deciding where to save the materials—how you classify them—is what makes this seemingly straight-forward task a particularly vexing thought experiment.Remember, all forms of knowledge and mediums are welcome, including art and local culture from non-“experts”.

—Special instructions—

Participants must each register for the Manhattan Project National Historic Park B-Reactor Tour #212 leaving at 07:30. Please note that on this day we will meet at the B-Reactor Tour HQ at 2000 Logston Boulevard, Richland WA. Please note that seats are strictly limited and con- trolled by the Department of Energy and the National Park Service. As at August 23, 2016, there were 39 places available which should be more than sufficient for our entire nuclear humanities group.

Preparatory text/s

‘Hanford, WA: Manhattan Project National Historical Park’, U.S. National Park Service, 2016.

Kate Brown, ‘Downwinders: The noxious legacy of the Hanford nuclear site’, Aeon, December 3, 2012.

Alternative texts: Dominant accounts

‘The Hanford Story’, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of River Protection, Richland Operations Office, 2014.

‘Fun Facts’, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of River Protection, Richland Operations Office, 2016.


‘By the Numbers: Hanford Site Cleanup’, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of River Protection, Richland Operations Office, 2015.

‘Tribal Program’, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of River Protection, Richland Operations Office, 2016.

‘Hanford Tours’, Atomic Heritage Foundation, 2008-16.

Alternative texts: Critical heritage studies

Tom Bailie, ‘Death Mile Tour’, Consequences of Radioactive Exposure Museum, February 22, 2016.

Robert Bauman, ‘Teaching Hanford History in the Classroom and in the Field’, The Public Historian, Vol.29 Vol.4, 2007, 45-55.

Annette Cary, ‘Family visits Hanford ranch lost in 1943’, Tri Cities Herald, May 11, 2009.

Steven Gilbert, Dianne Dickeman, and Nancy Dickeman, Particles on the Wall, 2nd edition, Healthy World Press, Seattle, Washington, September 2012. [The exhibition is currently touring the REACH Museum at Richland, WA.]

The 2016 Nuclear Humanities intensive workshop was designed and delivered by N.A.J. Taylor, on the invitation of Shampa Biswas, Chair of the Politics Department and Paul Garrett Professor of Political Science at Whitman College. It was sponsored by an O’Donnell Endowed Chair in Global Studies grant.