B Reactor (1944), the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor which made plutonium for the Trinity Test in Los Alamos, NM and the Fat Man Bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan sits at the 100B/C site in the northwest corner of the Hanford Reservation. Since the creation of the reservation, only 3% of the land has been disturbed with construction. The K-West and K-East Reactors are in the distance and the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River (i.e., water levels not influenced by dams).
Looking north to B Reactor and its stack from C Reactor.
This is the loading face of B Reactor (1944). The large internal volume gives visitors a perspective of the scale of the 250 megawatt, graphite-moderated pile. There are 2,004 process tubes into which uranium fuel slugs are loaded. U-235 nuclei fission releasing two or three neutrons. In a self-sustaining chain reaction, one of those free neutrons hits another uranium nucleus causing another split. The other one or two neutrons will escape, be absorbed by boron control rods, or be captured by a stable U-238 nucleus transforming it into an unstable U-239 atom. U-239 then converts a neutron into a proton via beta decay becoming neptunium-239. This atom is also unstable and quickly beta decays to plutonium-239, the top secret "product" of the Hanford Engineer Works (HEW).
A partial view of the face of the reactor pile. The first few stacks of process tubes (which contained the uranium fuel) are visible at the far right edge. Most of the piping is here is the cooling system. The lighted truss in the foreground is the superstructure of the loading elevator. This could be raised or lowered, allowing workers to access the valves and process tubes across the entire face of the reactor pile.
Here a hand-painted, wooden warning tag prevents workers from closing a cooling system valve at the loading face of the reactor.
A broader view of the reactor operator's console and scram panel within the Control Room. This chair is an original. Today, a different chair is placed here during tour season.
Years ago, I was on a tour here and Dee McCullough, the reactor operator who was on duty the first night of operation, was acting as a docent. This chair was in place but had a rope across the arms. I was talking with Dee as the group moved on. He leaned over conspiratorially and asked, "Do you want to sit in it?" I said, "Is that permitted?" He said, "Well... it's my chair so I think I can decide!"
This is the reactor operator's console inside B Reactor. The clocks have been set to the time when B Reactor went critical on September 26th, 1944, marking the world's first self-sustaining chain reaction.
This is part of the Control Room within B Reactor. These Venturi valve gauges monitor cooling water across the 2,004 process tubes containing fissile uranium fuel slugs.
Don't cause a scram.
This is the maintenance corridor behind the scram panel (to the left), a collection of gauges to monitor flow of cooling water through Venturi valves on the 2,004 process tubes of the reactor.
Looking northwest toward B Reactor.
This console in the Control Room is part of the monitoring instrumentation.
Circuits are hand-soldered. Wiring harnesses are hand-tied wax string. A Ray-o-Vac D-Cell supplies a constant flow of electricity to the circuitry.
The south side of B Reactor is referred to as the far side because it is opposite from the Control Room. The most critical walls, those around the reactor core, are reinforced, cast-in-place concrete. Other walls were constructed of concrete brick and block, which could be completed faster.
The north façade is also B Reactor's near side, meaning the Control Room side. The horizontal control rods (HCR) which moderate the chain reaction push into the reactor core from this side. The steel frame seen at center allows HCRs to be brought out of the reactor for maintenance. The locomotive (at left) is one which was used by the Department of Energy to transport irradiated fuel slugs to the PUREX facility to separate out plutonium.
A detail of the exhaust stack and ductwork of B Reactor.
Diesel oil tank at B Reactor.
Detail of metal ductwork, the concrete connection to the exhaust stack, and a utility shed at B Reactor.
An access door into the transfer and storage area on the far side of B Reactor and adjacent mechanical ductwork.
Looking at the underside of the ballast tanks and the connection to the accumulators. 4x4 wood posts provide a "soft brake" if the ballast tanks were to crash down in an emergency. The system pumps are in the background.
The valve pit routes plumbing for the reactor. When operating, B Reactor would run 75,000 gallons of water per minute through the cooling system to regulate the temperature of the reactor pile.
B Reactor's spent fuel storage tank. Or, more accurately, the wood decking over the tank which is a deep pool of water. Irradiated fuel slugs, after being bombarded with neutrons from their fissile uranium, now have converted some of their uranium to plutonium through two beta decays, first to neptunium and then to plutonium. The slugs drop into the pool and the depth of water shields workers who collect them for removal. They are taken by rail to the PUREX facility which chemically separates the plutonium from the remaining uranium.
The vertical safety rods (VSR) are used to rapidly shut down the chain reaction in an emergency. The rods contain boron, a neutron absorbing material which "poisons" the chain reaction by robbing it of free neutrons. Each circular hopper contained a sixty foot long safety rod which, during operation, would be suspended by the cables up above the reactor core. In an emergency or a power outage they would drop by gravity into the reactor. The rods have articulated segments so that even if an earthquake shifted the graphite blocks of the core, they could still snake their way down. Piping on the far wall was part of a last ditch safety system, tanks (no longer extant) filled with liquid boron solution which could be poured down the VSR channels. Wet graphite would make the reactor useless so, a few years after B Reactor began operating, the liquid boron system was replaced with the "Ball-X" system, spheres of boron encased in nickel. These could also pour down the VSR channels but be vacuumed out later. At the left in front of the short stair is one of the vacuums--it looks like a rocket.
The Bruggemann Warehouse on the Hanford Reservation. This was abandoned with the creation of the reservation. West and south façades shown.
The Bruggemann Warehouse on the Hanford Reservation. This was abandoned with the creation of the reservation. This view is looking north inside the main storage space. Three pairs of carriage doors face east.
The Bruggemann Warehouse on the Hanford Reservation. This was abandoned with the creation of the reservation. This view is looking at the east façade and its carriage doors from the window another room.
The Bruggemann Warehouse on the Hanford Reservation. This was abandoned with the creation of the reservation. This is a partial west façade of the main carriage house (at left) with its kitchen window (center of frame) and connected the vegetable cleaning building (at right).
The Allard Pump House on what is now the Hanford Reservation supplied Columbia River water to the towns of Hanford and White Bluffs and irrigated thousands of acres of farmland. Fill has been added on the south side of the building. Originally, the building as surrounded by water and access was from the bank via bridge.
The Allard Pump House was constructed from board-formed concrete. It is notable that this utilitarian building still received classical design elements such as its rusticated base, smooth upper story, and crenelated parapet.
The interior of the Allard Pump House looking west. This building was currently being used as the residence for a pair of barn owls.
The Allard Pump House on what is now the Hanford Reservation supplied Columbia River water to the towns of Hanford and White Bluffs and irrigated thousands of acres of farmland. Two other companies had attempted to bring irrigation to the farmland here in the Priest Rapids Valley but went bankrupt trying because unlined canals allowed water to percolate into the desert soil. The Hanford Irrigation Project Company was successful once it lined its canals, like this one in the foreground, with Portland cement.
Hanford High School and the town of Hanford were abandoned with the creation of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, originally called the Hanford Engineer Works (HEW), in 1943. The high school building is little more than a concrete shell today. Nature has moved inside, including a barn owl who resides upstairs in the administration office (at right).
Hanford High School, abandoned with the creation of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Little else exists of the town of Hanford, Washington.
The White Bluffs Bank, currently under restoration. This is the only building remaining at the abandoned town of White Bluffs, evacuated for the creation of the Hanford Reservation. The block building still contains its safe. The existing wooden window frames and sashes, thanks to the desiccating climate, were mostly salvageable and were repaired and reglazed.
The White Bluffs Bank, currently under restoration, is the only building remaining at the abandoned town of White Bluffs, evacuated for the creation of the Hanford Reservation. Note the hand-painted sign, added after the bank was no longer in use, is being preserved in situ. It warns Hanford workers to "inspect, detect, and correct fire hazards," a serious problem at abandoned townsites.