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Cold War

At the end of World War II there was uncertainly if Hanford would continue to produce plutonium. Many thought that the facilities would be closed and the land would become part of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project (CBIP). In 1946, President Truman created the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). This put the development of nuclear devices in control of the civilian government. This meant the largest peacetime construction project ever done by the US. The expansion of more reactors and underground waste storage tanks at the Hanford was so massive and such priorities, that work at the CBIP was temporally suspended so that workers and materials could be used at Hanford.

Many events of the Cold War had immediate and significant repercussions at Hanford. When the Soviet Union detonated their first atomic bomb, the AEC sped up the development of new chemical separation process known as reduction-oxidation (REDOX). When the Korean War began in 1950, the AEC ordered a sixth reactor to be built. Dwight Eisenhower first major initiative as president was to order two giant reactors and the PUREX (plutonium-uranium extraction) plant to be built at Hanford. This nearly doubled Hanford's ability to make weapons materials. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite. In response, Hanford built the massive N Reactor bringing the total number of reactor to nine. At the end of 1958, Richland was officially emancipated from federal ownership.

Hanford was at peak plutonium production during 1956-63. In 1961, the year that President John F. Kennedy, pledged to "close the missile gap", Hanford hit peak production. By early 1963, Congress wanted to cut plutonium production. When Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency, he favored a stronger domestic agenda and announced major cutbacks at Hanford during his 1964 State of the Union. By 1971 all but one reactor was shut down. In 1972, the first of three planned power-producing reactors was built north of the Tri-Cities. People felt the area’s
financial future was secure because of the diversification.

The diversification projects came at a time of new environmental awareness in the US. Although the AEC was exempt from the National Environmental Policy Act that passed in 1970, it did take actions to protect the environment. Public support of nuclear energy declined and by the 1980s, several of Hanford’s largest projects were cancelled.
In 1983, President Reagan announced the production of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as the Star Wars Program. As soon as this was announced, the DOE ordered Hanford’s old facilities updated and reactivated. Employment at the site was over 15,000 by early 1987 and had a budget of $900 million. Plutonium production was high and the arms race was renewed. The Soviet Union could not afford to match the US’s production. Both the US and USSR signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty ended the arms race. After the fall of the Soviet Union, with the US no longer needing to produce plutonium, Hanford would enter into a new mission of cleanup.

During plutonium production, there were numerous releases of toxic and radioactive emissions into the environment. The largest was known as the Green Run. In 1948, the AEC wanted to estimate how much plutonium the Soviet Union was producing. They released radioactive emissions, 7,000 to 12,000 curies of iodine-131 and xenon-133, to compare to the air samples from the Soviet Union. This was kept classified until the 1980s. People exposed to the release referred to themselves as down winders.
The plutonium created at Hanford was used in nuclear devices tested all over the world. The first tests since the bombing of Japan were conducted in the Marshall Islands. To prepare for the tests, native residents agreed to evacuate the island. US would conduct 67 atmospheric nuclear tests there. Much of the area is still inhabitable. In 1951, the US began testing nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site. Of the 928 nuclear tests that were done, 100 were above ground. The mushrooms clouds could be seen for almost 100 miles way including by people in Las Vegas. When testing ended in 1992, the Department of Energy estimated that more than 300 million curies of radiation remained, making the site one of the most radioactively contaminated places in the United States. Although radiation levels in the water have declined over time, the longer-lived isotopes will continue to pose risks for tens of thousands of years.


Read about the Cold War on WANMEC 

Atomic Frontier Days Hanford and the American West by JOHN M. FINDLAY AND BRUCE HEVLY

Go here for book information

On the Home Front:The Cold War Legacy of the Hanford Nuclear Site by Michele Stenehjem Gerber

Click here for questions and assignments. 


Time lapse weapon's testing.

Go to video here. Download the assignment here.  

Projects and Questions can be downloaded here.





Cold War Years

Isao Hashimoto's testing time line

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