Tuesday, July 22, 2008

We can't have nuclear POWER, but we can have nuclear TOURISM?

This is a bizarre bit of news from Washington State: Manhattan Project reactor nears landmark status.

YAKIMA, Wash. - The National Park Service's advisory board on Tuesday recommended designating the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor, which produced plutonium for one of two bombs dropped on Japan during World War II, as a national historic landmark.

The unanimous vote Tuesday brings former weapons workers and local residents one step closer to preserving the historic B Reactor at south-central Washington's Hanford nuclear reservation. A final decision on the reactor rests with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

"This is a great step toward preserving both the B Reactor and an important chapter of our nation's history," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement announcing the decision. "The B Reactor will give future generations a chance to learn about the important contribution this region made to the World War II effort and the service and sacrifice of the Hanford community."

I support the development of new nuclear power generation plants -- new ones, based on technologies far safer than the ones used at the Hanford Reservation. I don't think anyone should go near Hanford if they don't absolutely have to.

The government shut down B Reactor in 1968 and decommissioned it.

Eight other reactors were built at Hanford to produce plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. The remnants of that effort today make Hanford the nation's most contaminated nuclear site, with cleanup costs expected to top $50 billion.

Five reactors at the site already have been dismantled and cocooned, which involves removing extra buildings around the reactors, demolishing all but the shield walls surrounding the reactor cores and sealing them in concrete.

But I have to ask: since Sen. Murray thinks that obsolete nuclear reactors are safe enough for vacationing families, does she support a large-scale program to replace fossil-fuel-based electricity generating plants with nuclear plants? And building enough extra nuke plants to generate sufficient hydrogen to replace petroleum-based fuels for transportation? With its long coastline, Washington State is an ideal place to build clusters of nukes for hydrogen production. Aside from its benefits in reducing petroleum dependence and pollution, that would be a much bigger boost to Washington's economy than Hanford nuclear tourism.

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