Hanford History

Hanford, White Bluffs, and Richland were small farming towns founded between 1905 and 1910. The towns had a combined population of 1500. Richland's 1940 census numbered its citizens at 200.

In 1941, the United States entered World War II. Manhattan Engineering District was formed in June 1942 to build industrial plants to make Plutonium-239 and Uranium-235. In December of that year, Col. Frankin T. Matthias scouted the western United States to find a suitable site for the plutonium production facilities. Matthias reported Hanford's site was "far more favorable in virtually all respects than any other." In January 1943 the decision was made to build the production facilities at Hanford. Citizens were made to leave their homes. In the 30 months between groundbreaking in March 1943 and the end of the war in 1945, and for a cost of $230 million, workers built 554 nonresidential buildings, including B, D, and F reactors, T, B and U processing canyons, 64 underground tanks, fuel fabricating buildings in the 300 area, 386 miles of roadway, 158 miles of railroad lines, and a new city of Richland which could house 17,500.

Plutonium from Hanford's reactors went into the Trinity test bomb and into the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered unconditionally within a week.

After World War II, there was a lull at Hanford. But by 1947 the Cold War was underway, and the first postwar expansion at Hanford quickly followed. The Korean War led to the next expansion of operations. Hanford's plutonium production reached its peak between 1956 and 1963, with 9 reactors along the river making plutonium. The newest reactor, N Reactor, also made steam and had an electrical power plant.

Production began to slow in 1965, and stopped altogether in 1989. Plans to clean up the wastes began as early as 1958 (two years after the first tank leaks were reported) and continue today. Regulation of Hanford began in 1989 with the signing of the Tri-Party Agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy, Washington State Department of Ecology and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.




Want to find out more information about Hanford's history


Hanford photo gallery