The Hanford Site

The Hanford Site is a decommissioned nuclear energy production complex in central Washington State. First developed in 1943, it was part of the Manhattan Project, which culminated in the development of the first successful nuclear weapons.

Image: United States Department of Energy - Image N1D0069267., "Nuclear reactors line the riverbank at the Hanford Site along the Columbia River in January 1960. The N Reactor is in the foreground, with the twin KE and KW Reactors in the immediate background. The historic B Reactor, the world's first plutonium production reactor, is visible in the distance."

The site expanded to nine nuclear reactors during the Cold War, and would go on to produce most of the plutonium for the United States' arsenal of nuclear weapons.

A Milwaukee Road line running from Beverly Junction, WA to Riverland, WA exclusively served the Hanford Site, as did a Burlington Northern running west of Mesa, WA. (Right of way map) According to Atomic Heritage, "Trains were an important part of the smooth functioning of the Manhattan Project at Hanford. After irradiated fuel from the B Reactor had cooled off in the storage basin full of water for about 90 days, workers used twenty-foot long tongs to place the irradiated fuel into buckets.

To transport the fuel to the chemical separation plants, engineers designed special lead-lined cask cars. The fuel elements were loaded, under water, into a cask, which was sealed with a lid. A locomotive pulled the cask cars for their ten-mile journey to the three chemical separations plants, entering them through a railroad tunnel. Two 125-ton locomotives and two cask cars are on display at B Reactor. A bucket with fake slugs illustrates the once “hot” cargo."

Image from a pamphlet on railroad preservation at the site.

As one of the earliest sites where radioactive waste was produced, much of the early safety protocols for the site were ineffective or non-existent; and as such, the site is among the most polluted in the US to this day.

In 1989, a project to clean up the site was spearheaded by the State, EPA, and DOE.

In 2015, it, along with two other important sites in the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, NM and Oak Ridge, TN, it became part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.


  1. The locomotives and the train cars cannot be removed from the site.
    All are too contaminated with radiation. Okay to visit, for short periods of time.


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