Known as the “Manhattan Project,” back in 1943 in the town of Hanford in Washington state, 600 square miles of dusty land became the site for the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor to build the atomic bomb.
Now, over 65 years later, this facility has turned into a tourist destination. The US government is now running limited 5-hour tours of the site for 2,000 tourists each year. According to the Department of Energy, which runs the tours, all slots are full, unless you come in at the right time of a cancellation.
But Hanford was left with another legacy – massive radioactive contamination of the soil and water – enough to make it one of the most polluted places in America. Billions of dollars of stimulus money is being spent on cleanup operations, which tourists can observe – at a safe distance – as workers in white protective suits bury mercury-contaminated soil in a landfill. A plant is also being built that will encase the radioactive waste in glass. Cleanup is expected to continue for years.
The tour is free and has become a really hot ticket. Each spring, tour dates are posted on the US Department of Energy web site, where visitors can preregister online for the bus tours. If you are interested in visiting this unique destination, you need to be quick, because the tours fill up within minutes.