Visiting the Nuclear Family

I’m visiting my wife’s hometown for a few days as a part of the requisite “show off the baby” tour. While here, we went to Leslie Grove Park, drove past the local high school emblazoned with its mascot “the Bombers” and a mushroom cloud logo, and visited the Atomic Ale brewpub, where the Atomic Ale is middling, Plutonium Porter is good, and Oppenheimer Oatmeal Stout is memorable. So what kind of town is this?

This is Richland, Washington – a small town on the Columbian river whose basin would look like the desert it is if it weren’t for massive irrigation. Richland would be just one of many small agricultural towns in this area but for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Established during World War II, Hanford generated the plutonium used in the second and last nuclear weapon used in war and much of the plutonium found in the US nuclear arsenal today. With the likely exception of Los Alamos, there are probably more nuclear physicists per capita in this town than anywhere else in the world, though most of them are now involved in cleaning up the mess made from 50 years of cold war productivity. Suffice it to say, this is not your typical American small town.

By the way, the high school got its name, the Bombers, after the entire town donated one day’s pay during World War II to buy a bomber to help with the war effort. The attachment of the mushroom cloud logo occurred much later in a misguided show of pride in Hanford’s cold war mission. I think the town should be more proud of how it originally earned that moniker, but what do I know? I’m just a tourist on baby duty, enjoying an Oppenheimer Stout.

One thought on “Visiting the Nuclear Family”

  1. Your ‘nuclear physicists per capita’ is a little outdated. In the early 1980’s, the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS – aka "Whoops!") defaulted on bonds to build its next reactor. This, combined with cuts in energy funding, sent many of the nuclear physicists to Los Alamos, academia or other industries. Now, it’s more full of environmental engineers who are concerned with cleaning up the residue from Plutonium production.

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