Atomic Heritage Preserved by Richland Bombers
On any decent length road trip, you can find a Nuclear Heritage landmark -- whether it's the place where the first fission bomb was tested (Trinity Site, New Mexico), or where a hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped (Mars Bluff, South Carolina). Some of these historical sites are better marked than others -- and some towns wouldrather forget they ever had anything to do with splitting the atom.
Not Richland, Washington, still a favorite source for Atomic Tour souvenirs.
The Hanford Site, near Richland, is where the US government and military performed top secret work to produce plutonium bomb-grade material as part of WWII's Manhattan Project. In 1943, families in two entire towns -- White Bluffs and Hanford -- were forced to move nearly overnight to make way for the 586 square mile Hanford Site, a mysterious wartime industry.
The Hanford nuclear reactors produced plutonium used in the Trinity test and in the atomic bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan in August 1945.
The mushrooming atomic industry completely transformed Richland and surrounding communities, as uranium (such as refined in Oak Ridge, Tennessee) took a back seat to plutonium bombs. Richland flourished as post-war demand for its fissionable product became a national security priority.
In southeastern Washington state, everyone had a relative working at the Hanford Site. The high school's sports teams changed to the "Bombers" in 1945, after Japan quickly surrendered, post-bombing. School historians and alumni debate the origins of the name, but the school's coat-of-arms eventually featured, among other icons, a realistically rendered mushroom cloud and an atom with swirling electrons.
Over time, the "Bombers" label became an abstraction, no more lethal than a hatchet-wielding Indian baseball team mascot. Bomber boosterism climbed through the 1950s, with another burst in the 1980s...
But reactors at Hanford reached the end of their life spans in the 1960s, and most were shut down. The race to equip America's nuclear arsenal had left little time to figure out how to keep plutonium production from creating a contaminated mess. The Hanford Site was declared a Superfund project, the World's Largest Environmental Clean-up, and will take at least another 25 years to complete.
That does little to dampen the school spirit of Bomber alumni, still "Proud of the Cloud!," as their bumper stickers proclaim. Judy Willox, RichlandHigh School "Club 40" VP, handles alumni merchandise sales for the Bombers. A variety ofgreat Richland Bomber items can be purchased at Judy's web site. While clearly targeted at school alumni, anyone can buy a memento.
You can acquire a pair of Atomic Bomb earrings -- a tiny Fat Man and Little Boy bomb.
In 1999, similar earrings were briefly offered for sale in the gift shop at the Atomic Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico, before protests from Japan caused their removal. Richland's CREHST Museum (Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science and Technology) features exhibits on the Hanford Site, though it doesn't offer souvenirs like the kind you'll find at the Richland Bombers web site.
Bomber alum Judy told us "We are proud of who we are and what our part was in ending the war."