Hanford Nuclear Site: The exhibit and library programs focus on ecology, activism, investigative reporting, and literature

Posted on October 17, 2019 at 6:00 am

Aerial view of Hanford’s Central Waste Complex in the 1950s, where workers treated nuclear waste before disposal. Photo courtesy of The REACH Museum

by Gwendolyn Haley

September 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Hanford Nuclear Site.

The Library District is offering a closer look at the history and effects of Hanford on our region. You can see an exhibit of historical photos and wartime propaganda from the Hanford Site at North Spokane Library throughout November. There will also be library programs about the ecology of Hanford and its influence on writers and activists.

I sat down to chat with Librarian Corinne Wilson, coordinator and curator of the exhibit and programs, to learn more and discuss what you can expect.

Gwendolyn Haley: What drew you to the subject of Hanford as a potential exhibit?

Corinne Wilson: Several factors came together at once—a colleague was discussing Hanford quite a bit, it has been in the news over the last year or so, and I learned that the 75th anniversary is this year.

I also thought about how geographically close Hanford is to Spokane, how much impact it has had on those living in the state, and how it continues to affect things like the national debt, politics, health, and the environment. That said, many people don’t know very much about the Hanford Site—that it has the largest amount of high-risk nuclear waste in the nation, for example.

Gwendolyn: What do you hope people will learn from the exhibit?

Corinne: I hope people come away knowing about life in Hanford during that era. Like the fact that Richland was a government town. The architect had 30 days to plan a town for 5,700 people that included commercial buildings, utilities, and a variety of family homes, and he had to do it all very quietly. And the town eventually grew to 16,000 people.

I think people will also get a glimpse of the different faces of the World War II era than those we typically see. And then, there are the long term effects that Hanford has had on our region, including the residents—both people and wildlife—and the environment.

Gwendolyn: Where did you find the photos and other materials that will be on display for the exhibit?

Corinne: First, I did extensive reading and research in preparation. I was lucky to find great partners to work with. The photos and materials were provided by The REACH Museum, B Reactor Museum Association, Hanford History Project, Columbia Basin Historical Society, and Franklin County Historical Society. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Richland Public Library, and Hanford itself provided additional research as well. It has been a collaborative effort.

Gwendolyn: Who should come to view the exhibit and attend the library programs?

Corinne: Everyone! People interested in history. People interested in the science. Students could learn quite a bit about our regional history from the exhibit and programs. The speaker’s series provides multiple perspectives as well, including those of a novelist, a poet, an investigative journalist, and an environmentalist.

Gwendolyn: If a group was interested in a guided tour of the exhibit, is that a possibility?

Corinne: Yes! They could use our Book-a-Librarian service to request a tour.  



The Hanford Site, in Richland, Washington, is home to the development of the atomic bomb during the Second World War. The site still houses more stored high-level nuclear waste than any other state in the U.S. This exhibit shares what it was like to live in a town centered around a top secret project and what is done at the decommissioned Hanford site today, exploring the science and history behind Hanford.

November 1–30

This exhibit is brought to you in partnership with The REACH Museum, B Reactor Museum Association, and Hanford History Project.

Ecology of Hanford

Richard Zack, professor at Washington State University, talks about his ecological work with insects at the Hanford Site, his findings, and the different factors in our environment that affect the plants and animals around us.

Sunday, Nov 3, 2–3pm

Tuesday, Nov 12, 6:30–7:30pm

Hanford-Inspired Literature & Journalism

Spokane novelist and library enthusiast Sharma Shields reads from her recent novel The Cassandra and talks about the inspiration behind the novel. Karen Dorn Steele discusses her work in the 1980s to disclose government documents that showed secret and widespread Hanford radiation emissions and her experiences as an investigative journalist at The Spokesman-Review researching the groundbreaking Wasteland series on pollution and spending at Hanford.

Tuesday, Nov 5, 6–8pm

Thursday, Nov 14, 6:30–8:30pm

Reading Hanford: Poetry & Prose

Author Sharma Shields and investigative journalist Karen Dorn Steele read from their published work. Poet Kathleen Flenniken, former Washington State Poet Laureate, shares her poems centered around the Hanford Nuclear Site and her home town of Richland, Washington, and the experiences and research that inspired her poems. Downwinder activist Trisha Pritikin discusses her family history at Hanford and her upcoming book with Karen Dorn Steele.

Saturday, Nov 9, 2–4pm

Staff Pick Book List


Learn how the Hanford Nuclear Site has affected Washington state’s history and ecology with these books selected by our librarians.

Gwendolyn Haley

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