I got a very interesting e-mail from Dr. Steven Gilbert, Phd., Vice President of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR). He'd read my recent piece about the possible tear-down of More Hall Annex (the old Nuclear Reactor Building) on the University of Washington campus, and he has a great idea for the facility: Turn it into a nuclear museum. In fact, WPSR is already at work on the museum project, and it might be the perfect tenant if the UW will reconsider its destruction of this fascinating, historic modern structure.
Gilbert sent me a copy of a grant proposal WPSR submitted earlier this year to the Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation. That local group funds interesting projects that, well, I'll quote their mission statement:The Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation works toward a healthy, sustainable future by promoting science-based understanding, solutions and actions that are grounded in recognition of the interconnected nature of our world.
The grant proposal from WPSR seeks to study the idea of developing a Washington Nuclear Museum and Educational Center. The group has been heavily involved in Hanford clean-up and nuclear disarmament. So why a nuke museum? Here's the gist:The premise of this project is the need to engage a new generation of people in the history and use of nuclear material for energy and weapons with a focus on the role that Washington played.... The nuclear physics pioneered at the Hanford Nuclear Site had a profound impact on society. Experienced Hanford scientists will work with others to develop exhibits and educational material to explore the impact of nuclear physics on WA. Scientists, physicians, and public health professionals will work together to explore the well-established links between cancer risk, radiation, and nuclear waste.... We aim for visitors to leave asking themselves how the information they have gained relates to the health and sustainability of people and all life. We need to reach out to new generations of people.
With global warming and energy troubles looming, some are re-looking at the role of nuclear power in meeting energy needs. And as this week's revelation about the Syrian nuclear reactor built with the assistance of the North Koreans, it's clear that nuclear issues are far from irrelevant today, though they've taken a back seat during the post-Cold War era. As the proposal indicates, Washington state played a large role in the development of nuclear power and weapons, a legacy we're still wrestling with. And when it comes to the impact of that history, all of our lives have been changed by this technology.
The UW's Nuclear Reactor Building could be the ideal place to house the museum, which would include exhibit space and a library for research. It would be accessible to young people and instructors in an educational setting, located in the heart of Seattle (not hidden at Hanford), and it could serve as both a caution and inspiration to young people seeking careers in technology, health, and environmental science. Plus, the UW reactor building was constructed as a teaching facility to train nuclear engineers to begin with. It sought to make public the complex and arcane process of creating nuclear energy. What better re-use now than as a place to study, memorialize, and argue over the consequences of that path?
Such a use, of course, could give the building new life and purpose, helping to bring the nuclear story full circle.