Hanford Reach is a place as paradoxical as it is spectacular. When I first ventured there, I never expected to return in every season with cameras and canteens, and never imagined that the Reach would visit me, appearing in my dreamscapes. But it became a place I’d revisit to walk and reflect on questions that emerged photographing and recording oral histories in the landscapes encircling Hanford nuclear reservation.
The Terrain Called Hanford Reach Was Fenced, Guarded, And Closed To Public Access For Four Decades As A Nuclear Buffer Zone, Then Reopened As A National Monument And Wildlife Refuge In The Year 2000. The Name "Hanford Reach" Is Also Worn By The Span Of The Columbia River That Sweeps Through This Monument On Its Winding Course Across The Sagebrush Steppe Of Eastern Washington State Rolling South, Then West Toward The Pacific.
Across the Columbia from the wildlife refuge lies the Hanford site, often referred to simply as "the Area." The vast region encompasses a decommissioned nuclear reactor reimagined as a museum; multiple nuclear reactors in various stages of demolition, entombment, preservation, and active production; abandoned pioneer townships and orchards; and Native American sacred ancestral grounds.
I first discovered that I was living downstream from Hanford while driving home from Portland, Oregon to New York City in the mid 1980s. Perusing road maps, I realized there were multiple nuclear reactors along the Washington State side of the vast curving Columbia River, to the north of I-80 East. This was the pre-Chernobyl era; one of the original reactors and a processing plant were still active, and one newly designed nuclear power generator had just come online. I became fascinated by this portentous place, and by the apprehension that many people in Portland seemed unaware of its proximity though the city lay directly downriver.