In 1942, as part of the plan to manufacture atomic bombs to drop on Japan, the U.S. Army began to seek out a suitable location to build a factory for producing plutonium, necessary for the atomic bomb which was later dropped on Hiroshima.

Then in January 1943, after a years’ search, the U.S. Army decided on the tiny Washington village of Hanford, and began purchasing or condemning 560 square miles of land for the new plutonium production plant. Within a year, the newly government-owned Hanford had become home to 50000 workers.

Why was Hanford, of all the towns in the nation, selected for this vastly important project which led to the Allied victory over Japan in World War II?

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    @user14394 - Germany did not know any details in particular of the Manhattan project. The Y-12 plant in Tennessee was important for uranium production, but was by no means the 'home' of the project. Hanford was important for plutonium production. Given that both types of bombs were dropped in WW2, and both plants continued producing the different materials throughout the Cold War, I think you should reevaluate your comment.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 19:53
  • @user14394: Also, much of the actual development work was done in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Logically, I would think criteria for such sites would include remoteness, both from sea coasts and from each other, so that attacks would be difficult, and a single attack wouldn't destroy the whole project. (But I have no specific knowledge...)
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:26
  • I actually think that Hanford is closer to a coast than Oak Ridge. Neither was at risk in any real sense from enemy attack any time soon. Standard books on the Manhattan Project discuss various options. Electricity was crucial for Y-12 (hence near TVA), somewhat less so for Hanford where the Columbia was very important.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:43

1 Answer 1


A vast, isolated area was needed to produce plutonium because no one knew for sure how much damage the radiation it gave off might do. Abundant power for plutonium production and water to cool the heat that built up were also needed.

What seemed like an ideal location existed in a barren corner of Benton County in Central Washington. Hanford was isolated—the nearest large own was Yakima, a hundred miles away. Although the land was desert, the climate was fairly mild. The Columbia River, an abundant source of water for cooling reactors, flowed through the village. (This was why even more isolated areas, such as New Mexico, were not chosen for the plutonium reactor—no water for cooling was nearby.) Also, the Grand Coulee Dam was producing abundant power nearby.

And, of course, it would be easy to build a factory town here because of the smooth land—certainly not a deciding factor in the selection of Hanford, but nevertheless gratefully acknowledged by the U.S. Army engineers who were called upon to build thousands of barracks posthaste.

By the way, the actual reactor was constructed several miles north of Hanford—not right inside town, as the question implies.


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