JFK Toured Hanford 2 Months Before His Death
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the 35th president of the United States.
At 46 years old, John Fitzgerald Kennedy's life was taken away with a fatal shot to the head while sitting next to his wife Jackie Kennedy at a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
Just 8 weeks before his death, Kennedy spoke at Hanford.
"Everyone was glued to him and lots of applause, it didn't take very many words and there was an applause and then more words and another applause," said Jane Foreman, who attended the speech. "Everyone was spellbound by him being there and what he had to say."
Nearly 40,000 people gathered in 90 degree weather on September 26th, 1963 to hear Kennedy speak at the ceremonial groundbreaking on a steam plant that would allow the N Reactor to produce electricity in addition to plutonium for nuclear weapons.
Gary Petersen, the current VP of Hanford Programs, said Kennedy had a unique vision for the nuclear generation of electricity but he said that vision died with him.
"The vision that Kennedy had changed from one president to the next and that happened in just a matter of 3 months. So what would have life been like had Kennedy continued to live? That's the question we don't know the answer to," said Petersen. "That's where this community was impacted; the community fought for a long time to keep N Reactor open and operating and they were successful for almost 20 years."
Ben Johnson worked at Hanford at the time and attended the speech.
Johnson said not only was this an opportunity to meet the president but it was also a time for locals to get to see Hanford, a place the public was never allowed to go to.
"It was not just the president, it was somebody that had come out here, so I think it was extrememly meaningful to those of us who had gone through the experience of seeing him out at the N Reactor."
During his 12-minute speech, kennedy, also put on a bit of a theatrical show but waving an "atomic wand" over a particle detector that measures ionizing radiation.
The wand's uranium tip set a crane into motion that would pour the first shovelful of dirt to build the steam-power facility that would make n reactor the world's largest nuclear power plant.
That wand is now on display at the Crehst Museum in Richland.
"I think this is going to be an extraordinary development and i look forward to coming back here sometime. What you're able to do here, i think can be done around the world, we're going to show them the way," said Kennedy in his speech at Hanford.
Kennedy spent a total of 40 minutes on the Hanford site making his speech and touring the facility.