Background image of Exterior view of Ecotrust Natural Capital Center in Portland


At the Natural Captial Center: Examining our nuclear legacy

On August 9th, 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb named “Fat Man” on the city of Nagasaki, Japan. The plutonium used in the bomb was produced in southeastern Washington at the Hanford Nuclear Site.

A multi-disciplinary exhibit called Particles on the Wall (POTW) explores the human and environmental legacy of nuclear technology, specifically focused on the global implications of the Hanford facility. Since its debut in January 2010, POTW has traveled to nine communities within Washington and will soon be traveling to the Natural Capital Center for its first showing in Oregon.

A free opening reception of Particles on the Wall will be held on Friday, May 3rd from 6-8 p.m. at Ecotrust’s Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center.

Hosted by Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility in collaboration with Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders, the night’s opening reception will also honor the high school student winners of the 2013 Greenfield Peace Writing Scholarship. Students submitted essays based on the prompt, “Why does Hanford matter?”

Covering 586 square miles alongside the Columbia River, Hanford is owned by the federal government and operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. The site began production in 1944 and was commissioned to supply plutonium for the Manhattan Project, which included the first nuclear test, codenamed “Trinity.” Two-thirds of the plutonium used in the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons between 1944 and 1988 came from Hanford reactors.


The B Reactor, pictured here, supplied the plutonium 239 used in the first atomic device ever exploded on July 16, 1945, known as the Trinity Test. Photo: (Washington Nuclear Museum & Ed. Center)

Decommissioned following the Cold War, it is still home to 53 million gallons of chemical and radioactive waste from over three decades of plutonium production. The B Reactor—the first reactor ever built, which supplied the plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb—was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark on August 19th, 2008. It is open for public tours.

Richland had more than enough sky. Wind was the landscape. It had swept out the past; the present was dust. I can almost taste it. The rain smelled sweetly of it. Even the snow was dusty. Even the dust, though we didn’t know it then, was radioactive.”

–Excerpt from POTW’s “The Landscape of Memory” by Debora  Greger, originally published in Desert Fathers, Uranium Daughters

POTW’s founders and curators Dianne Dickeman, Nancy Dickeman, and Steven Gilbert wanted to create an exhibit that brought together visual, literary, scientific, and historical disciplines to “stimulate examination, discussion, and creative expression about the nuclear age.”

It is dedicated in the memory of poet William Witherup, who was a driving force behind the exhibit, but passed away from leukemia prior to its development. His poetry reflects many of the environmental and social concerns for the site and the ramifications of nuclear destruction. An excerpt from his poem B-REACTOR: HANFORD: A NATIONAL MONUMENT reads:

A mutant dragon fly
Sips a chemical cocktail
From a dank cooling pond.
Coyote has a tumor on his tongue,
And Magpie is blind-
See her hopping in circles,
Dragging her wings
And once-saucy tail?”

Materials from POTW have been gathered in a hard copy book, which can be purchased online, or alternatively downloaded as an e-book for iPad, Kindle, or in .pdf format. Downloads are free, but donations can be made to support the work of Healthy World Press and the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders.

Ecotrust will display a smaller installation of the exhibit from May 3rd—June 14th.