Hanford Meeting Today

Hanford Meeting Today

The majestic Columbia River

Hanford, Washington, January 21 – The National Park Service (NPS) will host the first in its series of public meetings to discuss a draft study on the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Richland on Thursday, January 21. The discussion will focus on Hanford’s role in a future national park. All of the study’s alternatives fall short of making a Hanford site part of the national park system. However, the NPS leaves open the possibility that a national historical park embracing Hanford will emerge.

Currently, there are no national parks that preserve Manhattan Project resources or tell the story of the top-secret World War II project that created the world’s first atomic bombs. The National Park Service study is the first step in designating a new national park. It has been underway since Congress passed the “Manhattan Project National Historical Park Study Act” in 2004 with bipartisan support. Congress directed the National Park Service to study the resources of four Manhattan Project sites: Los Alamos, NM, Oak Ridge, TN, Hanford, WA, and Dayton, OH. 

The draft study, released in late 2009, presented five alternatives for the park ranging from no action to the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Los Alamos. In the draft alternative, Hanford and Oak Ridge would be associated with, but not operationally part of, the Los Alamos-based park.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the Manhattan Project and Atomic Age, worked with Congress to get the original legislation passed in 2004. The Foundation believes that Los Alamos, Hanford and Oak Ridge each deserve to be designated a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. 

Of the 130,000 individuals who were employed by the project, only 5,000 were based in Los Alamos. Most of the others worked to produce fissile material for the bombs at Hanford and Oak Ridge. While Dayton played an important role in developing the neutron generators for the bombs, the Ohio site lacks the resources of the other three. According to Dr. F.G. Gosling, Chief Historian of the Department of Energy, although Los Alamos has the greatest public name recognition, Oak Ridge and Hanford are “equally significant and indispensible.” The B Reactor and other facilities at Hanford remain essentially unchanged since World War II and are a material testament to the scientific innovation and extraordinary human collaboration that were essential to the Manhattan Project’s success.

The study’s arguments against establishing a National Historical Park at all four sites highlight the management challenges of dealing with sites in dispersed locations. Costs were another issue. NPS expressed apprehension over potential financial liability for future cleanup and maintenance of sites. The study was concerned about visitor and employee safety. Another problem was lack of access to the Department’s facilities “behind the fence.” Finally, the study cited the uncertainty of Congressional funding.

These concerns should not prevent the Park Service from establishing a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at all three sites. NPS currently runs a number of discontiguous parks, including the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which has units in Skagway, AK, and Seattle, WA, almost 1800 miles apart.

The Park Service is no stranger to complex landownership agreements. The Boston National Historical Park is comprised of eight sites, only two of which are owned and operated by the National Park Service. The six non-NPS sites are owned and operated by entities ranging from the City of Boston to a local parish to the 128-year-old Bostonian Society. All eight are interpreted by the Park Service and open to the public. A similar arrangement could be envisioned at Hanford. B Reactor, the world’s first production-scale reactor, is already open to the public, owned and operated by the Department of Energy, and could easily be incorporated as such into a national park.

Finally, precedent suggests that if a park is established, Congressional funding will follow. In the study alternative—dismissed by NPS—where a Manhattan Project National Historical Park is established at all four sites, the Department of Energy would continue to own and operate its historic structures. Special appropriations could be authorized for that purpose. Although NPS funds are highly competitive, additional appropriations through DOE could complement NPS funding.

A Manhattan Project National Historical Park at the three sites could be a prototype for future parks. In September 2009, the National Parks Second Century Commission, co-chaired by Senators Howard Baker, Jr. and Bennett Johnston, Jr., strongly urged Congress to expand the role of the national parks to represent the diversity of our heritage. The Commission’s recommendations reinforce the merits of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park and the need to preserve the few remaining properties. These include engaging diverse and international audiences, providing lifelong, place-based learning, strengthening collaborations with partners, and using technologies and media to further these aims.

A Manhattan Project National Historical Park, combining scientific, military, industrial, social and cultural history, could broaden the NPS narrative and reach new, diverse audiences. The use of innovative technologies in the Manhattan Project Park would make this history widely accessible while enhancing the park’s educational capacity. The new NPS Views of the National Parks program is a good example of how the Manhattan Project and its legacy today could be explored through interactive educational programming.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation urges members of the Richland community to take advantage of the upcoming public forum to advocate for the inclusion of the Hanford site in a national historical park. Two meetings will be held on January 21 at the Red Lion Hotel, Richland Hanford House, 802 George Washington Way, Richland, WA 99352. The first will be from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM, the second from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

The National Park Service is also holding public meetings in Oak Ridge, Tuesday, January 26; Dayton, Thursday, January 28; Los Alamos, Tuesday, February 2; and Washington, DC, Tuesday, February 9. The public comment period will be open through March 1, 2010. 

The Atomic Heritage Foundation is hosting an informal workshop for anyone interested in exchanging ideas and plans with colleagues from different sites and experts in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, February 10, from 9 AM to noon. The meeting will be at Latham & Watkins, 555 11th Street, NW, tenth floor. Please RSVP to Cindy Kelly at ckelly@atomicheritage.org. 

Details about the public meetings, the National Park Service’s newsletter summarizing the study’s alternative and link to the full report are available on the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s website at www.atomicheritage.org. A complete copy of the study is available on the National Park Service website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov.