Manhattan Project Park Scholars’ Forum Report

Manhattan Project Park Scholars’ Forum Report

Scholars Forum Report

On November 9 and 10, 2015, the National Park Service (NPS) organized a Manhattan Project Scholars’ Forum to explore major themes for interpreting the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park. NPS has recently released a report on the scholars’ ideas for the Manhattan Project Park at Hanford, WA, Los Alamos, NM, and Oak Ridge, TN.

Atomic Heritage Foundation President Cynthia C. Kelly participated in the workshop along with nearly 20 other experts from across the country and Japan. The workshop identified high-level themes, topics and subtopics for interpreting the Manhattan Project. This session will contribute to the foundation document that will be developed to provide basic guidance for planning and management decisions.

Every park has a foundation document that addresses the park’s purpose, significance, resources and values, interpretive themes, and special mandates or commitments. The document establishes a baseline for park planning and interpretive activities. Maps identify park boundaries, geographical elements, and historical facilities and provide a framework for the park management.  

In addition to working on a foundational document for the Manhattan Project Park, the NPS is working to update and complete foundation documents for all 409 park units in 2016, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

Participants in the Manhattan Project forum identified many potential themes for interpretive planning. These include the leadership of General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the science and technology behind the atomic bomb, and the human and environmental consequences of the development of nuclear weapons. The experts also highlighted the need to explore the unique history of each site, such as Oak Ridge’s role in developing peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the contributions of refugee scientists at Los Alamos, and the plutonium production process at Hanford.

Representatives from Japan who attended were Yasuyoshi Komizo, Chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, and Dr. Masao Tomonaga, Honorary Director of the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki A-Bomb Hospital. They were particularly concerned that the new park describe “what happened under the mushroom clouds” and “reveal the inhumanity of nuclear weapons.”

Denise Kiernan, author of The Girls of Atomic City, urged that interpretation include oral histories of diverse participants. “Every step of the way, use the stories of individuals to draw visitors into a topic. Children, women, people of color…balance is a must. Visitors want to be able to see themselves at times in these exhibits, put themselves in the history.”

To paraphrase J. Samuel Walker, author of Prompt and Utter Destruction, “There are two topics that seem certain to attract attention and stir controversy. One are the severe environmental abuse and health effects that took place at all three sites. The second is the bitterness and ill-will that the use of the atomic bombs against Japan arouses.”

“The Manhattan Project has a complex and controversial place in American and world history,” Cindy Kelly commented. “With many deeply held and polarized views, the interpretation of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park will be challenging. The new park should present the larger historical context, offer multiple perspectives including from the participants, and promote critical reflection.”

Next, the National Park Service will hold public meetings at each of the three sites. The first is focused on Hanford, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM on Thursday, February 4, 2016 at the Richland Library. These meetings will be the public’s first chance to provide input since the park was officially established on November 10, 2015. Tracy Atkins, project manager for the new park, promises that there will be many other opportunities over the next few years.

The National Park Service estimates that it will take two more years to complete the planning for the park, and another three to five years after that to prepare the sites for public access.

The report’s release has also been covered by the Tri-City Herald and The Oak Ridger.