Preserving the Manhattan Project at the NTHP Conference

Preserving the Manhattan Project at the NTHP Conference

NTHP's Nancy Tinker and Betsy Merritt with DOE's Skip Gosling and Terry Fehner in front of the Alexander Inn at Oak Ridge

As part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual conference, held this year in Nashville, TN, the Atomic Heritage Foundation presented a session on "Preserving the Manhattan Project: Politics and Perseverance." The evaluations of the session were outstanding as the speakers engaged the audience in learning about the Manhattan Project and the challenges of preserving its historic properties around the country.

Cindy Kelly, president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, introduced the session with an overview of the Manhattan Project and how hundreds of Manhattan Project properties have already been demolished as part of a campaign to clean up the former nuclear weapons sites. Congress has provided over $100 billion for clean up and less than $7 million for preserving Manhattan Project and Cold War properties.

In 2004, Congress directed the National Park Service (NPS) to study whether to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Los Alamos, NM, Oak Ridge, TN, Hanford, WA, and Dayton, OH. The recommendations from this study should be presented to the public this fall. In addition, many advocates have worked hard to preserve a few important remaining properties, working collaboratively with local communities, governments, businesses and nonprofit groups. We were pleased to have a contingent from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge Operations who work on cultural resources management.

Jim Petersen, president of the Historic Wendover Airfield, gave an excellent presentation on his efforts to preserve one of the few original remaining Army Air Corps airbases in the country. At Wendover, the 509th Composite Group was responsible for testing prototype atomic weapons and modifying the bomb bays of the B-29s. The NTHP named the Manhattan Project's Enola Gay Hangar at Wendover (see photo) as one of its 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in April 2009. WIth its remote location and deteriorating condition, preserving the historic air bases has many challenges.

Bill Wilcox, a Manhattan Project veteran, fascinated the audience with the story of the K-25 plant and efforts to preserve a portion of it. This plant produced enriched uranium during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War until it was shut down in 1964 and is one of the three designated "Signature Facilities of the Manhattan Project" at Oak Ridge. As founder of the Partnership for K-25 Preservation (PKP), Bill talked about his group's efforts to work with the Department of Energy to preserve this mile-long gaseous diffusion plant over the last six years. With the entire facility now threatened with demolition, Bill has been instrumental in promoting a K-25 History Center to commemorate the plant's historic roles and display some of its original equipment.

D. Ray Smith is a member of the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association (ORHPA) and historian at the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge. Ray entertained the audience with humorous stories about the early history of Oak Ridge and described the recently built New Hope Center and its museum that captures some of the history of the Y-12 plant. He then focused on the need to preserve some of the Manhattan Project facilities at the Y-12 plant, particularly the Beta-3 Calutron building, another of the Department of Energy's "Signature Facilities."