On June 14, Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced S. 3300, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act. The bill would establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at sites in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Hanford, Washington. The goals of the act are “to preserve and protect for the benefit of present and future generations the nationally significant historic resources associated with the Manhattan Project,” better “public understanding of the Manhattan Project and the legacy of the Manhattan Project through interpretation of the historic resources associated with the Manhattan Project,” increase the public’s access to the relevant sites, and “to preserve and protect the historically significant resources associated with the Manhattan Project.”
The B Reactor at Hanford, buildings in the Los Alamos Historical District such as Bathtub Row, and the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge are just a few of the sites that would be incorporated into a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The B Reactor is already a popular tourist attraction; despite very limited bus tours of the site, since August 2008 more than 20,000 tourists have visited the Reactor, representing 50 states and more than 36 countries. With the National Park Service administering the site and increasing the number of tours, tourists will pour in to visit the B Reactor. Old and young alike are eager to visit the Manhattan Project sites. Touring such scientific relics proves especially influential on young students developing an interest in science and engineering. The Park designation would ensure that these sites are preserved for the enjoyment and education of future generations.
The Senate bill requires the Secretaries of Energy and Interior to enter into a memorandum of agreement within one year of the bill’s enactment determining how the Park would be administered. The bill allows the Secretary of Interior to accept donations to the Park, an important clause in light of the many potential donors who have already expressed interest in contributing to the preservation of Manhattan Project sites. The National Park Service will interpret the history of the Manhattan Project and its legacy, focusing not only on World War II but also on the impact the existence of nuclear weapons has had on the course of world affairs up to the present.
S. 3300 has strong bipartisan bicameral support, with Senators Lamar Alexander, Maria Cantwell, Tom Udall, and Patty Murray as original co-sponsors of the legislation. Senator Bingaman, who will be retiring this term, is deeply committed to getting this bill through Congress. Congressman Doc Hastings of Washington, Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, plans to introduce a similar bill when the House returns to session next week. Discussing the two bills, Hastings declared, “No one who has visited B Reactor knows what a technical and historical marvel it is and a Park will open the doors to many more to visit and experience this piece of our community and nation's history…we'll continue working together with local advocates to accomplish our goal of ensuring these remarkable pieces of our history are preserved to tell the story of the Manhattan Project.”
The story of the Manhattan Project represents one of the most incredible achievements in history. In just twenty-seven months, the Project’s scientists succeeded in developing atomic bombs to bring the world war to a quick end. More than one hundred thousand people all over the country were involved in the top-secret Project in some way. The scientists involved came up with innovations of breathtaking ingenuity to solve the immensely complex problems involved with building nuclear reactors and atomic bombs. The scope, resourcefulness, and determination of those involved in the Project are unprecedented.
Preserving and interpreting this important piece of our nation’s history is vital to educating future generations about the many challenges Manhattan Project scientists overcame and the dawn of the Atomic Age.