The legislation would establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Los Alamos, NM; Oak Ridge, TN; and Hanford, WA. The B Reactor, which produced plutonium for the atomic bombs, would be one of the facilities included in the park. Other properties to be included would be the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge and historic homes on Bathtub Row in Los Alamos.
Creating a park will require the Department of Energy to preserve and maintain the historic properties under their jurisdiction. Just a few years ago, the B Reactor was slated to be “cocooned” and the K-25 plant has recently been entirely demolished despite the National Park Service’s recommendation to save a small portion. Rep. Hastings, Chairman of the Natural Resources committee, explained, “Rather than spend vast sums of taxpayer dollars to dismantle and demolish irreplaceable pieces of our nation’s history, it is far wiser and cheaper to dedicate much lower sums to preserve them for current and future generations to visit and learn from.”
In their testimony, the witnesses emphasized the historic significance of the Manhattan Project. Victor Knox, Associate Director for Park Planning, Facilities and Lands of the National Park Service, called the Manhattan Project “one of the most transformative events in our nation’s history.” In response to a question by Rep. Hastings about the concern of some critics that the park would “glorify” the bomb, Knox explained that the National Park Service would interpret this history in a balanced manner, telling all sides of the story. He noted that NPS has significant experience interpreting the history of controversial events and places such as the Manzanar Japanese internment camp, the Andersonville prisoner of war camp, and the Sand Creek Massacre site.
Mayor Steve Young of Kennewick, WA, emphasized the challenges the scientists, engineers and others had to overcome, such as working with slide rules rather than computers. Fran Berting, City Councilor of Los Alamos, NM, highlighted the diversity of the workers on the project: “The story includes people from the rural communities and Pueblos surrounding Los Alamos, mostly Native Americans and Hispanics, who provided the backbone of a labor force that built and maintained the laboratories and facilities, cleaned the houses, and drove the trucks. The Manhattan Project forever changed rustic northern New Mexico.” She went on to note the positive economic impact establishing a park would have on northern New Mexico. Mayor Tom Beehan of Oak Ridge explained, “Interpretation at these sites will be about giving current and future generations an understanding of this indisputable turning point in American, and indeed world history.”
Hastings was optimistic about passing the legislation. “We now know that a majority of the House – which includes both a majority of Republicans and Democrats – support establishment of this Historical Park and its passage is now a question of when, not if.”
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on the Manhattan Project park legislation on April 23. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) are sponsors of the bill in the Senate are committed to enacting the legislation. With strong advocates in the House and the Senate, the odds are good that Congress will establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park.