Preserving the Manhattan Project Sites for Future Generations

Preserving the Manhattan Project Sites for Future Generations

Congress Establishes a Manhattan Project Park

On December 12, 2014, the Senate passed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a provision to establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Los Alamos, NMHanford, WA; and Oak Ridge, TN, by a vote 89-11. The House passed the 2015 NDAA legislation on December 4, 2014 by vote of 300-119. President Obama signed the bill into law on December 19, 2014.

No national monument or park previously existed to preserve and interpret the historic properties of the Manhattan Project. As Cynthia C. Kelly, founder and president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, said, “The national park is long overdue and will provide Americans an important opportunity to understand the Manhattan Project and its complex legacy for the world today.”

The new Manhattan Project NHP will be also one of the few that focuses on American science, technology and industry. Noted for its path-breaking inventions, the Manhattan Project offers an excellent opportunity to engage the public in learning about innovation in science, engineering and technology.  Interpretation of the park will also prompt reflection on the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan and on the extent to which scientists should be accountable for their inventions.

The Manhattan Project reflects the diversity of the American experience with over 600,000 working on the project around the country. Participants included eminent scientists at Los Alamos, NM who were refugees from Nazi regimes. Others were only high school girls from rural America who operated the control panels at plants in Oak Ridge, TN. In isolated, hastily built communities, the Manhattan Project enforced strict secrecy on the hundreds of thousands of people who worked without knowing what they were producing.

Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb and a Board Member of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, commented, “The new weapon was built in makeshift buildings, laboratories and factories all over the United States. Now nearly 70 years later, some of these historic places of the Manhattan Project will at last be preserved as part of the national historical park. The Manhattan Project is significant not only for its role in ending World War II but for introducing a major new force in human affairs. Reason enough to be remembered.”


Memorandum of Agreement

AHF President Cindy Kelly and Los Alamos Historical Society Executive Director Heather McClenahan with New Mexico Senator Tom Udall

On November 10, 2015, the Atomic Heritage Foundation  welcomed the official establishment of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park with units at Los Alamos, NM, Hanford, WA, and Oak Ridge, TN. In a ceremony at the Interior Department, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell signed an agreement that defines the respective roles of the Department of Energy and the National Park Service in implementing the new park.

NPS Associate Director Victor Knox talked about 2016 as a transitional year for the new park, as the Park Service assumes management and focuses on how best to interpret the story of the Manhattan Project. The Department of Energy and its laboratories have been funding a variety of activities this year and have developed a five-year budget plan for restoring and providing public access to its historic assets.

Despite a bidding contest for the designation for the park’s headquarters, the National Park Service’s draft agreement names the Denver Service Center (DSC) which provides integrated park planning throughout the national park system. The DSC has been responsible for developing the special resource study, prelude to creating the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in 2010, and the Memorandum of Agreement.

What can you expect in 2016? Be patient. NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis expects that it will take two more years to complete the planning and three to five years after that to prepare the sites for public access. For example, while the V Site at Los Alamos was restored under a Save America’s Treasures grant in 2005, the public will not have regular access to it until the Los Alamos National Laboratory consolidates its operations in the area. Similarly, the T-Plant at the Hanford site will not be on the tour route as work continues inside the former chemical separations plant.

But there are still many sites that will be available to the public. Local museums are eagerly awaiting an influx of tourists at each of the three sites. In addition, virtual tours will be available through the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s “Ranger in Your Pocket” website. Visitors to the new park can access these tours on their smartphones and tablets to listen to the voices of Manhattan Project veterans recount their experiences working on the project that changed the world. Stay tuned!


The Making of the Manhattan Project Park

In 2003, Congress required DOE to develop a plan for preserving its Manhattan Project history. Under a cooperative agreement with DOE, the Atomic Heritage Foundation took on the task, beginning with a series of public meetings at Oak Ridge, TN, Los Alamos, NM, and Richland, WA. The Foundation's report released in 2004 recommended a Manhattan Project national historical park at the three major sites. 

In September 2004, Congress passed the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Study Act [PL 108-340] that authorized the National Park Service to study whether to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park.  In early 2011, the National Park Service is expected to submit its recommendations to Congress for a park with units at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hanford. Assuming that Congress enacts legislation for the park, the National Park Service will undertake a general management study to assess how to best interpret each site and make it available for tourists and the general public. 

For more about how the park came to be established by Congress, see AHF President Cindy Kelly's article, The Making of the Manhattan Project Park, published by the Federation of American Scientists.


Related AHF Efforts 

Over the past decade, the Atomic Heritage Foundation has partnered with the local Manhattan Project sites, the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Energy Communities Alliance to urge Congress to establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park and preserve these sites for posterity.

When future generations look back on the 20th century, few events will rival the harnessing of nuclear energy as a turning point in world history. Having some of the authentic properties where the Manhattan Project scientists and engineers achieved this is essential. As Richard Rhodes has said, "When we lose parts of our physical past, we lose parts of our common social past as well." With the prospective Manhattan Project National Historical Park, our vision of having some tangible remains from the Manhattan Project to educate and inspire future generations may become a reality.

In the meantime, the Atomic Heritage Foundation is continuing its work to preserve key Manhattan Project properties. For more information, see: