Washington, D.C. — Today, July 13, 2011, marks a major milestone for the Atomic Heritage Foundation and all those who have been working to preserve the history of the Manhattan Project. This morning, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recommended to Congress the designation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The new park will have units at the three major Manhattan Project sites: Los Alamos, NM, Oak Ridge, TN, and Hanford, WA.
This is the first recognition of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to make an atomic bomb in World War II, in the national park system. As Secretary Salazar said, “The secret development of the atomic bomb in multiple locations across the United States is an important story and one of the most transformative events in our nation's history.”
On the eve of the National Park Service's centennial in 2016, the Second Century Commission recommended creating new parks that will strengthen informal education and reflect the diversity of the American experience. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park could be a model for a Second Century Park.
The Manhattan Project's multifaceted story embraces aspects of the nation's scientific, industrial, military, economic, social and cultural history. Its participants were a culturally diverse group. Recent immigrants to the United States who fled anti-Semitism in Europe were among the leading scientists. The 130,000 work force included young women from the South who had just graduated from high school, young men who joined the Army's Special Engineer Detachment, as well as numerous Hispanics, Native Americans and African-Americans.
Richard Rhodes, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning account, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, reflected, “The Manhattan Project was a great work of human collaboration that has almost mythic proportions in its scale and ambition. Discovery of how to release the enormous energies latent in the nuclei of the atom has improved the quality of life and made world-scale war no longer possible-reason enough to preserve and commemorate this history.”
The Atomic Heritage Foundation has long advocated the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park and first recommended a park in a 2003 report to Congress prepared for the Department of Energy. In October 2004, Congress passed legislation requiring the Secretary of the Interior to evaluate the significance, suitability, and feasibility of a park. Today's recommendations find that a Manhattan Project National Historical Park meets all of these criteria.
Atomic Heritage Foundation president Cynthia C. Kelly said, “We are delighted with the recommendations and optimistic that Congress will designate the park. The support for a Manhattan Project National Historical Park has always been bipartisan.” Sean Smith, policy director for the National Parks Conservation Association, added, "We thank Secretary Salazar and the National Park Service staff for their efforts to see that a Manhattan Project National Historic Park be established, allowing for park rangers to tell the story of atomic energy and deepening our understanding and appreciation of our national history."
Key to the initial legislation in 2004 was the leadership Senators Jeff Bingaman, Tom Udall and former Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Senator Lamar Alexander and former Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee. On the House side, Chairman Doc Hastings of the Natural Resources Committee has been the sparkplug for preservation of Hanford's historic B Reactor. Going forward, also important to the effort are Senator Bob Corker (TN) and Congressmen Chuck Fleishmann (TN) and Ben Luján (NM). As Kelly noted, “We are counting on the entire delegation's continued leadership to realize a Manhattan Project National Historical Park.”
The National Park Service is America's storyteller and will have overall responsibility for interpretation of the Manhattan Project at the park's three sites. As National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said, “The National Park Service will be proud to interpret these Manhattan Project sites and unlock their stories in the years ahead.”
The recommendations also envision partnerships with local governments, museums and nonprofit organizations to preserve and interpret the Manhattan Project resources in the three communities.
The Department of Energy (DOE) will be a co-manager of the park with responsibility for maintaining and preserving its Manhattan Project properties within the park. While DOE will decide on the schedule, the public should eventually have regular access to properties that have been off limit for over 65 years.
For the Department of Energy, the most immediate priority should be preservation of their unique Manhattan Project properties. As Richard Rhodes wrote, “When we lose parts of our physical past, we lose parts of our common social past.” Indeed, having authentic properties at the three sites is essential to preserve and interpret the Manhattan Project for future generations.
Among these properties are eight that the Department of Energy designated as “Signature Facilities of the Manhattan Project,” in 1999. The three facilities at Oak Ridge are the X-10 Graphite Reactor, Beta-3 Calutrons, and K-25 gaseous diffusion plant. While the first two facilities are slated to be preserved, a decision on whether to preserve a small portion of the K-25 plant is expected this fall. The potential park makes preservation of an authentic portion more imperative than ever.
At Los Alamos, the “V Site,” where work was done on the plutonium implosion bomb, was restored with a Save America's Treasures grant in 2006. Work is now underway to preserve the Gun Site, where the uranium-gun bomb was tested (see architect's drawing of the restored Gun Site, above).
Hanford has two Signature Facilities. The B Reactor, the first industrial-scale reactor to produce plutonium, was spared “cocooning” and now is open for tourists. T Plant, the first chemical separations plant, is being used to store waste but may have some limited public access in the future, for example to see the operator's rooms overlooking the canyons.
In addition to the Department of Energy's resources, the new park will also include Manhattan Project resources that are managed by local governments, historical societies and private owners. For example, Oak Ridge will feature the “alphabet houses,” Jackson Square, and possibly the Guest House/Alexander Inn where General Leslie Groves, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and J. Robert Oppenheimer stayed.
In Los Alamos, the Fuller Lodge, the social center for the Manhattan Project, and the modest house where the Oppenheimer family lived will both be important resources. At Hanford, visitors will be able to tour neighborhoods of alphabet houses and visit the Bruggemann warehouse, one of the few properties from the agricultural communities that predated the Hanford reservation.
Other Manhattan Project sites will be considered as possible associated sites. For example, the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago; the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California; Dayton, Ohio research facilities; Wendover Air Field, Utah; Tinian Island in the Marianas; and the Trinity Test Site near Alamogordo, New Mexico could become associated sites of the national historical park. Whether these sites achieve some sort of formal relationship to the park will depend upon the integrity of their resources and other factors.
The coming of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park should be a financial as well as a cultural benefit to the communities where the sites are located. Every dollar of taxpayer funds spent on national parks generates four dollars in additional economic benefit through tourism and private-sector spending. For some locations, the returns are even greater. An annual federal appropriation of $7.1 million to Acadia National Park in Maine generates annual visitor spending of $137 million. An annual federal appropriation of $15.8 million for Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado generates $193 million in annual visitor spending.
The prospective Manhattan Project National Historical Park should broaden the diversity of our national narrative and reflect our nation's evolving history. The Manhattan Project marshaled the resources of government, industry and academia to defeat our enemies in World War II. The Project's ideas, aspirations, conflicts and accomplishments will find physical expression in the new park and educate and inspire present and future generations of Americans.
As the National Park Service observed, “Strong public support emerged for preserving resources associated with the Manhattan Project and making the story of this remarkable effort more broadly known.” With continued leadership and support from the New Mexico, Washington, and Tennessee delegations, we are optimistic that Congress will designate a Manhattan Project National Historical Park.