June 2012 Special Update
Strong Bipartisan Bicameral Support
Preserving Manhattan Project Sites
Interpreting a Contested History
A Model for a Second Century Park
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The Congress took a major step towards the creation of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park today with Congressman Doc Hastings introducing H.R. 5987. The House bill follows Senator Jeff Bingaman's companion legislation, S. 3300, which was introduced last week. The two bills are to establish a Manhattan Project National Historical Park at sites in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Hanford, Washington. To read the Atomic Heritage Foundation's press release on this important legislation, please go here.

Strong Bipartisan Bicameral Support 


The legislation has strong bipartisan bicameral support, with Senators Lamar Alexander, Maria Cantwell, Tom Udall, and Patty Murray as original co-sponsors in the Senate and Congressmen Doc Hastings introducing the bill in the House.


Senator Jeff Bingaman, who will be retiring after five terms as US Senator from New Mexico, is deeply committed to getting this bill through Congress. Congressman Doc Hastings of Washington, Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, is also an ardent supporter of the legislation. 

Sen. Jeff Bingaman
Rep. Doc Hastings 



Discussing the two bills, Hastings declared, "Anyone 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. There is a sincere and shared desire by Chairman Bingaman, Senators Murray and Cantwell, and our colleagues to establish the Park, and 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."


Hearings are scheduled for the Senate's National Parks Subcommittee on Wednesday, June 27 and the House's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands on Thursday, June 28 next week. Following the hearings, the two subcommittees will likely hold mark-up sessions for their respective bills.


Both bills provide that the park will be established no later than one year after enactment. The two federal agencies, Interior and Energy, have one year to work out issues of enhanced public access, management, interpretation, and historic preservation in a memorandum of agreement.  


guest houseThe National Park Service is responsible for developing a general management plan within three years, in consultation with other governments, organizations, and the public. The plan will define the roles and responsibility of federal, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations and others to preserve and interpret the history for the public. 


Preserving Manhattan Project Sites  


The Senate and House versions of the legislation are virtually identical in terms of the sites or properties that will be included in the park. Some properties are not yet restored or accessible to the public as they are located in secured areas. Over time, the properties will be restored and restrictions revised to allow the public to visit.

The restored V Site at Los Alamos
With the prospect of a national historical park, the Department of Energy has reconsidered whether some of the Manhattan Project properties should be saved. Most were planned to be demolished under an aggressive environmental cleanup program begun in the 1990s. 


For example, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) had slated dozens of Manhattan Project properties, many of which had been abandoned since the 1950s, to be demolished.  Among them was the V Site, humble asbestos-shingled buildings where the world's first atomic device was assembled


Instead, in 2006 the V Site became the first Manhattan Project property to be restored. Now LANL is working to preserve the Gun Site, where the uranium-based bomb was developed, as well as several other properties. These LANL-owned properties will become part of an expanded Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory National Historic Landmark District, which now includes Fuller Lodge and Bathtub Row cottages.  

The Oppenheimer house at Los Alamos
Begun in 1918, the Los Alamos Ranch 
School built many handsome ponderosa pine log and native stone buildings. However, in early 1943 the school's 800 acres and properties were taken over by the Manhattan Project.  Thanks to the generosity of Helene and Gerry Suydam, the Bathtub Row house where J. Robert Oppenheimer and his family lived has been donated to the Los Alamos Historical Society. This humble cottage resonates with history and could become the "jewel in the crown" for the new Manhattan Project Park.   
The B Reactor at Hanford
The B Reactor at Hanford, first of its kind, produced plutonium for the atomic bombs. Originally scheduled to be cocooned or stripped down to its shielding walls, it was opened to the public a few years ago and is now drawing tourists from 50 states and more than 39 countries.
The Alpha racetrack at Y-12 in Oak Ridge
At Oak Ridge, TN, the X-10 Graphite Reactor is one of the three "Signature Facilities" of the Manhattan Project left at Oak Ridge. Another Signature Facility, the Y-12 Beta-3 Calutrons, was operated until 1998 and will be preserved for future generations. The third facility is the K-25 plant which was an enormous mile-long, four-story tall factory that used gaseous diffusion to produce enriched uranium. Unfortunately, the Department of Energy has concluded that it is "too expensive" to preserve even a small portion of the original structure. 


The Gun Site at Los Alamos

Both bills allow the Secretary of Energy to accept gifts, services, and volunteer labor for preserving and providing access to historically significant Manhattan Project properties. In recent years, donations for restoring the "Gun Site" at Los Alamos and volunteer services to repair the pre-Manhattan Project properties at Hanford could not be accepted because the Department of Energy lacked authority to accept such "gifts." The new provision will be most welcome and constructive change.


Interpreting a Contested History

The Trinity test explosion

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.  While some anti-nuclear groups fear that the new park will glorify the bomb, the interpretation by the National Park Service should be balanced.  For example, the decision to drop the atomic bombs will be presented in the historical context of World War II and the Cold War interpretation will recognize the important role of "unarmed forces" such as the anti-nuclear movement. 


Similar to those who are struggling to interpret the history of the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, coming up with a narrative that is satisfactory to all will be a considerable challenge. Many other controversial aspects of our history such as the Civil War or Japanese-American internment camps in World War II have been treated by the National Park Service in an unbiased and professional manner. The interpretation of the Manhattan Project should be no different.


The Manhattan Project succeeded in bringing the longest, most horrific world war to an end. More than 130,000 people all over the country worked on the top-secret Project. Scientists and engineers came up with innovations of breathtaking ingenuity. The massive production facilities at Oak Ridge, TN and Hanford, WA were the equivalent of the entire production facilities of the US automobile industry in the 1940s. The patriotic determination of those involved was unequalled, especially considering that the vast majority did not know the ultimate objective of their work.   


 A Model for a Second Century Park


On the eve of the National Park Service's centennial in 2016, the Second Century Commission recommended creating new parks that will strengthen 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 park could also help revive American youth's interest in science and engineering by celebrating innovators who harnessed atomic energy for the first time and then charted new directions in energy, medicine, agriculture, material sciences, computing, and outer space exploration.


Workers at Hanford

The Manhattan Project's participants were a culturally diverse group from recent immigrants who fled anti-Semitism in Europe to numerous Hispanics, Native Americans, and African-Americans. With 130,000 people working in secret locations, the Manhattan Project was a great work of human collaboration.  The interpretation of the park will consider the contributions of these diverse communities and the impact of the project economically, socially, and culturally on these communities.


The Manhattan Project holds many important lessons for how investments in science and technology can impact history, politics, economies, and society today. This crucial chapter in American and world history has left an indelible legacy for the present.  The creation of a national historical park is an important opportunity to educate Americans about history, science, and society. And as Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said: "There is no better place to understand history than where it happened."


The Atomic Heritage Foundation, founded in 2002 to preserve the history of the Manhattan Project, has made establishing a national historical park a primary goal.  Over the past decade, AHF has worked with Congress and the Department of Energy, National Park Service, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, Energy Communities Alliance, local historical societies, Manhattan Project veterans and individuals to achieve this.  

Please contact your Congressmen to urge their support of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act! To find contact information for your representative, please click here


We will keep you updated on further developments!



Atomic Heritage Foundation