Park Service to Study Manhattan Project Sites
The National Park Service has been authorized to take the first step in creating one or more National Park sites for the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to make an atomic bomb in World War II. With the support of the New Mexico, Tennessee and Washington delegations, the 108th Congress passed the "Manhattan Project National Historic Park Study Act" (S. 1687) that was signed by the President on October 18, 2004.
The new legislation directs the Secretary of the Interior "to conduct a study on the preservation and interpretation of the historic sites of the Manhattan Project for potential inclusion in the National Park System." The law sets a deadline of two years after the date on which funds are made available to carry out the study. The expectation is that funds will be available through the Department of Energy for this purpose in FY 2005.
The study will address the national significance, suitability, and feasibility of designating the Manhattan Project sites at Los Alamos, New Mexico; Hanford, Washington; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and possibly other sites associated with the Manhattan Project, as units of the National Park System. The study will consider both Federal and non-Federal properties associated with the Manhattan Project. Thus properties associated with the cultural and social aspects of life in the "Secret Cities" of the Manhattan Project will be considered along with the scientific laboratories and facilities essential to producing the first atomic bombs.
One of the principle challenges will be identifying who will be responsible for managing the Manhattan Project properties for the long term. The Department of Energy does not want to be the long-term steward for these properties and the National Park Service wants to avoid substantial new burdens. With input from state and local governments, and nonprofit and private sector organizations, the National Park Service study will have to address how best to allocate these responsibilities.
The Department of Energy has several significant first-of-a-kind facilities from the Manhattan Project that are threatened to be demolished as early as 2005. For example, the B Reactor at Hanford, the first full-scale plutonium production facility, is threatened to be "cocooned," a process that would destroy its historical integrity. The legislation is vital to preserving the B Reactor and many other Manhattan Project properties.
The Manhattan Project has extraordinary significance to American and world history and left an indelible legacy for the 21st century. The new legislation is a very important step in preserving some tangible remains from the Manhattan Project such as properties, equipment, artifacts and oral histories before it is too late. The Atomic Heritage Foundation testified before Congress on behalf of the Manhattan Project sites last March and will be working closely with the National Park Service and the Manhattan Project sites on the study.