House majority supports Manhattan Project park, but two-thirds required

Note: This story was updated at 9:10 p.m.

A majority of U.S. House members voted for a bill Thursday to set up a Manhattan Project National Historical Park that would include Oak Ridge, but the vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the legislation under special rules.

The vote on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act was 237-180, about 50 votes short of a two-thirds supermajority, said Cindy Kelly, president of the nonprofit Atomic Heritage Foundation.

Though it didn’t pass Thursday in a maneuver that could have quickly sent the bill to the Senate, supporters said the bill has bipartisan support. They remained optimistic that it could still be approved soon.

“We’ve shown there is support for this park and will be working towards the goal of enacting this into law before the end of this year,” said U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican who has championed the legislation to recognize Manhattan Project sites in Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, N.M., and Hanford, Wash. The Manhattan Project was a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons during World War II.

Kelly said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, objected to the bill, H.R. 5987, and that hurt Thursday’s vote.

“He strongly objected,” Kelly said. “He thought it was a celebration of nuclear weapons and of destruction.”

She said historic sites don’t necessarily celebrate the events that occurred there. Instead, they can help the public understand and remember them.

“As a unit of the national park system, the National Park Service will interpret the Manhattan Project and its legacy in all its complexity, giving voice to all sides of this contested history,” the Atomic Heritage Foundation said in a press release. “It is important that we remember and reflect upon the past.”

Passage of the Manhattan Project bill might now depend upon the outcome of the Nov. 6 election and the “lame duck” congressional session that follows.

Kelly said the bill was considered this week under a suspension of House rules, which is generally used to quickly pass non-controversial legislation. Those rules limit debate to 40 minutes, prohibit amendments, and require a two-thirds vote for approval.

H.R. 5987 was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee, which Hastings chairs, in July. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Hastings and representatives Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee and Ben Lujan of New Mexico.

Similar legislation, S. 3300, has been introduced in the Senate by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman. Senators Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Tom Udall, and Lamar Alexander are also sponsors of the Senate legislation.

Based in Washington, D.C., the Atomic Heritage Foundation has worked on the bill for more than a decade and its partners have included the National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and local governments and historical organizations at the three major sites.

“We have made significant progress with preserving this history,” the foundation said. “We will continue to work hard to realize our goal of establishing a park and are hopeful that the 112th Congress will find a way to enact the legislation.”


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  • Daniel Powers

    I just heard about this idea recently and I am wondering for the Oak Ridge part, where is the land they are planning to use for “Manhattan Project National Historical Park.” I like the idea of a national park here.

    • John Huotari

      That’s something I need to check into, Daniel. I don’t know if any specific locations have been selected yet, but I think there are probably some good candidates. I think one of the issues will be: What sites that would be good to preserve for historical purposes are also accessible to the public?

    • Jim Stokes

      I didn’t grow up here, but I was a nuke in the U.S. Navy and I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Graphite Reactor. I’m trying to let everyone know about this.

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